Google Testing Huge Banner Ads For Branded Queries

google-full-page-sponsored-image-ad

Google has confirmed that they are testing incredibly large banner ads for specific branded queries.

@SynrgyHQ posted an image on Twitter showing for the query [southwest airlines a huge “sponsored” ad at the top of the search results.

A Google spokesperson confirmed this is a “small experiment” running currently in the U.S. market.

The ad seems to take up the majority of the screen real estate. I assume since it is a very branded query, Google finds this ad to be relevant and they are testing to see the click-through on this ad.

The No Banner Ads Ever Promise

In 2005, Google promised that 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.

Eight years later, it seems Google may be ready to break that promise.

Update: The team at Synrgy has learned from a source at Google that the “brand image experiment” is live with about 30 advertisers, including Crate & Barrel and Virgin America. The test is showing for less than 5 percent of search queries.

Synrgy also provided access to the HTML page. Despite the gray box surrounding both the banner and the text listing, the ad is comprised of the banner only. The Southwest Airlines text listing and sitelinks below the image are standard organic results. We’ve asked Google for clarification on why the gray box surrounds both paid and organic units as well as cost structure and will update here when we learn more.

Postscript: See our follow-up story, FAQ: All About The Banner Ad Test In Google’s Search Results.

Our sister site Marketing Land is collecting examples of these brand banner ads spotted in the wild. See which brands we’ve been able to spot in search results below:

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Top News

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • Rajesh

    paid engine…paid engine…paid engine…and that seems to be where google is headed…organic results pushed downward and to second page wherever possible (i.e. for big money queries).

  • http://www.socialmediasass.com/ Karla Campos

    Interesting. From my personal experience once you get used to recognizing text ads you know to ignore them, pictures definitely catch the eye. I wonder what the cost for such an ad will be….

  • JM

    This is so good especially after Matt Cutts talk at Pubcon. Oh the irony.

  • disqus_Xaj08UB0Dl

    SEO professionals need to wake up and smell the proverbial roses. Organic search, and to an extent SEO, is being marginalized to a point where no one will care. SEO’s that learn how to morph into other disciplines will survive, those who choose to remain will die.

  • http://www.clayton-nichols.com/ Clay

    This is what I don’t understand throughout the larger community of SEO. It’s no longer just about search, but providing an excellent landscape for when that visitor arrives and producing conversions. It’s content marketing, inbound marketing, brand recoginition and so much more.

  • Natalia Ros

    How interesting! Facebook has recently also started using banner ads on their Facebook login page. I wonder how effective they are since most people who know this is an advertisement will ignore them, especially because they are not targeted.

    I wonder how much it will cost to place your banner ad on Google page, and I am curious to see how the price, once established, will likely fly through the roof with all the businesses wanting to be on the Google page!

  • Sam Mazaheri

    At least this example shows how brand banners can look better than image extensions

  • http://www.minterest.com/ Mahesh Mohan

    Okay, we will soon see banner ads on Google.com.

  • OIRMS

    Tisk tisk tisk G…”There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever”. Hum, it appears a big jet (doodads flying?) is cool though. I can always come to SEL to get the latest and not always greatest G news. Thanks Barry. Have a great day all!

  • OIRMS

    Agreed Clay. In today’s consumer controlled markets it all boils down to less focus on SEO and more empthasis on naturally building relationships with consumers by utilizing methods you mentioned (content marketing, inbound lead gen) and yes, much more.

  • http://www.martinaberastegue.com Martín Aberastegue

    You forgot to add that the blog post about the “no banners in google site ever” was made by Marissa Mayer… So now she is gone they can do that? :P…Welcome to 2001

  • albucian

    Getting a banner add for a brand in response to a search for this exact brand (like in the example) is not really that shocking to me… On the other hand if you get those in any kind of search that could be more annoying…

  • David Abramson

    You guys should see how much a banner ad would cost you to show up on results for “is SEO dead?”

  • http://www.personalinjurydefenders.com/personal-injury-attorneys.html Macky Anderson

    Woah! That’s way to big. I also wonder how much does that ad cost? But then a new thing that we will surely get indulge with Google. I guess there are more to come.

  • disqusererer

    Inbound marketing & content marketing were made up phrases touted in an rebrand SEO efforts as being about something else, such that people who couldn’t compete in the SEO market could simultaneously slag off SEO & claim to be selling something different.

  • Ben

    Is this not just another way to get a company to pay for a click on their own branded search? If the user clicks the banner ad, the company pays for the click, however these banner ads are supposedly only going to appear on specific branded terms, so the company loses the organic click and instead gets the ad click.

  • Ben

    Is this not just another way to get a company to pay for a click on their own branded search? If the user clicks the banner ad, the company pays for the click, however these banner ads are supposedly only going to appear on specific branded terms, so the company loses the organic click and instead gets the ad click.

