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New banner ads push actual Google results to bottom 12% of the screen (arstechnica.com)
271 points by llambda on Oct 24, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments

Page and Brin themselves once pointed out the problems of accepting ads or paid placement, with some rather ironic examples:

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.

"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.

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.

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.

This may be fallout from trademark owners losing their various lawsuits against Google for allowing competitors to advertise on their trademark as keyword. (See this article: http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2013/05/google_crushes....) So now they may be the top organic result (or even a navigation result) but JetBlue or United or whatever can buy a banner on top that has their airline telling the searcher how much better they are than the other guys. This is great for Google, now Southwest has to pay to advertise or get side swiped by a competitor, and because its an auction system their competitor can bid up the keywords to negatively impact Southwest, forcing higher ad rates. Win win win for Google, not so great for Southwest Airlines).

If they follow through with what you suggest, I wonder if it will be the straw that breaks the camels back in regards to an antitrust lawsuit by the government.

Why should that be the case? Google had defended and won most cases around the world where brands accused it of allowing competitors to show ads against their keyword searches. Why should banner ads be treated any differently by antitrust regulators?

The issue that I see (IANAL) is that these incremental changes to embedded advertising within search encroach ever-closer to a form of paid-search. When you own 60-70% of search, and you start requiring companies to pay in order to appear above the fold, we may have a problem.

I'm pretty sure the banner can only appear when you have the top organic search result. So JetBlue couldn't buy the banner for Southwest. Furthermore, the idea is that the user is trying to find Southwest so redirecting them to JetBlue would make not sense.

It may not necessarily be a win-win for Google. It could actually make search worse. Consider if I search for Southwest Airlines and get a big Jet Blue banner that takes up 88% of vertical space, this would actually make me very agitated as a search consumer - it's almost the same as displaying a popup ad.

"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.

Unless that ad doesn't knock the Deepwater Horizon down past the fold, and it paints BP in a terrible light. It can go both ways.

When searching for "BP", all of the results are relevant, but none are about Deepwater Horizon.

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.

>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.

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.

Many companies also spend serious money to buy the topmost text ad for searches on their own brands/URLs. Even when they're #1 organically.

What branding benefit can there be in showing a text ad to a user who is already searching for your website?

I know little of that business, but isn't that just "if we buy that space, none of our competitors can have it"?

Also, they could better point customers to special offers, etc.

Yes, in media buying, this is known as brand protection. It ensures that customers who already are searching for your brand and are therefore more likely to convert don't disappear off to a competitor.

Hence ironically companies will often pay more per click for these results than on more unrelated keywords.

When this happens I like to play a little game. If I think the company has loads of money (Apple, Shell), I click the sponsored link and help fill the coffers at Google. Otherwise, I click the search result and save the poor struggling company some cents.

What does this achieve? You're transferring an infinitesimal amount of money from, say, an Apple, to Google.

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.

It can make sense to buy an ad even if you are the top result. It basically makes your top result take up twice as much room. More room = more clicks. It also pushes any competitor links creeping up below your top result from being above the scroll. And of course, with this new sell out mechanic, you get even more than double the space to shove out your competition.

And a lot of people dont realize the difference between PPC ads and organic results - this is from direct experience at business shows talking to potential customers.

These are also very cheap clicks, especially relative to non-branded key terms.

What else can you expect from the Empire? Anakin was once a honest Jedi, too. But the evil forces of greed overpowered him :)

Choose the path of the Jedi - use DDG!


So if DuckDuckGo doesn't have ads ... how exactly do they pay their employees and run their servers? Charity?

It does have ads :)

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.

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.

Disclaimer: I'm a Googler

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.

Oh wow..

From my point of view the point here is the "Chinese Wall"[1] 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.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_wall

To me, it just looks like southwest paid money to put a picture on top of the (awesome, IMO) google provided first result and deep links into relevant sections of the first result site.

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.

The issue as I see it is that when I click on an ad, I'm not just clicking on another link, I'm adding a bunch of extra cookies to my browser that now track my experience and try to target me even more. By removing the organic search result you've essentially given me no choice, now I HAVE to click on the cookie generating link, and I HAVE to deal with all that fall out, I might begin searching with Private Browsing because of this, at least then I know that all cookie are destroyed at the end of the session...

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?

All of the links off google.com (including organic ones!) actually redirect you through a google server to:

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.

So if it's illogical for companies to buy ad space on queries for which they are the top result...why would they (presumably) fork over even more money to have an attractive banner ad? If a user is searching explicitly for Southwest Airlines...which seems to be the most conceivable non-sinister scenario to show the SA banner ad...how does it help the company or the user to have the interface suddenly change?

