Question: When I click on Google search results, I’m taken to an advertising page. I have to close that page and go back to my search results to find the information I wanted. I suspected the problem was malicious software, but the Malwarebytes security program didn’t find any. What’s wrong? — R.S., Minneapolis
Answer: Your problem isn’t caused by malware. It’s the result of a change in Google’s advertising strategy.
About a year ago, Google redesigned the look of its search engine. Instead of using colors to separate search-engine results from its advertisements as it had in the past, Google made it harder to distinguish between the two.
Ads and results were given the same type of lettering, and placed next to each other, often with the ads on top so people would see them first. The only obvious difference was that advertisements had the boldfaced word “Ad” next to them.
Google said the change made it easier for people to digest information, and it was an expansion of an earlier plan to overhaul Google search on mobile devices.
Critics said Google was trying to increase the number of responses to its ads (see tinyurl.com/yx57tkoo and tinyurl.com/txqe4bq) by making them harder to tell from search results.
That might not sound like a big deal, but it goes to the heart of Google’s advertising business.
Before the search-page redesign, an ad was considered to be doing well if 1.9% of visitors clicked on it (that’s called the “click-through rate.”) While that’s a small percentage, it can generate big-ad response because Google handles 5.6 billion searches every day. At that scale, even a tiny increase in the click-through rate could substantially increase the response to Google search page ads. And, sure enough, after Google blurred the difference between ads and search results, its click-through rate on search advertisements went up modestly.
While that was good news for advertisers, it didn’t help consumers who accidentally clicked ads instead of the information they were seeking.
After an unfavorable public reaction to the changes, Google said it might modify its new search page design in the future. But until that happens, it pays to be careful when using Google search.
Question: I noticed some websites warn not to use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser on their pages. But they say it’s OK to use the Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari and Microsoft Edge browsers. Why is it OK to use the Edge browser? Isn’t it just the next generation of Internet Explorer? — D.M., Gilford, N.H.
Answer: Commercial websites have begun warning people not to use the Internet Explorer browser because it no longer gets Microsoft updates, and soon will become technically obsolete.
That’s a problem for website designers, who customize their pages to work with web browsers using the latest technology. As a result, some websites are steering people away from Internet Explorer, encouraging them to switch to modern browsers such as those you mentioned.
The Edge browser is recommended because, in its latest version, it’s based on the same technology as the Chrome browser and has little in common with Internet Explorer.