Does Google's recent experiment displaying banner ads across SERPs challenge the engine's dedication to organic results?

Google asserts itself as a provider of highly relevant and transparent search results, a position that search marketers found steadfast as the engine continuously delivered in-demand answers without frills. However, the search engine marketing community noticed that Google recently tested a new banner ad display, which seemingly calls its credo into question.

The recent test displayed a Southwest.com banner ad spanning the top of results pages when users performed a query for Southwest airlines. Marked with a “sponsored” tag at the header, the paid ad features an image of a plane above links to the company’s website and popular landing pages.

“Yes, the image ad takes up virtually the whole entire top of the screen,” Search Engine Roundtable’s Barry Schwartz wrote in response to the ad. He then directs readers to an official Google statement back from 2005.

“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,” Melissa Mayer stated. Her comment was in response to concerns that a Google/ AOL partnership would create a bias toward AOL’s promotional content.

“Yes, the image ad takes up virtually the whole entire top of the screen.” – Barry Schwartz

Taken alone, the Southwest ad might seem like a blip in Google’s usual devotion to high-quality organic content, and its consistent method of displaying ads. But when combined with other speculation that Google’s new mobile user interface also prioritizes paid ads over natural results, there may be cause for concern if the site displays sponsored messages with greater prominence.

In the case that organic content is pushed below the fold in SERPs, brand marketers will need to become increasingly competitive with their SEO strategies. It’s always wise to diversify and companies that create well-balanced approaches to content marketing and PPC may have an advantage should results pages take a turn for the promotional.

There is also the chance that this test is just that, an experiment that will not impact search results in the future. However, marketers are smart to pay attention to updates in case they signal more significant changes down the road.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.