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)

Maybe they redesigned their landing page, and it is no longer top for organic results for a search term they practically own, e.g., [Virgin America]?

"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."

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.

Disclaimer: Search Marketer

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.

Any bets this is Google's second step towards a kind of Facebook page? (First step was the right-side card)

Maybe Google should just add an (opt in?) option to advertisers: if you're the top result, and would normally have an ad on the page -- we don't show any ads but charge for the click on the regular result.

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?

10 USD is not enough I am afraid.

Google had an ad revenue of 31 billion USD [1] 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 [2] 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.

[1] http://investor.google.com/financial/tables.html

[2] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

"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."

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"?

Who cares? The stock is over 1K now!!!

Someone searching for Southwest Airlines is probably looking for... Southwest Airlines. So the very first result is a useful one. With sections of the official website conveniently linked and a pretty picture on top.

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.

Precisely. If Southwest's banner hit for "cheap airfare" or something similar, this would indeed be outrageous. But this just seems like useful (and sponsored) info being offered without needing to click-through.

Somewhat sensationalist.

Consider an alternate universe where Southwest Airlines has a worse reputation due to a variety of bad practices they've engaged in. These banner ads have the potential for pushing many hits describing these practices further down the page, stifling the ability for organic results to properly reflect public opinion on a company.

As pointed out below, these images aren't "pushing" anything down anything. They are about the same height as the stuff they replaced.


> As pointed out below, these images aren't "pushing" anything down anything. They are about the same height as the stuff they replaced.

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.

If the "pushing" issue is that negative results can be put below the fold, or further down the screen, size is totally relevant. As somebody pointed out, this folds in the top organic search result. It's more like a natural evolution of the author pictures Google indexes.

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 "pushing" issue is that negative results can be put below the fold, or further down the screen, size is totally relevant. As somebody pointed out, this folds in the top organic search result.

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.

Uhm, in that image there is another search result pushed off the bottom of the page.

I don't know.

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".

It becomes problematic when these companies get control over the content of a brand search. There are ramifications for consumer advocacy. What happens when I start searching for "apple sec ruling" and I am given a full page sponsored ad courtesy of apple? I see that as giving companies a chance to bury insightful or informative content that may not be positive.

"Apple SEC ruling" is a fairly specific keyword search whereas searching, blanketly, for a company name is not.

But maybe I'm thirsting to learn more about the juicy fruit. Do I get a page courtesy of Apple Inc too?

Then you should search for 'Apple fruit'. I'm sure it's orders of magnitude more likely that someone searching 'Apple' is looking for information related to the company than the fruit

Most people would actually search "apples".

really? how do you know?

This would not qualify as a branded search term, so this extension would not be available.

Should Banana Republic be able to buy an enhanced search experience for people searching for "banana republic"?

Stuff like this was my concern, as well. What if my 3 year old and I are Googling "Apple" while we go through the alphabet? Or what if I'm looking for airlines that service the southwest? If I'm a teenager searching for Tesla as part of a school project, should a car brand get to own the majority of that initial experience? (Answer, yes, if the price is right for Google.)

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.

But if you're searching for Southwest Airlines then why do you want to get an ad for Southwest Airlines instead of just a neutral link to their homepage?

I understand ads for terms like "cheap tickets", but why would I want an ad for the term "Southwest Airlines"?

"why do you want to get an ad for 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.[1]

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?)

[1] If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

Yes, for the user it's probably easier this way. However, I find it a bit weird that Southwest is paying Google to display this banner. If it's just an enhancement for the user shouldn't that be offered by Google itself?

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.

Look at southwest's front page and then look at Google presentation of their site map. Their own site is such a train wreck that I wouldn't be surprised to find out that conversion is superior if the user starts at Google instead of their own site.

> 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.[

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.

Because to check-in for a flight or lookup my reservation I have to 1) search Google for the airline and pick the official site out of the list of all similarly styled links and 2) navigate the airline's site for the exact page I need.

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.

That is incorrect. Currently for "southwest airlines" in the US, sub links for their organic listing include:

-Check in Online -Book Travel Award -Check Flight Status -Special Offers -Flight Schedules -Customer Service

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.

why would I want an ad for the term "Southwest Airlines"?

If it pushes southwestsucks.com or something similar off the first page of google results it has some value.

Exactly my thoughts. As long as these don't start showing up on a more general search and only for what's obviously a search for only that specific company, I'd consider it an enhancement.

