How Do You Feel about Branded Images in Google Search Ads?

There’s been considerable reaction in the search world to the appearance of what amount to display ads or “brand image” ads in Google search results. The NY Times Claire Miller reminded readers this morning of Marissa Mayer’s famous 2005 statement that there will be “no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages.”

That was then; this is now.

Below is an example of one but there are apparently about 30 advertisers participating in the test. I haven’t seen any myself “in the wild.”

Google display in search

Google’s search results are a veritable cornucopia of images these days. With product ads, universal search, authorship and Knowledge Graph, images are bursting out all over the SERPs.

Visual information can be extremely helpful to users in getting them to desired content or publishers quickly. The old Google model: lots of uniform, nondescript publisher links is dead or dying. What most users want is “answers” and structured information that can help them make a decision or answer a question.

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 1.14.16 PM

One of the main problems from a brand or publisher perspective with the 2005 Google SERP is that it was effectively a “brand killer” — flattening and implying that almost all content was of equivalent value. In numerous cases brands mean something to consumers and can be a shortcut or proxy for quality or savings, etc.

I’m much more interested in reading articles on the government shutdown from the NY Times than I am most other sources. In that instance a company/publisher logo helps me get to my desired content source more quickly and saves all the clicking and scrolling.

By the same token there are times when one doesn’t know what one wants or have a favored source.  In such circumstances brand information, images, logos may not be as helpful.

The challenge for Google is how to judiciously use brand imagery so that it supports user objectives and doesn’t wind up creating visual clutter or some Las Vegas-like atmosphere on the homepage.

What do you think about it? Do you like it? Do you hate it?

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4 Responses to “How Do You Feel about Branded Images in Google Search Ads?”

  1. Google Search Gets Display; Facebook Data, Instagram Ads says at

    […] photos, company logos, maps and other visual information.” Read more. Greg Sterling takes an additional look at “brand image” […]

  2. Theo Erwing says at

    I feel it opens up a new avenue for engagement. Tools such as Pinterest can transform any sort of content to a visual format, and I think that harnesses engagement on a different level.

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    Agree that it can be an improvement in several respects if used with restraint — as I suggest above.

  4. Ian R says at

    Too many websites rushed in the past to add visual imagery (no doubt it looked good viewed through a connection in the marketer’s office on a Mac) with too little regard paid to the time it might take the pages to load on a slow connection or how it might look on a browser on a mobile device. Screen space was scarce so every pixel had to be exploited creatively. Google never fell into this trap. By keeping the interface simple and uncluttered, it became synonymous with Search. 
    But times change, connection speeds are faster and mobile browsing is now commonplace. Advertisers would no doubt value (and pay for) images in the SERPs and as Greg says, in most cases so would the user. So more pics in the results are fine with me so long as Google proceed at a pace which doesn’t destroy the UX for the less well-equipped, in terms of connection and browser technology, user. 

  5. Greg Sterling says at


    Perhaps you make the central and most important point and the one that was the driving consideration behind Google’s originally spartan approach: speed. Many if not most “broadband” connections are still relatively slow. But the state of bandwidth is somewhat better across the globe than it was in 2005. 

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