The banner ads are part of an experiment involving several advertisers, including Southwest Airlines, that has been running on desktop computers in the United States for about a week, according to a person with knowledge of the ads. They come as Google battles a slowing desktop search business and falling ad prices.
The search giant often runs experiments with certain groups of users before new features are put into effect for everyone. But banner advertising is one area that Google had vowed never to experiment with.
“There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or Web search results pages,” a company blog post said in 2005. “There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.”
(The blog post was written by Marissa Mayer, who was then the vice president for search at Google and is now chief executive of its rival Yahoo.)
The banner ad for Southwest, for instance, shows up when someone searches for the airline. The image is part of an ad unit that looks more like search results than previous ad units, and draws the eye with a splash of color. The whole ad takes up nearly the entire computer screen.
The ads are part of Google’s multiyear evolution from showing text links to displaying a variety of videos, photos, company logos, maps and other visual information.
As part of that evolution, images have slowly been making their way into ads. E-commerce ads now include images, seen in a search for “running shoes,” for example. As of June, other types of advertisers can show images in ads at the top of search results, a practice different from the new banner ads. Hertz, for instance, shows pictures of cars in search ads.
More than one in six Google searches now show visual content, according to a blog post by Awaneesh Verma, a Google product manager for ad formats, so the company is encouraging advertisers to follow suit. “As the Web evolves, Google users expect richer and more diverse content,” Verma wrote.
The banner ads were first noted online Wednesday on the Twitter account of Synrgy, a digital marketing startup, and first reported by Search Engine Land.