This worries me though. I use AdBlock and get really annoyed when using friends' machines without it. But the system won't work if too many people use AdBlock. So if more ads -> more adblock -> then what?

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"...

I hate the fact that, after a while, AdBlock automatically checks "Allow some non-intrusive advertising" checkbox.

And "some" means several hundred supporters.

Switch to Adblock Edge, it is a fork with no such black "feature".

And so it should, the content can only be provided for free because people are being exposed to the ads.

this was my initial though... any big brand who owns a trademark is probably going to find this useful, and I can't imagine someone searching "dell" or "southwest airlines" who isn't simply looking for their main site.

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

Does it need to be 1/4 of the page, though?

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.

I thought Adblock did a deal with Google so Adwords etc were whitelisted?

There was an interesting earlier this year from EBAY showing that there was ZERO value to buying their own brand keywords from Google (when their organic keywords ranked high).

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.

(1) http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/03/did-ebay-just-prove-that-paid/

Perhaps, but Google has already been claiming[1] that such spending provides positive value (though I have no idea how true that is for whatever brands they're pursuing here)

[1] http://searchengineland.com/ebay-says-adwords-ineffective-go... > 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.

Also it is generally really cheap to buy that ad, so even if the incremental value is small it is still worth it. It also keeps you on top of anyone else bidding on your brand, if you brand is generic enough for them to get away with it.

This seems largely the same as the item submitted just 3 hours ago, still on the front page, and discussed at considerable length:


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.

"but I suspect it will still be upvoted and discussed here"

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 ...
Indeed, but in this case the other submission is just 4 hours 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.

What are "actual results" for Southwest though? To me it seems like links to check-in, flight status, schedules and customer services is exactly what I'd want to see there. Is the image what you find distracting? But doesn't this give you immediate indication that you got into the right place?

I think the thing people are objecting to is less the image or its associated links, but that that whole thing is an ad. 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.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I find that a little evil.

If google is providing you a free service, and giving you exactly what you want in that first result, why shouldn't they get money for doing it? Seems like a win-win to me.

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.

You find it evil that people are using the service to quickly find exactly what they're looking for and the service provider gets paid for it? As someone mentioned above, if these were the results for "cheap flights" this would be evil, but they aren't; they're the results for "southwest airlines," and these results are helpful and relevant — that Google is getting paid for them doesn't strike me as relevant when this is the case.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I find that a little evil.

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.

As much as I agree with you, what competing search engine?

I doubt Google gets much for it, because they want to provide the most relevant results to their users. This is how they keep their users. If the front page doesn't show all kinds of stuff for Southwest Airlines when the user typed "southwest airlines", then Google becomes less useful.

Southwest probably knew this when they negotiated with Google for the giant front-page ad.

Come on. I'm not a fan of banner ads but evil? That's an overreaction.

If the whole point is to enhance the search experience, why doesn't Google do it for free? Why does Southwest have to pay to make Google better?

If you look at this from a retailer perspective this completely makes sense. Important boss man at 'Acme Widgets' wants to type 'Acme Widgets' into Google and see something impressive, with some control over it. He can now pay for the advert with Google rather than pay a bunch of SEO clowns and 'web designers' that typically go over-clever with the homepage design rendering the top search results useless.

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.

I was worried when I saw this headline, and then very relieved when I saw what was actually going on.

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.

I was under the impression that Southwest didn't let third party sites take reservations for them.

Oh, that might be. I was only trying to make a general point about how ad placement like that could easily go too far, at least in the eyes of some. I actually try to avoid flying Southwest whenever possible just because I hate having to queue up at the gate.

You get booked on them through code shares all the time, though, using other major airlines.

I think you're mistaken. Southwest only codeshares with AirTran, which they own.

Here's the best "malicious" reasoning behind this that I could come up with. Consider the following list of _hypothetical_ statements (as I have no research to back it up):

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.

As far as I'm concerned, the "News" results shown on the bottom 12% aren't quite search results either, though still useful. Everything is below the fold. :(

Whoa, I just had a flash forward to 2030.

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.

At what point does Google step straight into Evil territory?

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?

The example they use is navigational query for "Southwest Airlines". As far as I'm concerned, the deep links to South West airlines' site such as "Flight Schedules" are actual search results.

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?

Well, at least there are 6,352,596,267 results I can sift through. The last search I did, I found my solution in result 4,936,392


I don't think they're doing banner ads. I bet this is the beginning of Google "pages".

