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October 25, 2013

Google Tests Image Ads for Top Search Results

Back in 2010, Google launched a feature that allowed local businesses to add yellow markers to the map and promote their websites. Tags were actually ads that were placed inside local search results. It was a weird way to mix organic search results with ads and this feature was discontinued in 2011.

Now Google tests a similar feature for web search results. Instead of adding links and markers, advertisers can add huge banners above their search listings, but only for navigational searches. "The banners allow brands to take over the ad space on branded search queries and essentially present a branded search results experience," reports Search Engine Land. "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," mentions Barry Schwartz. Basically, instead of displaying ads for competitors, Google shows a huge banner for the top search result.

"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," explained Google.

Well, that's not exactly true. The images are added to the search results, not to the search ads. Even though the top search result and the corresponding sitelinks are grouped with the image ad and the entire section is labeled "sponsored", this is actually the top search result.

The truth is that Google has continually added features from the organic search results to the search ads and Google has also started to mix search results with ads. For example, Google Shopping results are now ads, since companies need to pay to be included in the list of results. Booking links from flights search and hotel search are sponsored links.

For some searches, Google shows so many ads that you have to scroll to find some actual search results. Here's a screenshot of a Google search page for [tablet]: I highlighted the only organic result you can see without scrolling down. The Chrome window was resized to 1063x890, so there's enough vertical space. Most laptops sold today have lower resolutions: most likely, 1366x768.

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