Furthermore, advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results. For example, we noticed a major search engine would not return a large airline's homepage when the airline's name was given as a query. It so happened that the airline had placed an expensive ad, linked to the query that was its name. A better search engine would not have required this ad, and possibly resulted in the loss of the revenue from the airline to the search engine. In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want. This of course erodes the advertising supported business model of the existing search engines. However, there will always be money from advertisers who want a customer to switch products, or have something that is genuinely new. But we believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.
The main difference seems to be that today even getting the top organic search result doesn't provide enough clicks for advertisers, so they feel obliged to purchase ads for their own brand names even when they already rank first. If people searching for Southwest Airlines on Google aren't ending up on the Southwest Airlines website without a huge great banner ad (despite it being ranked at the top of the results) then something is going badly wrong on the Google search results page.
Perhaps the metric being optimised isn't conversion to home page landings. Perhaps there is something deeper in their funnel which benefits from the visual experience starting one click earlier.
It should be noted that this instance is simply a test and should not be taken as an indication of how these ads will be purchased. While I'm sure there will be numerous advertisers who feel the need to have a large banner when their specific brand is searched for, I expect them to be in the minority. The real question is will I be seeing a banner for Southwest when I search for JetBlue.
It's not so much what you are going to see, as what you're not going to see. I'm sure BP is happy to buy a shiny image ad and take traffic away from wikipedias article on the deepwater horizon oil spill.
Interestingly though, at the bottom of the page, I see Google has an "In-depth Articles" section that has three articles, all about spills, two of them critical of BP.
Or maybe they are, and this is simply an example of a branding bonus/partnership for big spenders. We have no idea what the economics are and why.
What branding benefit can there be in showing a text ad to a user who is already searching for your website?
Also, they could better point customers to special offers, etc.
Hence ironically companies will often pay more per click for these results than on more unrelated keywords.
In turn, Google becomes even more of a monopoly (because previously organic clicks now become paid).
And the money Apple paid Google to win your click will need to come from somewhere. A reduction in some other head (organic optimization?) or from increased prices. We'd like to think it will merely reduce Apple's profit margin, but I doubt it.
Choose the path of the Jedi - use DDG!
Of course searching for "Southwest Airlines" will result in southwest.com being the first hit. The reason that Southwest buys its own banner is to prevent rival airlines from buying that same name.
I think this is a pretty disingenuous analysis of what's going on. It's obvious from the comparison to the [Virgin America] search that this is a bigger change that just adding a "banner ad".
Notice that for [Virgin America] there are _two_ spots that bring you to virginamerical.com, the ad and the first organic result. This is redundant, wastes space, and probably is confusing to some users. I don't know why a company buys ads for navigational queries where it's already the top result, but they do, and I'd argue it's bad for users.
On the [Southwest Airlines] query you can see that there's no redundant ad anymore - the navigational ad and the first organic result are combined. Calling that whole box and ad, when it contains the same content that the former top organic result used to, is misleading, but makes for a much more sensational headline when you want to claim that most of the screen is ads.
I'm not sure about the experiment, that's not my area, but my guess that this is part of an attempt to not have this ad+organic confusion for navigational queries by allowing the owner of the first result of a nav query to merge the ad with the result into a professional and official looking box. Maybe that'll work, maybe not, which is most likely why it's an experiment.
From my point of view the point here is the "Chinese Wall" that used to exist between organic results and paid advertising.
That used to be clearly defined, and the trust that came from that was one of Google's strengths.
The way the "Sponsored" result hides the organic result for [Southwest Airlines] (by scrolling it off the page) makes that wall redundant - effectively Google is being paid for any click there. Or that's what I think anyway: your comment "the navigational ad and the first organic result are combined" makes me think that Google is actually combining paid and organic results without labelling them separately at all. In that case the "Chinese Wall" is gone completely.
I'm always pleasantly surprised when I search for a site and get nav links into it's main sections, because it's invariably much easier to navigate than the site's own navigational system. I have no problem letting Google sell a little extra space above this nav section, especially since it only seems to appear when the result returned are related predominantly that that first site. I.e. Google doesn't appear to be doing this for the search "airlines", but does as soon as the search is definitive enough to identity a specific airline.
I'm very against getting targeted results because it destroys creativity and discovery. It used to be that when I watched a video on youtube when the video was over I'd get a bunch of related videos that were concerned with the same topic (whatever that was) now instead I see links to past videos I've watched that I'm simply not interested at the moment, basically thanks to google's attempt to make me stay on the site longer I usually only watch the video that brought me there before leaving because I'm not interested in watching cat videos or whatever nonsense I watched once but now is appearing next to the videos like a bad non sequitur.
