Google Search dark theme mode expands but search ads are hard to distinguish

Light mode shows a black ad label on a white background but on dark mode, it shows a gray ad label on a black background.

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Google has been expanding its roll out and test of dark mode or dark theme for the company’s search interface. Google started testing this back in December 2020, as captured by this Reddit thread. But over the past couple of days, more and more searchers are noticing the new dark theme show up in Google Search on desktop or mobile.

What it looks like. Here is a screen shot of the home page from 9to5Google:

Google Search Dark Theme Mode
Google Dark Theme Mode Home Page

Here is what the top bar looks like today with the special Google Doodle in dark mode, this image was provided by Frank Sandtmann, a German based search marketer:

Google Dark Mode Top Bar
Google Dark Theme Mode Top Search Bar with Doodle

The ads are hard to distinguish. It is much harder to see the “Ad” label in the Google dark theme than it is in the light theme. I posted screen shots of this over here, here is how they compare. The screen shots are from @AMP_blows (a colorful Twitter name):

The dark theme has the Ad label in gray font while the light mode has the Ad label in black text, which is way more noticeable:

Google Ads Dark Theme 1612997165
The Google Ad label side by side in dark and light theme

Google should really change the color of the Ad label to white, not gray, if they want to help searchers distinguish between the paid and free listings.

Turn on/off dark theme. If you are in this beta and you have access to the new appearance controls in Google Search, you will have an option in search settings to toggle on or off dark theme. There is an “appearance” section that gives you these three options; “device default,” “dark theme” or “light theme.”

Also, when you first gain access to this feature, Google may notify you with this prompt:

Google Search Dark Theme Setting 1612959181
Google Dark Theme Notice, image via @JanukaHW

Why we care. As Google rolls out dark theme to more searchers, the click through rate on your ads may be impacted. If searchers have a harder time distinguishing between the paid and free listings, it might cause confusion on what listing the searcher clicks on.

Also, Google rolling out dark themes in search is something that should not surprise anyone but should be on the radars of search marketers.

About the author

Barry Schwartz
Barry Schwartz is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry can be followed on Twitter here.

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