  • Richard Chandler

    In some instances it can be a great defense against competitors trying to Conquest your brand with their ads.

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    The web is increasingly becoming a visual medium, and images can communicate so much more than text, especially with people’s short attention spans. This seems like a natural evolution for Google ads.

  • Zach

    Google Will No More Be a Search Engine.. It will be the THE AD Engine

  • Durant Imboden

    If the ads are only for “branded queries,” and if the ads are for entities that should rank #1 for those queries under normal circumstances, I can’t get too worked up over this. It would be different if, say, somebody were searching for “soft drinks” and got a huge Pepsi display ad.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    It wasn’t Marissa’s promise. It was Google’s promise. On its official blog, with its official blessing.

  • http://www.martinaberastegue.com Martín Aberastegue

    I know.. I was just kidding..

  • Durant Imboden

    You’re misrepresenting what Marissa Mayer wrote. She didn’t say “no banners in google site ever.” Her use of the word “ever” referred to “crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site” (her words, not mine).

    Also, the blog post was about an AOL search-partnership announcement, and it needs to be read and interpreted in that context.

  • Durant Imboden

    I can’t help wondering what the actual value of such an ad will be. Take the example, Southwest.com: Is the banner likely to have a significant impact on clickthrough rate or brand awareness when the user is already searching for the brand and sees “Southwest Airlines” with a batch of sitelinks in the No. 1 organic position? It seems to me that these ads are more about catering to corporate vanity than anything else.

  • http://let5ch.tumblr.com/ Tim Letscher

    So, how does this wind up displaying on a 4in. screen? Hello, full screen image you need to thumb past? You know Google has that one figured out too. I agree with some commenters here that if I search for SWA, seeing a big SWA photo isn’t going to set me off. If Google decides to auction unbranded search terms to the highest bidder, all bets are off!

  • Sergiu Draganus

    it looks almost the same as a parking page … very nice UX :)

  • Vivek Agarwal

    Minus the banner, looks like an SEO link, not free anymore!!!

  • http://www.hostingkingdom.com/ Matt @ HostingKingdom

    agree, looks like a parked domain page on sedo

  • Matthew Pack

    Question is what is a brand query? Starbucks, McDonalds sure. But Apple, Dallas Airport, Canterbury. What happens when a location could be a brand or a brand is a word. What’s the Google formula for recognising a brand?

  • Gagool

    You call it misrepresentation on Danny’s part. I would call it manipulative wording on Google’s part (which is one of their main specialties).

    You can always ‘deny’ that you will ever-ever-ever do something, but then go and wrap it in words so that in the end you actually don’t deny anything apart from an extreme version created explicitly for a conveniently emphatic denial.

    ‘Will you ever buy a sports car?’

    ‘What?? You really think I will ever buy one? No way I’m gonna showboat behind the wheel of a Bugatti Veyron. I will never drive recklessly down the main drag doing 100 mph, or act like an idiot on the highways. Never.’

    In the above rant, did I actually deny I’d ever buy a sports car? No. But the majority of people would interpret it so. And that’s exactly the intent.

    Just like with Matt Cutts’s usual answers, which carefully avoid such common words as ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and instead opt for phrases like ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere down the road Google took a stricter line towards some of these efforts when it considers them detrimental to the quality of search results’.

    Hedge, Marissa, hedge Matt, every Upstanding Google Citizen, always hedge and hedge and hedge! Don’t let an ounce of actual straightforward honesty accidentally creep in.

    That’s how bottom-of-the-barrel human beings and bottom-of-the-barrel companies affect disgust and horror at doing certain stuff while actually leaving the door open for themselves; how they seem to solemnly promise while they do anything but; how they seem to honestly answer while only create long sentences around the big fat nothing they usually prefer to commit to.

  • digitalcorner

    How interesting! Facebook has recently also started using banner ads on their Facebook login page. I wonder how effective they are since most people who know this is an advertisement will ignore them, especially because they are not targeted.

    I wonder how much it will cost to place your banner ad on Google page, and I am curious to see how the price, once established, will likely fly through the roof with all the businesses wanting to be on the Google page!

    http://www.highprdeo.com
    http://www.digitalcorner.net

  • dhruva

    youtube website has a banner ad, this is not a banner. instead of a thumbnail this is like a giant billboard. pretty but too big, a thumbnail would be just fine

  • i Multiscreen

    Mobile is the medium companies aspire to do well in, yet this ad appears only on desktop . . . I checked an Android phone, and the iPhone 5. No pretty ad!

  • http://remkovanderzwaag.nl/ Remko van der Zwaag

    Yes, Google will have to break their promise. But this example looks like a great user experience (since it’s a branded query) and therefore I personally would have no objections really. And I wouldn’t be suprised if the CPC will be the same as usual.

