Last week Google began testing banner ads within search results in the United States. This followed
changes to the Google ad rank algorithm, which now favours advertisers using visual enhancements
to their search ads, such as location extensions or social annotations. These changes are pushing
advertisers to more quickly embrace Google’s growing ad product suite and visual elements at the
point of search. If not, advertisers run the risk of losing traffic to competitors who embrace these
changes faster, or higher cost per clicks.
The large banner ads are now appearing across the top
of branded search results on Google for 30 advertisers
in the US including Virgin America and Nike. This is a
limited beta test, but as with similar beta programmes it
is likely to be opened up to a wider pool of advertisers
before becoming a permanent feature. Google has not
yet confirmed the price or cost model, but this is likely
to be paid on a CPC or CPM basis.
This is not a new development in search itself, as
Chinese search engine Baidu has been running a similar
format for a while. If Google follows the same model this
ad format will probably be limited to branded searches;
however there is a strong possibility that in the future
Google will make the banners more interactive given the
recent changes to the ad rank model.
This announcement is a big departure from Google's original philosophy of keeping the search
results pages uncluttered and free of banners. Marissa Meyer famously stated in 2005 that "There
will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results. Ever." As such, many industry
experts are questioning Google’s motives as this appears to have a major focus on driving
increased ad revenue. However, Google has built its success on not cluttering the search results
page, so it’s safe to assume that this product will continue evolving towards positive user
At the same time as Google’s move, Microsoft has launched a pilot product called ‘Hero Ads’ on
Windows 8.1. For brands, ‘Hero Ads’ present a unique opportunity to dominate the search results
across branded search queries, and to provide a much richer experience for the brand to engage
with its existing and potential customers.
Large banner ads are another step towards integrating visual elements into the search results and
giving brands more control of their branded experience. With the changes to Google’s ad rank
algorithm being rolled out at the same time, it is clear that Google is pushing advertisers to
improve their ads in search by forcing them to adopt visual ad formats/extensions so that search
results deliver the most relevant results for the end user and more ad revenue for Google.