Google First-Time 'Experiment' With Banner Ads in Search Causing a Stir

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-10-25

Google First-Time 'Experiment' With Banner Ads in Search Causing a Stir

Some Google search users are seeing something very strange when they use Google to find things lately: They're seeing banner ads displayed on the company's plain-vanilla search page where they've never seen them before.

And that's causing quite a commotion online, where Google is being accused of breaking a promise it made in a 2005 blog post that said the company would never feature banner ads.

"Google is testing banner ads on Web search results—reneging on a 2005 promise that 'there will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or Web search results page … Ever,'" reported an Oct. 24 story in The Guardian. "The company confirmed to The Guardian that it is testing a system with about 30 advertisers in the U.S. in which it shows banner ads for companies including Southwest Airlines on pages which include them in Web search results. The ads can take over large parts of the screen."

The banners are visible only to a very small number of users in the United States and likely won't be seen by most users.

"We're currently running a very limited, U.S.-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 told eWEEK in an email. "Advertisers have long been able to add informative visual elements to their search ads, with features like Media AdsProduct Listing Ads and Image Extensions."

The Dec. 22, 2005 "pledge" that rejected banner ads in search was made by in a Google blog post by Marissa Mayer, who at the time was the company's vice president of search products and user experience. Mayer, of course, left Google in July 2012 to take the job as CEO and president of Yahoo, a major Google competitor. The blog post addressed public concerns about a partnership with AOL that Google had entered.

"There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or Web search results pages," because of the partnership, wrote Mayer. "There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever."

Asked about that blog post, the Google spokesperson declined to comment further about how long the tests would run, what advertisers were involved and when any decision might be made on whether banner ads will ever become part of the Google search experience for users.

One IT analyst reached by eWEEK, Dan Olds, the principal of Gabriel Consulting Group, said that the move by Google to test banner ads could ultimately blow up on the company.

"I think the main motivation here would have to be money," said Olds. "They see this as a vehicle to provide more targeted, focused ads for their advertisers." The problem with that, though, is that Google is trying its experiment at the risk of angering many existing users, said Olds.

"It doesn't make sense to me," he said. "I wonder if we are looking at a situation here involving some Google folks who forgot their history."

Google First-Time 'Experiment' With Banner Ads in Search Causing a Stir

Olds said he doubts that this will be a minor issue with search users. "So many users are working today with different form factors, such as tablets and smartphones, and they don't have a lot of screen real estate for their searches. So screen real estate is a very valuable commodity for users. When they are using Google on smaller devices, they just want to get their information and they don't want to scroll through ads."

The whole idea of exploring the introduction of banner ads on Google is even more preposterous when one thinks about Google's early days, when users were first attracted to its simplicity and clean design when it appeared on the scene in 1998, said Olds.

"I seem to clearly remember that one of the first reasons I started using Google way back when was that they didn't use banners," he said. "I thought this was one of their main competitive advantages back in the day. Because Google didn't do this, this was one of the reasons in my mind why they were so successful so quickly."

Experiments with banner ads today on Google's part is "a representation of the bad old days of search," said Olds.

Earlier in October, Google's stock did what had been rumored for months when it surpassed the magic $1,000-per-share mark, coming less than 24 hours after the company on Oct. 17 unveiled its generally positive earnings numbers for the third quarter of 2013. Google stock opened at $976.31 on NASDAQ, according to figures being tracked by Yahoo Finance, then went as high as $1,015.42 by early afternoon before lingering at the $1,011.01 per share mark by 2:50 p.m. EDT, and closing at $1,011.41.

The rising stock performance accompanied the company's pleasing third-quarter revenue and profit numbers, which beat analysts' estimates, with revenue coming in at $14.89 billion and profits of $2.97 billion. The $14.89 billion revenue total was up 12 percent from the same quarter a year ago, while the $2.97 billion profit was up from $2.18 billion in the third quarter of 2012, according to the company. The third quarter ended Sept. 30, 2013.

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