Tech Tips: Navigating Google search results, spotting ads

By Digital Learning Librarian John Gargiulo

Advertisements are all over the internet these days, and while some are helpful, some add clutter, and others can link to scams and websites that can’t be trusted.

Ads also are present in Google searches; sometimes displaying above the results you want to see. Ad placement in search results can create clutter and confusion, making it difficult for you to navigate through the results and find websites relevant to your search. Because of this, it is worth knowing how to differentiate between ads and a normal search result.

Are those ads or search results?

Let’s take a look at some examples. Here’s how ad results appear in Google searches:

Google Ad Example 1
Example A: Google ads

And when you scroll further down, you’ll see normal search results:

Google Ad Example 2
Example B: Normal search results

As you can see in Example A, the advertisements near the top of the page look very similar to actual search results—shown in Example B—but include a small “Ad or “Ads” label in bold type. This is Google’s current practice for labeling ads, but it could change with time.

Why you should keep scrolling

So why is it a good idea to avoid clicking on the ad and scrolling further to see the search results list? 

  • While it’s not inherently wrong to click on the ad, you will discover a wider variety of results if you continue to scroll and scan.
  • While the ad looks like a search result and is often the first thing you see—it’s at the top because of paid advertising—that’s not necessarily because it is the most relevant result for users. Ads at the top of the page might not be useful for you.
  • Ads may be more likely to feature larger businesses and organizations than smaller or local groups that may have smaller budgets for advertising. Examples A and B are from the same search for “music lessons.” Note how the advertisements are all for companies targeted at a national or global audience, while the results further down on the page feature more local businesses.

Scrolling past the ads is a simple but important way to explore and discover a wider variety of sources, information, businesses, products, and opportunities. 

Want to learn more?

Here’s some additional reading on this topic:

Have a tech question?

About John

John is a member of the library’s digital learning team and recent graduate of the University of Illinois MS in Library and Information Science program. He enjoys working with patrons to discover how we can demystify technology and shape it to help us with our different needs. He is also a musician and loves making noise.

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