And finally for my last rant: Why did google begin hiding their product from me? it used to be that all their products were prominently displayed at the top of the page, now if I want to use a different product I need to click a non-obvious icon and then scroll to find the product that I want to use, which UX guy came up with this?
1. track which one you clicked
2. remove the referer (sic.) field so that the target website doesn't know what search terms you used
Also, you should consider using the Chrome App Launcher for Windows and Mac OS X.
Maybe the answer is, "Well, because companies --and their marketing people -- are dumb like that, so, if they want to throw money at us..." Still, seems like it adds more complexity to both the backend logic and the front-end, while at the same time, harming opposing viewpoints. For example, Scientology is the first organic result for a search for "scientology" and thus deserves the opportunity to have a banner ad. And yet the banner ad as presented by the OP would push Scientology's apparently-well-SEOptimized opponents well below the fold.
(not to pick on Scientology, it's just the one religion/group example in which its opponents are almost as well known as the organization itself)
I preach to my local clients that they want to be in the "map pack", in the organic results AND on AdWords to get the full benefit from Google searches .. even "navigational" searches or searches where they are already #1.
One reason is easy to understand (consumers see your brand in not 1 but 3 places).
But the secondary reason is s direct result of Google favoring or placing paid ads above organic results. If you sell "blue widgets" and rank #1 organically for that term your competitors can still buy ads and rank above you because Google places those ads before the organic results.
Don't want people buying ads for searches where they are already #1? Reduce the prominence of your top ranking ads so that brands don't feel "forced" to do so just to stay competitive.
Giving people a shortcut around organic rankings and being surprised when brands then want to be in both places is kind of ridiculous.
Advertisers see incremental value in advertising on their brand traffic for many reasons including directing traffic, controlling messaging, etc. plus in some cases have seen incremental gains in brand traffic. See this blog post for more details.
Therefore what is interesting to me about combining a paid brand banner ad and organic links is the limited control the advertiser has in directing their brand traffic or controlling the copy whether the headline or site links. They also lose the ability to report on that traffic as paid brand traffic which is probably fine to the advertiser as the traffic is then reflected as a corresponding increase in organic.
Again to spankalee's point it is an experiment so I am sure the functionality will develop over time.
That way you still can't rank #1 by paying for it, but Google gets to present a better UI to the users (less redundant information - less confusion).
edit: On a related note - what's the average revenue per user for Google search -- or how much would they have to charge for an ad-free version? (Ok, that probably wouldn't work, every "ad-free" user would devalue the market for ads) -- but still -- how well would a 10USD/year ad-free Google experience sell? Surely that's much higher than average income per user/year in ads?
Google had an ad revenue of 31 billion USD  on all Google sites, the biggest part of which is from search (but I can't find the exact number right now). Now there are about 2 billion  internet users worldwide (not all of which are Google users - e.g. China) ... Since about 50% of Google revenues comes from the US, the revenue per user in the US is even higher. I don't think this is going to work.
Also take into account the overhead: people who pay generally want support. And then take into account that you could already get this for free if you use an ad blocker. I don't think if most people don't mind ads enough to install an ad blocker, they sure as hell won't pay for an ad free version.
Calling that result an "organic search result" is also misleading, more so than calling it an "ad" considering that it is visually dominating the results page.
Would a fairer headline be "Google experimenting with selling search result placement"?
This sounds to me like a complete non-issue. If you don't like ads, install AdBlock. Of course if you need clicks for your website, carry on.
Doesn't matter. Users are going to see this, and their mind is going to register "huge fucking banner ad". They aren't going to go find old screenshots, break out a ruler and do pixel by pixel comparisons.
Yes it's eye catching, but you could just as easily end up with the juxtaposition of a big AA ad, followed immediately by an article about a hijacking. Plus there's the argument that people have been trained to ignore banner ads. This could bite advertisers depending on the other organic results and their demographic.
If the issue about following content being above or below "the fold" were the only issue at stake, I'd agree. But from the pics in the article, I feel like people are going to see this and have an immediate, visceral, negative reaction, because it looks and feels like a huge banner ad.
But, if, as some people are saying, this is ONLY going to be for very specific brands and situations where the linked "ad" really would have been the top organic anyway, then maybe it won't be so bad. I had originally thought that this kind of ad was going to be allowed broadly and that they would be popping up all over.
Look during normal days, having big "southwest airlines" banner ad is ok. But if there is a current event involving "southwest airlines" which might not be beneficial to them (some review, revelation about safety, etc.) this ad will be basically make this event on the second page of the search...
Look, Southwest AirLines are not stupid. Nor Google.
