New Google banner tests: Bane or Boon

The breaking news last week read ‘Google tests banner ads in search results’, prompting a flurry of debates about the form, consequences and legality of Google’s latest move. Coming close to the heels of penguin and hummingbird announcement, one might wonder what next big thing the internet search giant has up its sleeves.

Long before, Google fully unleashed the potential of online advertisement, it had addressed a great privacy and user experience issue by issuing a public promise of never to have banner ads on their domain. Marissa Mayer, the then Google VP of Search Products & User Experience, vouched in a blog, “There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages.” in December 2005.

For banner ads to work effectively, immense customer knowledge is necessary for proper targeting. It is made possible with the help of website cookies which notes user’s browsing behavior. The aim of cookies is to aid visitor’s web experience, but their chances of misuse have led to privacy intrusion calls. With the Google’s latest announcement, it is clear that Google has abandoned its long standing promise. Many users and internet experts have claimed that Google is betraying the user’s trust. With international concerns over privacy mounting, there are increasing calls for the move to be rolled back.

The new banner ads, still in the testing stage, will come with completely new settings and framework. Previously, the setting was textual and only with minimal space utilization. Now, Google wants to enhance the ads with graphical display with maximum space utilization for effect. For example, if you search a keyword airline on Google, the banner ad for an airline company will show up. And it may take much of your screen space. An obvious outcome may be increased annoyance for web users, but how Google plans to deal with it is unknown.

While Google claims that the new endeavor is to make the web experience more attuned to the customer’s needs, the real reason may be to get leverage on its competitors. The recent trends show a slow decline for internet searches from Google and an increase in ad revenues for its competitors like Bing and Yahoo! Some see it as a desperate bid from Google to retain its hegemony. Other experts see it as a smart move to gain the first mover advantage.

The full effects of the new banner ads and its cost to the users will be fully known only when Google officially rolls out the update. There has been gradual shift from text to images in the Google domain. In fact, at least one in six searches now contains images. Google’s management believes that images are vital for enhanced user experience. Only the future will tell whether that is the case.

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