In an official blog post from 2005, Google promised that banner ads would never come to web search, writing:
“There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages. There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.”
Eight years later, it seems Google may be ready to break that promise in an interview with AdAge:
“We’re currently running a very limited, US-only test, in which advertisers can include an image as part of the search ads that show in response to certain branded queries,” a Google spokesperson confirmed in 2013.
New Banner Ads?!
Google is running a “small experiment” testing large banner ads for a limited number of well-known brands. The test is said to be showing for less than 5% of the time when searching for the brands during the test. The brands included in the test are Southwest Airlines, Virgin America, Crate & Barrel, and about 30 others.
The news broke when @SynrgyHQ posted the above image on Twitter showing for the query “Southwest Airlines” with a large visual “sponsored” ad at the top of the search results.
Here is another example of the large visual SERP (search engine results page) banner ad for the search term “Virgin America.”
It is a visual feature of the ad only on brand keywords. It acts similarly to Chinese-language search engine Baidu’s brand link advertising product, where you see similar characteristics of highly visual images of the brands product showing only on brand terms.
Here is an example screen shot of the brand link advertising on Baidu with “BMW” as the search query:
Google reported stating that, “Advertisers have long been able to add informative visual elements to their search ads, with features like Media Ads, Product Listing Ads and Image Extensions.” You could speculate that advertisers have been less willing to pay for branded ad space, forcing Google to increase the overall volume, types of ads sold and pushing a move from solely text based ads to ones that feature videos, photos, and other forms of visual information to the search engine results page.
The banners allow brands to take over the ad space on branded search queries and essentially present a branded search result experience. The banners might drive more traffic to the advertiser than traditional search ads, but they also push related search results further below the fold than we’re used to seeing in Google search results.
Stay tuned as we continue to follow the “small experiment” of banner ads in Google.