It is just that we are annoyed because there is less and less of "free internet".
This is Google selling out their initial vision (the little that's left of it) just a little bit more. Which is disappointing to me personally, but they certainly don't owe anyone anything. They can do with their SERPs as they please, just as I can do with my search queries what I please. They were so good for so long, but ask any SEO worth their salt what they think of Google. They'll tell you those days have been over for some years now.
I understand ads for terms like "cheap tickets", but why would I want an ad for the term "Southwest Airlines"?
From what the example shows it's not so much an ad as a really quick way to visually see that when you click you will be going to the right place.
I mean visually it's probably quicker to see the big honking ad and airplane and focus and click than it is to read type. I'm guessing. User testing would prove or disprove this. (After all why do people use icons for that matter?)
 If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.
I'm just a bit concerned that we're moving more and more to the point where your business can only be successful if you're paying Google. I'm not sure if it's fair to say that and I understand that Google is a business that has to earn money, but there are some red flags showing up for me.
The banner at the top of the box is a traditional (and somewhat large) banner ad.
The rest of the content of the box is exactly what you get as the top result of the same search on Google when you aren't getting the experimental ad.
This makes it much, much easier now that all I have to do is search for the airline and click the section I want from the box at the top that signifies that what I'm about to click is the exact official site I'm looking for.
-Check in Online
-Book Travel Award
-Check Flight Status
This may be different in other countries. I am inclined to believe this is showing for nearly all US users as I have seen these direct links for airlines for quite some time.
What Southwest is doing is trading their free clicks for paid ones.
If it pushes southwestsucks.com or something similar off the first page of google results it has some value.
My nightmare scenario is the spread of what already goes on on alot of less scrupulous sites: "we have detected that you are using AdBlock. Turn it off to view our content".
It reminds me of the excellent dystopia-satire "Black Mirror" where citizens are forced to view ads and if they look away or shut their eyes, an increasingly loud tone is played along with a "warning"...
And "some" means several hundred supporters.
If these ads show up when you search "cheep airline tickets" or "personal computers" i could see there being a problem.
Does anyone know what you need to do to qualify for that type of banner ad? My guess is trade mark and major brand recognition
I think at this rate Google will only show one result on the page in the future, with a 90 percent chance that result being a big brand, and with a "See more results" link at the bottom. I'm not sure I'd like that future, even if it wasn't compromised by Google's push towards showing big brands at the top, and if it were in fact showing the "best of the best" result.
In fact spending money on their own brand keywords generated signifigant negative ROI (1).
So my guess is that this strategy from Google is designed to provide brands with a first step to generating actual value from Google search results.
I can see brands making these out-sized spends when able to provide their customers w/additional value like interactivity within the goog results, etc.
> On average, 50% of the ad clicks that occurred with a top rank organic result are incremental, i.e., they would not be recovered organically if the ad campaign is paused.
Same story (but no real discussion) was submitted here:
Call me cynical, but I suspect it will still be upvoted and discussed here because any comments on that earlier discussion will get lost in the noise of the close to 200 comments already there.
Sometimes when there is a story that is a day or so old it's almost as if it doesn't pay to comment for that exact reason.
Edit: By "exact reason" I mean an old story with 200 comments isn't as attractive to make a comment on as a new story with 15 or 20 comments that is 2 or 3 hours old.
> Sometimes when there is a story that
> is a day or so old ...
I had a rant about this in another comment:
As I say, this rampant duplication (which I admit doesn't happen often, but still often enough) offends my sense of taste. I know others don't care, but it irritates me.
And now I'm going to have to step away from the keyboard and let it all die down and go away. At least with on-line irritations like this you can just walk away.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I find that a little evil.
Plus these look more like customized brand pages for companies that people are "specifically looking for", I would rather have detailed information about a company right front and center when I'm looking for it. The fact that anyone makes money because of this fact is ancillary.
I'm having a hard time not reading this as effectively saying that it's evil to compensated for providing a service.
Yeah, it's probably the most relevant result, but it's giving the user (especially if that user is, you know, non-technical) little choice but to click on the thing that puts money in GOOG's pocket.
But the user made the choice to use Google in the first place. If people don't want Google getting money for clicks in their search results, then they should use a competing search engine.
Southwest probably knew this when they negotiated with Google for the giant front-page ad.
Important boss man also wants to get good results for 'acme blue widgets', 'tough widgets Alabama', 'naughty widgets' and whatever but only really cares about those secondary searches when someone else has told him to care about it. It is the main company name, in the search box that matters.
I think this is going to work well for all concerned and I don't share the cynicism most people seem to have about this.
