FAQ: All About The Banner Ad Test In Google’s Search Results

G google logoYesterday, Search Engine Land broke the news that Google is running a test to show banner ads on branded search results. While the search giant has introduced images to its ad formats, including product listing ads and image extensions, the introduction of banner ads is a noticeable change for the company. Here’s what we know so far.

Do these new ads include the image banner and text listings?

Despite appearances, the ad is comprised of the image banner only. In the Virgin America screenshot below (sent to us by @SynrgyHQ), for example, the text listing for www.virginamerica.com and subsequent sitelinks are standard organic links.

Google Banner Ad Test Virgin AmericaWhy does the gray box surround both the banner ad and the organic listing if it’s not one ad unit?

The outline with the “Sponsored” tag inside does make it appear that the banner image and text listing are part of one giant ad. Why Google has chosen to blur the lines between paid and organic in this test is unclear, we’re still waiting for an answer on this.

Can users click on the banner ad?

Yes, a click on the banner leads users to the advertiser’s website.

On what types of queries are the banners showing?

The banners are appearing on specific branded queries only. A Google source referred to this test as a “brand image experiment” when speaking with the Synrgy folks.

What advantage does this type of branded banner give advertisers?

The banners allow brands to take over the ad space on branded search queries and essentially present a branded search results experience. Here is a side-by-side look at results for the search query [southwest airlines] with standard text ads versus the results when the branded banner ad displays. The advertiser appeal of the banner ads becomes clear.

google-banner-ad-vs-standard-branded-resultsBut isn’t this a departure from Google’s past stance on banner ads?

In response to the announcement that Google was partnering with AOL in 2005, Marissa Mayer, then Google VP of search products and user experience, the company promised banner ads would never come to web search, saying:

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.

No, there aren’t crazy graphical doodads or even calls-to-action on these ads, but one could still say these branded banners are a break from Google’s 2005 pledge.

What advertisers are participating?

The test is currently live with about 30 advertisers. Participating brands include Crate & Barrel, Southwest Airlines and Virgin America.

How are advertisers charged for the ads?

We are waiting to hear from Google on this question as well if the banner ads are priced on a CPC or CPM basis (or both).

How large is this test?

The banner ads are showing for less than 5 percent of search queries. So, if you haven’t been able to see these ads yet, you’re not alone.

Has Google officially commented?

Yes, this morning Google released this statement:

“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.  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.”

Our sister site Marketing Land, is collecting examples of these brand banner ads seen in the wild, watch the slideshow now:

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Features: Analysis | Google | Google: AdWords | Search Ads | Search Ads: General | Top News

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About The Author: writes about paid online marketing topics including paid search, paid social, display and retargeting. Beyond Search Engine Land, Ginny provides search marketing and demand generation advice for ecommerce companies. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter



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  • http://www.v2interactive.net/ Josh

    What a joke.

  • Kirk Lennon

    “The advertiser appeal of the banner ads becomes clear”

    Really? Why? Advertisers are essentially paying to put their own link above their own link. They could not advertise at all and people would just click on their own top-ranked organic link instead. The only winner here is Google, which is conning advertisers to pay for clicks they’re essentially guaranteed to get anyway. The advertisers still get a fully branded experience *after* the searcher (almost inevitably) clicks on either link, paid or free.

  • Durant Imboden

    No biggie. Google is exploring corporate vanity, that’s all.

    Also, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Google run conventional display ads one of these days. Why should they leave money on the table by limiting themselves to direct-response ads (especially on informational SERPs where searchers aren’t looking to buy things?).

  • Ginny Marvin

    But that’s what happens already with branded text ads, and advertisers are sold on those based on their own analysis. What I was saying is that with this banner ad, advertisers can “own” the ad space on their branded queries and not compete with other advertisers. And certainly from a branding standpoint, the banner visual is more powerful than a text ad. Both aspects are bound to appeal to these advertisers.

  • Kirk Lennon

    Thank you so much for your reply, but I still think that advertisers who bid on their own brand are operating primarily on irrational fear. Have you read about the study eBay did: “Consumer Heterogeneity and Paid Search Effectiveness: A Large Scale Field Experiment”? I’ve a read summary and I’m halfway through reading the (25-page) report itself. The basic gist is that, specifically for brand searches such as this, people are looking for results from the brand’s own website itself anyway, and will just click on the link that takes them there. If the top link is a paid link to the page, they’ll often click on that, but if it’s not, they’ll just move down to the free organic link below, at a near 100% substitution rate.

    There’s a little more nuance in the specific scenarios, but the end result is a negative rate of return on branded search term ads.

    I think a lot of companies just have X amount budgeted for advertising and feel like they probably should spend some of it buying ads for their own name, just in case.

    In any event, I thought your article was great and really informative.

  • TDR

    Thanks for the article. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  • RedLeader

    Excellent reply. I had suspected the results of that case study were as they say, and now I’ve got something (hopefully concrete) to read to back it up.

