It was nearly 10 years ago that Marissa Mayer, then VP of Search Products and Experience for Google, committed to never letting Google turn into a website that jams as many seizure-inducing banner ads into a jigsaw puzzle-like arrangement around what is actually important: the content. The year was 2005 and Mayer, who has since moved on to Yahoo! as the President and CEO, made all Google users the following promise:
“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.”
Fast forward to the here and now and it has just been discovered that Google has had a change of heart on the promise they made to keep their Search Engine Results Page (SERP) free of banners. While this may be a disheartening new development for Google search users, this potential new expansion of customization for search marketers presents a significant opportunity when it comes to branding.
On October 23rd Google began testing the incorporation of branded banner ads as a replacement for the traditional paid search ads we are all so accustomed to at this point. With the focus and implementation of these being strictly on branded search terms, Google has only implemented this feature for about 30 advertisers that are now seeing their banner creative take over the top of the SERP for a small portion of branded search queries.
Why Google’s Broken Promise Could be a Good Thing
The example above shows this new layout in all its glory, showcasing not only the banner itself, but the other potential application of this new development: the combination of paid (the banner) and organic (the listing with sitelinks) components within what they have made one result. This is interesting to note as you’ll notice the presence of the term “Sponsored” in the top right corner despite the fact that the only paid portion of this listing is the banner itself. While Google has yet to disclose any reasoning behind the combination of organic and paid content in one listing, it seems as if they’re making an attempt to camouflage the paid advertisement portion by combining it with the organic results, resulting in a uniform and streamlined listing that doesn’t call as much attention to the fact that a portion of it contains paid media. It is unclear at this point how those advertisers were chosen, but as of now this isn’t something that has been made available as a public beta. There has also been no word on a pricing model (CPC vs. CPM).
While for Google users the sting of disappointment in Google’s inability to follow through on a promise is still fresh, the opportunities and advantages that this new format presents would be of tremendous value to Google’s paid media advertisers. The opportunity to command the SERP for your branded search terms both visually as well as in terms of content is incredibly appealing. No longer is there worry of competitors showing up alongside or below your paid search ads, as this listing replaces what was previously the area containing the top 3 paid search ads. While Google has implemented other search components that incorporate a visual aspect (Image Extensions, Product Extensions, The Knowledge Graph etc.), this is the first attempt at what seems to be an initiative focused on providing businesses the opportunity to present their brand in a much more robust and complete way.
Unfortunately there has yet to be much of an announcement into what the future holds for this potential new ad format, as Google has only shared that this is a test they are running with a select number of advertisers (i.e. Lowes, Home Depot, Nike, Ralph Lauren, etc.). That said, should this turn into something they roll out for everyone it is sure to be a game-changer for paid and organic search listings alike. At this point all we can do is play the waiting game for what is hopefully a new advertising opportunity.
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