Do you click on an ad when you don’t know whose it is?

Click on an ad?

“What, are you kidding me?” you say, shaking your head, but in light of changes made to Google’s ad displays, it’s as good a question as any.

I must start off by saying I despise any ruse used to fool, trick or deceive a person into clicking on an ad or visiting a website under any false or unverifiable circumstances. Now that AOL uses Google Adwords as part of their Search Marketplace program, these deceptive practices are used not only by Google but by AOL, too.

As most people know AOL Search has been “enhanced by” Google’s algorithms for a few years. I’m unhappy that a search engine that’s given me trouble, that has too much spam, that skews results in a way that’s more profitable for advertisers than it is for us (consumers who don’t necessarily want to buy anything) has been AOL’s first choice for results for a long time.

AOL has pushed the envelope even further by adapting Google’s new ad model, which replaces the “Sponsored by [insert company name here]” link in their top results with the generic, uninformative “Sponsored Link” text. Names of outbound sites are shown in the ad text, but the way fonts, bolded text and line heights are used (along with the overall architecture of the ads) the average victim, I mean, consumer, is too distracted to notice.

Not only that, but the entire Sponsored Links box is now one clickable link, while before you had to click on the link for each ad to get where you were going. The ads were actually re-designed in the hope that you’ll never notice where you’ll wind up.

AOL has the easiest audience in the world to market to. They’re older, more affluent, and less savy consumers than the general population. They also buy more goods and services online than any other market segment.

With a captive audience that’s easy to take advantage of, why must they add insult to injury by distracting from who ad sponsors are? Why are consumers ignorant enough to put up with it? Why don’t they start a boycott or protest and keep it up until both Google and AOL change their ways?