  • Ginny Marvin

    Hi Kirk, Thanks for following up. I am familiar with the eBay study — for some other perspectives on that you might read: http://searchengineland.com/ebay-says-adwords-ineffective-google-research-contradict-ebay-findings-151573

    Whether a company should spend money on brand ads is one of the most common questions in PPC, and the answer depends on lots of factors in addition to ROI impact. Many companies see incremental clicks from ads and while others find their ads mostly cannibalize organic traffic. Here’s an oldie-but-goodie on this subject from George MIchie at RKG that might be of interest: http://searchengineland.com/brand-ad-cannibalism-a-tale-of-two-tests-100215

  • Kirk Lennon

    Thanks for the other links. I look forward to reading some additional perspectives.

  • Zach Griffith

    In a truly “do no evil” (perfect world), Google wouldn’t have opened the gate that allows us to compete on competitors trademarks. Sadly, they did open the gate and probably don’t plan on closing it any time soon for a few rea$on$.

    I wonder how a Google “do good” scenario would look?

    1. For queries that include trademarks: Ensure that there are no sponsored results (AKA don’t set up an auction pitting brands against each other’s trademarks). Heck, throw in the banner for free to improve the experience!
    a. Of course this would need to be adjusted for queries like “Nike Shoes”

    2. Let consumer reviews speak to the quality of the brand/better products/services. Better experience right?

    Unfortunately this is not currently the case, nor do I see it being the case any time soon.

    Here’s my perspective on brand coverage: Not having the first say (ad position / organic listing) would be like letting someone stand in front of your business greeting your patrons with “Hi there! Do you have a few minutes to talk about why you need our products or services more than theirs?”. I don’t know about you, but I would probably ask them to leave.

    Google’s response should actually be: “We did something a little evil, but now we are going to let you stand out in the auction that will go on…”.

  • DerrickHicks3

    Totally agree with this comment. We have ran multiple tests on this idea and have always seen incremental lift… which was exactly the opposite of what I “knew” would be the case. Test, test, test!

    It would be really interesting to see if you would still see an incremental lift with a huge banner add over your organic listing like this.

    Another “feature” I could see in doing this is an interesting branding play. Early adopters might be able to use this to increase the strength of their brand in their customers eyes because it’s something the user may have never seen before. The reaction might be, “Wow, I didn’t realize these guys were a big enough of a company to get that kind of exposure on Google.”

    What do you think?

  • Tom Butlin

    The screenshot on the left shows 2 competitors bidding on the brand term, and the screenshot on the right, with the banner has no competitors.

    This may well change as it is tested, but from the brand’s POV it makes sense to pay a little(?) to evict the competitors.

    I prefer not to bid on competitors’ terms as the QS penalty is too high (plus conversions are invariably nil).

  • Scott Van Achte

    All I have to say is “Yuck”. They are giving up the majority of real estate to ads, something they will punish other site owners for doing. Shameful.

  • Zach Griffith

    Hi Tom,

    I prefer not to bid on them myself and agree that the immediate return isn’t so hot / QS definitely suffers.

    On that same note, most measure return based on incremental time periods as opposed to the optimal measurement of lifetime customer value.

    That said, while the short term return for our competitors may be low, one has to wonder what happens to the our brands during the process from a lifetime customer value perspective?

    I honestly don’t think Google will remove our competitors based on whether we bid or not on our brands, so evicting really isn’t possible in many cases. But if this were to go live, it would definitely help us dominate in the environment!

    Regardless of format / price, I would always want to own the best real estate for my brand. Thanks for the reply Tom!

  • Tom Butlin

    Hi Zach
    Yes, agree with you there. The threat of competitors bidding on your brand is usually a scare tactic.

    I’ll be watching with interest.

  • JESSICA PARKER

    Thank you for sharing with us this post Ginny :)
    Nowadays Google is promoting too much of the corporates, what will the small Buzz people do if everything goes sponsored.

    Visit my new post : http://www.outsourcestrategies.com/blog/2013/10/why-healthcare-practices-need-claims-management-outsourcing.html

  • Rajesh Sood

    Absolutely bang on. Size = Presence = Creating perception of being disproportionately bigger than what one actually is.

    Google new experiment makes me wonder – Are they Losing revenue or simply want more??

  • http://www.can-goldlink.com/ Alex CAI

    “The reaction might be, “Wow, I didn’t realize these guys were a big
    enough of a company to get that kind of exposure on Google.”"
    i really agree with you!

  • Vivek Darak

    This is something I encountered a couple of days ago, it was a strange Ad format, you can have a further look on here

  • Pat Grady

    “the company promised banner ads would never come to web search”
    Never say never. :-)

  • oliver

    Wow really! I never thought Google would sell out like this. However, if it’s just brand searches then this feature is not all bad.

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