  • Lloyd Morris-Fletcher

    I think it’s a great step. As mentioned
    below, it offers strong brand reinforcement when (and only if Google
    keeps it this way) a brand term search is completed. One of the major floors I see
    with PPC ads is that it can take direct attention away from companies by
    offering paid ads before organic ones. Meaning competitors with bigger wallets
    have a chance to hijack potential customers, especially for smaller brands or
    start-ups. This will offer the chance to take back your SERPs! There will still
    be many, many people who don’t put the effort in to establish this within
    Google (see Authorship & Rel=Publisher) but this is rewarding for those who
    do.

  • Chase Anderson

    Now that’s a good question. First problem that came to mind… Sturgis, location and ‘brand’.

  • Chase Anderson

    True, and you nailed it in a lot of ways. However, isn’t it entirely reasonable that if you’re making statements to avoid future guarantees? How do you know the future anyway? It’s something Matt Cutts does extremely well, but it drives people crazy. Well, if you were Matt, you would say things the exact same way. You can’t say something only to have situations change 6, 12, 24 months down the road then have everyone call you a liar and accuse you of misleading everyone. It’s just not reasonable to make demands that Matt or Google make absolute guarantees on a lot of that stuff…

    Banner ads? I wouldn’t call a branded billboard on the branded query necessarily a banner ad. It is obviously not as bad as it could be. Wouldn’t you love to have that real estate on your branded query?

    It’s obviously a manner of balance though and there would be some tough questions about what a ‘branded’ query really is.

  • Durant Imboden

    “You call it misrepresentation on Danny’s part.”

    Actually, I was responding to Martin Aberastegue’s misquotation of Marissa Mayer.

  • Durant Imboden

    Maybe Google has heard of “responsive design”?

  • http://www.koozai.com/ Mike Essex

    To be fair, you could say they broke the no banner adverts promise when they implemented authorship. Both the introduction of author photos in the SERP’s and publisher on the right column are massive visual additions. Although personally I think those banner adverts look great and I want one!

  • RJ

    Take a long, hard look at every word you just wrote. You actually meant all of that. Do you even know how you sound? Do you even realize how utterly ridiculous and soulless you come across? You throw on your generic slim-cut suit and you spout this social media d-bag babble like you’re actually important.

    You are a terrible human being and you should seriously reconsider your life choices.

  • Lloyd Morris-Fletcher

    Please share your views rather than trying to launch a personal attack on others sharing theirs… I don’t pretend my views are gospel or ‘actually important’, they are my opinion.

  • Lloyd Morris-Fletcher

    I apologies If you thought I was supporting Google monetizing
    the search engines in order to encourage clicks through sponsored/paid ads and
    pushing the ‘profitless’ organic listings below the page fold – that wasn’t my
    intention. I was looking at it from a completely different angle, one in which
    small brands (hardly soulless..?) could reinforce their image on their own
    brand terms and help to stop others dominating their result pages. I understand
    there may be an issue with larger brands slapping banner images all over
    smaller companies SERPs however I’d hope Google would not allow this and have a
    similar set up to the publisher mark-up whereby your banner appears when exact
    brand terms are searched.

    It should only be applied to brand search terms and not to create
    a new profit generating way of competing within the search results – my thoughts, happy to hear yours.

    We don’t really need to discuss what I wear to work do we….

  • Wesley van der Hoop

    I personally think this will help against advertisement of competitors on your brandname. Great development!

  • Anshul Gupta

    It is good that Google is coming up with new features in regards to ads.

  • http://www.richhudson.co.uk/ Rich Hudson

    Personally I think this is a bit of a technicality – they’re not “crazy, flashy, graphical doodads”. At the same time companies should be careful what the commit to. Ah, the politics of language.

  • http://www.richhudson.co.uk/ Rich Hudson

    Personally I think this is a bit of a technicality – they’re not “crazy, flashy, graphical doodads”. At the same time companies should be careful what the commit to. Ah, the politics of language.

  • Social Profiles US

    Yes. I remember that, and do no evil. Anyway, I’m not really sure why a brand would buy such a display ad. It seems like the ads are only for brand names, and if a company has optimized their brand properly, they should dominate the organic search results. So why spend the money?

    Note: I just tried search for Southwest Airlines, and do not see the display ad..though, I may have answered my own question. Though Southwest does dominate, there is some news items about them. So, I can see a brand, if this become a permanent option, buying their own brand name and utilizing the big display ad to distract from bad press if they should ever be so unfortunate…They might also use it for new product releases…Hmm. Should be interesting to see if this becomes permanent option of not.

  • Loginet Solutions

    And what’s bad on this? Do you need to eat? Google need too! We’ll optimize websites for the second page. Big deal!

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