Google: Banner ads on front page.

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Google’s search engine gained our attention, when it started in 1998, because its opening search page, and following results page, was uncluttered by adverts and other elements (especially banner ads). Actually was characterized by its simplicity. Also, in 2000 Google’s founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were offered $3m by Visa to display an ad for the credit card company on the site homepage, but Google turned it down, even though the site was losing money at the time.

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. Well no much longer. Digital marketing company Synrgy first spotted the test, after running a search for Southwest Airlines. The search returned a large banner ad similar to a cover photo on Facebook, followed by some top links on Southwest’s website. The banner-ad Southwest Airlines search results page, however, is indeed mostly a very large “sponsored” box (the large link and the six below it are contained within it, bounded by a shaded border). The content of the ad is the same as the first result for a search for Southwest Airlines. It’s just about twice as wide and about 50 percent longer than the usual search result entry, with a large image advertising southwest.com

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On Wednesday, Google confirmed that it was testing new ads with images a top search results. They are a major departure from its earlier advertising and from its past promises to users. Google has stated that the banner ads are only an experiment, and it refused to comment on how the ads would be formatted. The new Crate & Barrel and Virgin pages we viewed were not marked with sponsored boxes and thus may not be the banner ad format. But they do differ from the typical search results pages, which normally include a large, unsponsored sidebar with the company’s Google+ page.

Of course, in December 2005, we read a post in which Google insisted that following a tie up to provide search for AOL, that besides never providing “biased” results, “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.” (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.)

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When Google asked why had gone back on that clear promise, Google said in a statement that “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.” Also, a Google spokesman declined to call the ads banner ads, though they look like banner ads shown across the Internet. Well, the only thing that we can say now is that every promise can be broken or “covered” as an experiment!

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  • Ron

    I hope that this is not the Google’s clean age beginning of the end