Google now labels ads as ‘Sponsored’ in mobile search results

Google is changing how it formats search results on mobile, the company announced today. Paid results will now carry a larger “Sponsored” tag rather than the simple “Ad” tag they had before, and each website’s name is now listed at the top of each search result. The “size and shape” of each website’s favicons are also getting updated to make them easier to see. The new search results format is rolling out now on mobile, and Google says it plans to test a “similar experience” for desktop searches “soon.”

In its blog post, the company explains that the new “Sponsored” tag is being introduced to ensure that “ads are clearly labeled” with a tag that’s “prominent and clear across different types of paid content.” Meanwhile, showing site names and favicons more prominently in search results is aimed at making it easier to “identify the website that’s associated with each result at a glance.”

Google’s changes to the formatting of search results have occasionally been criticized for making it harder to tell where paid results end and organic results begin.

The timeline in this tweet from 2019 (via TechCrunch) shows how the search giant has changed the formatting of sponsored results on desktop over time. It has gradually moved away from formatting paid results with a different background color to simply showing them with a small “Ad” tag on desktop.

The criticism was most intense in 2020 when Google rolled out a new look for desktop search results that added favicons to organic results. The problem was that these small icons were almost the exact same size as the “Ad” tag on paid results, which made it difficult to tell the two apart at a glance. After an outcry, the company backtracked on the design change and said it would “experiment with new placements for favicons.”

As of this writing, favicons still haven’t been widely rolled out for desktop search results.

Google’s paid results are still harder to distinguish than when the search giant used to use different colored backgrounds, but switching from the two-letter “Ad” tag to the much larger “Sponsored” tag on mobile feels like a step in the right direction.