More On AOL Pushing Google Into Graphic Ads & AOL Promotion

AOL Coaxes Google to Try Busier Ads from the New York Times dives deeper into details that emerged earlier this week about how Google will help promote AOL as part of the bid to retain the company as a Google partner, along with new graphical ads that will be coming to Google search results pages near you.

Google is looking to promote AOL content within a OneBox display area, something familiar to many of our readers, as we've written of them in the past. OneBoxes are where Google promotes other vertical search results that may be of interest to searches, such as news listings or shopping results.

AOL isn't being promised any exclusivity or guarantee to show up in these areas, and including material from other companies isn't even a radical departure. Google stock result OneBoxes already pull from various providers, for example. You can see how that works in a search for goog and the resulting detailed page.

Graphical ads appear to be in the works for Google's search results pages, though traditional banners might not show up except in Google Image Search and Froogle shopping search. The Google home page would remain without graphics. From earlier reports, it sounds like AOL will get some of graphical space to help promote its own sites plus have the ability to resell graphical ads on Google.

AOL is also getting SEO advice from Google. What?!!! Secrets on ranking better? No, it sounds more like the SEO advice Google already gives other large companies as part of the sales pitch and support to get them to buy ads. That's semi-controversial mainly with SEOs who feel the advice Google gives may undercut their oftentimes more detailed and better advice, simply because it comes with Google's own seal of approval. It also does blur the church-and-state divide a bit.

Overall, I'm sitting back until the deal is formally announced and people are talking on the record about it. That's likely to happen today. Then I'll dive back in and look more closely at what's being offered and what lines, if any, are being cross. In the meantime, some further reading and a semi-scorecard to date.

1) OneBox inclusion of AOL content probably doesn't harm Google's reputation for impartial results if AOL isn't promised any particular placement or exclusivity.

2) Graphical ads will definitely cause some purists -- and maybe even some ordinary Google users -- to raise eyebrows and perhaps feel Google has sold out. Expect that Google may likely make the display of these an option, on by default but easy to switch off. That will help, but overall, graphical ads I'd say will be seen as a sign that Google's just like "all the other" search engines and losing some of the magic some feel it has.

3) Google Thinking Flash Ads? covers what may have been some testing in preparation of running graphic ads in search results. Google Offers Banners & Image Ads -- But Not On Google Itself from last year covers the graphic ads that Google rolled out for contextual placement. At the time, Google did say partners might also eventually show these in search results. Whether these ads would come up on Google itself wasn't addressed. I don't think Google has ever completely ruled out the idea of graphical ads, but they do seem to conflict with part of its corporate philosophy:

Google has also proven that advertising can be effective without being flashy. Google does not accept pop-up advertising, which interferes with your ability to see the content you've requested. We've found that text ads (AdWords) that are relevant to the person reading them draw much higher clickthrough rates than ads appearing randomly.

A CBS News interview last year did have Google's director of technology eschewing banners:

"The focus that Google has on our users, you know, a very slim homepage and so forth -- text ads, not banner," says Silverstein. "We do that because we don't want to go to sites with banner ads. We don't like them."The focus that Google has on our users, you know, a very slim homepage and so forth -- text ads, not banner," says Silverstein. "We do that because we don't want to go to sites with banner ads. We don't like them."

Certainly the oft-cited person who diagnosed himself as having a heart attack after doing a Google search might not be thrilled about graphical ads coming. They slowed him down during his crisis and made Google a winner to him for not having them. From what he sent Google:

On Monday morning, as I started my workday as a Web developer and designer, I felt a pressure in my chest. Being 52 years old and somewhat familiar with the early warning signs of a heart attack, I thought I'd go online and check on the early signs of heart attack and stroke. My initial quest lead me to 'Blah, Blah, Blah'" ? which is a different search site which I won't mention the name of ? "wherein I entered the search terms 'heart attack symptoms'.

As I waited for the banner ads to download, and then the content, I became more and more anxious. I turned to Google. I knew from prior experience that I could expect the quickest search results possible, and I was not disappointed. In less than a tenth of a second, the top listing led me to the American Heart Association Web page. Their easy to understand graphics and descriptions lead me to acknowledge my predicament, and I went to the local hospital where I commenced to have a full-blown heart attack.

Thirty-six hours later, just prior to emergency, triple-bypass, open-heart surgery, my doctor told me that had I had a stroke at any time while waiting for the operation, the chances were great that I would not have survived. This was a very sobering thought to me, my wife and our three sons, who thought they may have seen the last of their dad. Simply put, had I putzed around waiting for another website to display interminable graphics and banner ads, I might not be here today. Instead, I wanted immediate results, got them from Google, and for once did the right thing by going to the hospital."

I expect that if graphic ads do appear, you'll see the Google philosophy page be adjusted to structure graphic ads as being relevant in the right situation, just as Google has changed that page in other ways to accommodate portal features it has added. Google's Philosophical Ten True Things Not So True Anymore? and Google's Philosophy: Then and Now cover those adjustments more. But overall, I don't disagree with graphic ads as being useful. They can be, especially for those who are seeking to build brand.

Chris Anderson had an interesting post recently on how he's using AdWords not for clicks but to build awareness. Big Guys Crowd Out Little Guys in SEM Arena; Some Branding Focused Advertisers Willing to Spend "Whatever" It Takes, Don't Hate Search, Search May Not Be From Branding, But It Will Still Pull Branding Spend, and Search Ads Used By More Than "New Breed" Advertisers are just some past blog posts that cover how brand owners are looking at search to boost their properties. They aren't necessarily crazy or irrational spenders, either. C'mon In Brand Owners, The Search Water's Fine explains this a bit more. But in short, they're looking for something other than direct conversions, are willing to spend and it's only natural that search engines will have to react to this demand.

What we don't want, however, is a repeat of the days such as when Yahoo was partnered with Amazon. Old timers will recall how every search at Yahoo used to bring up an Amazon box in the right hand column. It was ever present, annoying and quickly ignored. If AOL is promoted this way -- or if brand ads from others aren't targeted well -- they'll also become annoying and ignored.

4) The AOL deal will raise awareness of advice Google is directly giving to some major advertisers, as I covered in my earlier Google SEO Support Given To Advertisers. While that still doesn't appear to be crossing the church-and-state divide, it is blurring the lines more, something that Google may regret down the line unless it can provide more support services to everyone.

Want to comment or discuss? Visit the Google to Hold onto AOL thread in our Search Engine Watch Forums.