Advertising Technology

Google Testing Banner Ads: Perhaps Not What You Think


I think we’ve heard this tune before.

The news last week that Google is testing banner ads in search results did two things.  First, it sent a good portion of recreational Google watchers and the mainstream tech press into a tizzy.  Second, it had search engine marketers scrambling to determine the implications for their business.

<Yawn>  Now I definitely know we’ve heard this tune before.

Headlines in The Guardian crowed about broken promises while propeller-heads argued in online forums about whether image ads were compatible with Google’s corporate philosophy.  From the standpoint of a search professional, though, the tech community’s blowback is the easiest bit to deal with.

The existence of these limited tests, the likes of which we’ve seen before from Google, are not pre-announced to the ad community.  So when they do hit the press, search marketing professionals (other than those working for the advertisers involved) are just as blindsided by the news as everyone else.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that the statement Google issued in response to inquiries about the banner ads tells you everything you need to know:

“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.”  [Emphasis mine]

It’s important when reading that sentence to remember how Google makes money.

When you discern what Google is up to here, you’ll see that it’s actually quite consistent with their corporate philosophy, which states quite bluntly “Google is a business.”  It also says “advertising…offers relevant content.”

To make money without affecting the perceived value of its search results, Google needs to generate more user clicks on ads.  This is the reason why armies of Google sales reps try to convince advertisers to undertake keyword expansions and adopt rigorous processes for testing new search terms.  Whereas making the case for a keyword expansion can illuminate new ad opportunities for advertisers, testing banner ads is geared more toward Google’s core business – compelling more clicks on advertising under terms that advertisers are unquestionably relevant to.

Undoubtedly, what Google is after here is a lift in clicks on core brand terms, which would instantly highlight an opportunity to drop revenue to its bottom line.  So if Southwest Airlines gets [X] CTR on keyword “Southwest,” Google is hoping that adding an image to the search result will garner a [2X] or [3X] CTR.  A successful test would mean that Google has an opportunity to increase the amount of money it makes on inventory it is already selling profitably to advertisers.  And it happens to be the inventory that these advertisers are least likely to want to give up.

See what’s happening here?  Google wants more money for core branded search terms, and this is the test to see whether that can happen.

What should you be doing?  Preparing.  Look at your core brand terms and how they’re performing.  Then, think about how it would affect you if the volume on those terms suddenly increased and drove in a slightly less-qualified searcher.  Think about competitors, both direct and indirect, who are advertising on those terms along with you.  Will an image help you get a larger share of prospects?  Or will the image make a difference?

 This column was written by Chris Tuleya, Vice President, eDR, at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Look for their column the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month. 


  • Joe Chance

    this is what I do to put out banner ads… not such a big deal when you’ve learned how to market…