If you've seen a big, honking advertisement for Southwest Airlines or Virgin America the last time you searched Google, you're not alone. Google has gone back on a promise it made eight years ago by testing banner ads in search results.
"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," a Google spokesperson wrote to The Huffington Post by email. The blog Search Engine Land first reported the program.
— Synrgy (@SynrgyHQ) October 23, 2013
What the banner ads look like, as tweeted by the web app Synrgy.
In 2005, Google publicly vowed that such banner ads, often regarded as gaudy and distracting, would never sully the search giant. It was a promise made by none other than Marissa Mayer, then head of search and user experience at Google.
"There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages," she wrote eight years ago. "There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever."
Mayer worked at Google for 13 years before becoming Yahoo's chief executive in 2012.
"Advertisers have long been able to add informative visual elements to their search ads, with features like Media Ads, Product Listing Ads and Image Extensions," Google told HuffPost.
But advertisers have been less willing to pay for ad space recently, forcing Google to instead increase the overall volume of ads sold, The Guardian reported. The banner ad tests come amid a push by Google to move from purely text-based ads to ones that feature videos, photos and other forms of visual information.
In other words, just the type of “graphical doodads” that Mayer promised would never, ever appear in Google.