Persuading Searchers With Color

Do you know the taste of Thai tea? When unmixed the colors run from a milky cream to pale and then deep tangerine. You can almost taste the tangy tea with sweetened condensed milk through the vibrant colors. Actually, the colors drove me to taste the tea. What if Google and Bing-Yahoo's paid-search ad platforms allowed marketers to choose the text color of their ads? Would it change the click and conversion rates?

"It's a great, huge idea," said Ted Dhanik, CEO at enage:BDR, recently ranked by comScore as No. 1 in the display ad ecosystem for reach, with 97% penetration in the U.S. market. "It could have huge impact. We're seeing big impacts in display when multivariate testing, specifically for text colors, fonts or sizes."

I have always been fascinated with the power of colors. This idea came from the article, The Right Colors Make Data Easier To Read, in Harvard Business Review (HBR). It made me wonder if someone would click on an ad with a bright green headline because they like the color. I might. On the other hand, without the conversion the click means nothing but wasted money.

Ryan DeShazer, EVP, managing director at inVentiv Media 360º, wants to experiment with the presentation and the color of search ads. "Not to suggest that the engines should allow just anyone to customize how ads are displayed at any time, but in a controlled environment where every ad is customized the same way, I think it could have an interesting impact," he said.

Not all agree. Larry Kim, Wordstream founder, said if Bing wants to increase click-through rates on ads, it should choose the font and color that most closely resembles the organic results. He also thinks it should eliminate the background color of the ads. Maybe because Google recently changed the look of their ads, in a very subtle way, to make the sponsored ads blend better. The engine eliminated the background color of ads, and as a result, Kim has seen a slight increase -- low, single digits -- in average ad click-through rates.

Kim said Wordstream has done extensive studies on the impact of CTRs on conversion rates and found no correlations. The exception to this is, of course, is when the ad format changes. Ah, yes, Product Listing Ads -- the ones with price, product descriptions and images that contain color. Consumers clicking on those ads are inherently more likely to convert. Ah, yes --  images. So, are consumers drawn to color?

Apparently, colors can help improve a person's ability to read and comprehend graphs, per HBR. Colors can help to associate objects with words or numbers and take advantage of familiar existing relationships improving recall. Could that also apply to ad and brand recall? The biggest challenge I see points to knowing what colors mean in specific countries. In China, for example, luck is traditionally symbolized with the color red, notes HBR.

If color can reinforce perception of data, then I believe similar gains could occur in paid-search ads. Unless, of course, the engine wants to blend the sponsored or paid-search ad into the query results.

"Two paintbrushes are painting a rainbow splattered colors" photo from Shutterstock.




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