Let’s face it, search ads aren’t known for their eye candy factor. They are bare bones marketing to the extreme: three lines of text (in some cases a lot less) with one measly link allowed per ad.
Ironically, the fact that they are so effective has a lot to do with how they look. At most points of the online shopping continuum, there’s the search ad. Its lackluster presence beside the things we desire is what makes it effective. These ads are thoughtfully placed to the right of the organic search results and/or main page content. Sometimes they appear below the search box, but always as text ads – nothing too flashy or distracting.
Admittedly, consumers often click on search ads because they don’t realize that they are, in fact, ads (in spite of the “Sponsored Links” label that appears above them, in most cases). Consumers also don’t get pissed off at search ads the way they do with more intrusive forms of advertising such as, well, EVERYTHING else. Let’s face it – pop ups, unwanted e-mail, TV commercials, long-winded and loud radio ads, and big-ass banners that require you to click on an “X” to close them are annoying.
The internet pop bottle began to lose its fizz back in 2000-2001 or so and one of the main symptoms of this phenomenon was the alarming rate of banner clickthrough decline. Studies showed people not only weren’t clicking on anything long and rectangular at the top of the page, they were avoiding looking at them altogether. There’s even a term for it – it’s called “banner blindness.”
Search ads quietly began to replace traditional banner ads as the hot new form of online media because they lacked the bells and whistles that the “traditional” online ads boasted, not in spite of it. There was no flash, no rotating pictures, no cute animations or sexy fonts – yet people were clicking.
And they’re still clicking, but now the landscape is changing…again. With the influx of broadband into the mainstream (Nielson/Netratings reported that 72% of at-home Internet users in the U.S. had broadband as of June 2006), the Internet is becoming a richly visual place to be.
This does not mean that “traditional” search ads are going the way of the old time banner. But, as marketers, we do need to think about the role that our text ads play in our overall campaign strategy and how we can leverage visual tools such as thumbnail images (think “Froogle”), photos and graphics (think Image Search) and video (e.g., YouTube, vlogs, Google Video) in conjunction with search technology to get even more response out of our online ad campaigns and continue to generate excitement from our clients.
I don’t think that plain Jane text ads will ever go the way of banners – at least not when they are associated with keyword searches at the engine-level (as opposed to contextual ads). Still, it’s important for search marketers to think beyond keywords and text to the end result – conversion. And when it comes to selling something, a picture definitely says a thousand words.