So long as Google only returns these sponsored ads for searches for the company name, I don't see this as being a problem at all, given the fact that many users are using the address bar integrated search in place of bookmarking or typing URLs.
Where this would become a problem is if they start expanding this to searches beyond simply the company name, and I think there is a bit of a gray area there. As someone else pointed out in this thread, showing the Southwest banner in response to a search for "cheap airfare" pretty unambiguously crosses a line, but what abut something like "book southwest airlines flights." One could argue that the user was attempting to get to the southwest airlines website to book a flight, so showing the Southwest banner would be appropriate, however, companies like Expedia, Kayak, and so on, whose links would now be much further down the page, would likely disagree.
1. Users tend to ignore the small ads on the right (anecdote: I do)
2. Users do notice and click on search results beneath the top query, even when they originally intended to arrive at their exact branded query
3. Search results beneath the top result are for competitors
Solution: Put in huge "ad" to draw attention and also to knock competitors listings to the very bottom of the screen or off the fold completely
If 1-3 hold true, then I could see it making sense competitively to shove those other results down the page.
Edit: aresant pointed out a good article that could explain the intent. Yay! Also, it wasn't my intent to hate on Google, just a thought experiment.
First, probe the outrage machine for banners for particular brands. Then for a huge price tag, add lightweight widgets to the SERP for brands so searchers can e.g. buy tickets from the Google Search page. This is hailed by the brands as increasing sales dramatically. Demand for this feature grows.
Once significant numbers are using the SERP widgets, make the banners/widgets part of general non-brand search. Natural next step. A little bit of outrage, but at this point it just gets muffled by the masses. Life goes on.
All of these brands are getting increasingly dependent on Google's SERP widgets, which give Google huge leverage power. One deal leads to another and before you know it Google starts buying up airlnes to streamline everything.
So in 2030 we're flying Google Air using a Google phone to buy tickets to the Google Movies, to see a film made by a studio wholly owned by Google.
I'm not even saying this is a Bad Thing (tm). Just that if I were heading Google this would totally be my game plan.
Google will never buy airlines, it'd be like Apple taking over the music industry.
Besides, Airlines are a very low-margin business. How would a GOOG investor react to them taking on such a margins-killing subsidiary?
Ignoring that, it's unfair to use one example and say that search results are 12%. Is it 12% average, 12% median, or 12% for navigational queries only?
It's ironic that every time one of these "omg, google is pushing organic search results off the page" posts comes up, it's the general public who's obsessed with dollars, whereas Google seems to be concerned for the user. Google makes a ton of money off of advertising because they know how to provide useful user experience. Which isn't surprising really, they have a lot more vested interest in making sure they provide such an experience than arstechnica do.
Sure they want to find ways to align their incentives with the user's incentives, but come on people: think of the people they saved clicking through to www.cheapair.com and www.insanelycheapflights.com
Google are so big and powerful that it's easy and tempting to think of them as invulnerable and immortal, but remember... people have thought that about many companies in the past, more than a few of whom are no longer with us.
Edit: OK, IF this really is only for brand names and doesn't show up for more general searches ("cheap airline tickets", etc.) then maybe it won't be received so badly. That said, I still believe that, in general, "big honkin' banner ads" are NOT going to be well received on Google search result pages. I guess time will tell.
“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.”
I just did a few searches for educational topics, got no ads. ... I would say there isn't a problem...
But lets assume it doesn't say that way and someone around here needs to search for something like oh
Visual Studio (something or other)
Xcode git integration
Now imagine the glorious Microsoft or Apple ad covering 88% of the screen.
Still don't see the problem? An ad targeted the way this one is isn't useful for anything other than gauging reaction. For it to be useful they will have to show up on related searches, not ones that are specifically for that product or service.
As a someone who works in advertising, even I dislike banner ads. They are obtrusive, annoying and take away the attention. Google should go back to adwords and make them better rather than anything else.
Speaking of "high quality ads": The second Cheap-O-Air Ad is for flights to Southwest not on Southwest Airlines - Deceptive IMHO.
This ain't a big deal actually, it's a test to get more from their Adwords when people really search for the companies. But behold the future :( (investors, stocks, it will never be enough).
Eight years passed...
"There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage ... ever, excepting one large ad at the top of the page."
After that it did not seem strange when the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters.
And they do this because we're in a "Post Steve Jobs" era where every designer wants to be a Prima-Dona Jobs-successor Rockstar Diva who re-invisions all the company's products. You'd be surprised at the illogical changes and constant redesigns they make with YouTube and Google Analytics. I'm actually moving away from G-Analytics to Piwki because of the obnoxious "anti-middle-click" interface. With YouTube, Jesus... They change something every week. At least on my account they do.