Sad that the user is being lost in these discussions. I get that people are worried about a slippery slope and boundaries, but this is clearly a better user experience for someone who searched for Southwest Airlines. Put yourself in the position of a human being who just performed a search for Southwest Airlines, would you honestly be angry with that result? No, of course not.

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

Wow, that's absolute shit. Horrible, horrible, brain-dead move by Google. It won't happen overnight, but this will inevitably wind up pushing people to seek out a better search engine (read: one that doesn't display huge honkin' banner ads like this) and sooner or later, somebody will come along and offer equal (or better!) search results, nix the banner ad, and eat Google's lunch.

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.

I do wonder if this suggestion was the straw that broke the camels back and lead Marissa to yahoo.

goolge quote:

“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.”


Gruber pointed out today that it was Marissa Mayer who said that.

What did he expect when searching for Southwest Airlines? He got their website and links to flights.

I just did a few searches for educational topics, got no ads. ... I would say there isn't a problem...

Well now, at the moment it is just a pilot program (heh)

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.

Just tried a few searches. 'Visual Studio' brings you to it's product page, as well as MSDN. 'Visual Studio' + an additional search term brings up only 'search' results...

This doesn't seem to be a very fair comparison. You cant compare a search for "maps" with a search for an actual company in this case "Southwest Airlines." I would expect that a search for a company even earlier in googles history would have been links mainly to southwest owned pages.

So SWA is a pretty specific example, but what about Apple? What about when you are searching for, well, information about apples? And can SWA ever own the term "Southwest"? When you think it out, it's not as cut and dry as it first seems.

They look like Altavista in 2002. Glad I switched to DuckDuckGo three months ago. Adios, Google!

FWIW, I have a Chromebook Pixel and the large Sponsored brand box pushes the search results entirely below the fold on my screen.

I think you're misunderstanding - Google knows everything about you and only supplies your search result. The second result is something your really don't want and everything else is there to make you think there are other alternatives to what you really wanted, which was the first result.

I'm sure this makes DuckDuckGo happy.

That's misleading, because they are counting the whole result box that is labelled "Sponsored", but of that box, everything but the actual graphic banner at the top of the box is exactly the organic search result which is the top hit for the search (including the subordinate links) served to users that aren't getting the new experimental ads. So, everything but the graphic (not everything but the sponsored box) is "actual Google results".

Most users don't even care about going to second page of search. With knowledge graph, Google gives you precise answer right away and takes full screen on mobile (nearly half of the screen on desktop). I think Google is optimizing for users rather than SEO/Websites.

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.

I've been criticized more than once by designers for making references to content being "below the fold." Of course there's no actual fold, and yes, it's an old term from the newspaper world. However, it's very clearly still relevant, even if it's not as easily definable: The harder you make it for people to find your content, the less likely they are to view it or continue parsing your message, regardless of what it is.


Speaking of "high quality ads": The second Cheap-O-Air Ad is for flights to Southwest not on Southwest Airlines - Deceptive IMHO.

I'd seriously consider using the Bing search engine more with my chrome browser just to get in their statistics..

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).

"There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage ... Ever."

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.

I am convinced they have monkeys for designers. WHY on earth would you allow "About 30,2000,000 results (0.25 seconds)" to take up space?! Are these guys insane? That's the most useless information on the page, and it's pushing the ads and search results further down.

Don't they supposedly use 8 million A/B tests for every little design tweak?

Yes and they're really over-doing it with all the changes. By the time they're done a/b testing 40 different variations of something, they've exposed millions of users to a crappy interface just so they can collect hard evidence that it's crappy when compared to other ui variations.

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.

This is such a non-issue. They searched for an actual brand name, and they got branded results. If I searched for "how do airplanes work?" and got a massive Southwest Airlines banner this would be something to complain about. Currently though, this is just link bait.

I am not sure why this is a bad thing as such. Google does not owe us to give the search results. Google owes advertisers a good return for their money and they will optimize it in whatever way they can. At least they are not being like Ask or Conduit.

I like the image of results from 2005. I had totally forgotten about "Froogle".


For the past few weeks i have started to click on the paid ads and unable to differentiate them in my Mac. Also Google now makes you pay for your content to appear on top as (low quality content)paid ads occupy your position

I never understood why big companies waste money for keyword campaigns for their own brand, especially since they are going to show up first anyways. These banner ads provide branding opportunities so I understand this move.

Meh, in an ideal world google search results would only result in one search result: the one I am looking for. This seems to go along with what's happening when someone searches "southwest airlines"

Easily circumvented by using proper browser plugins.

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