Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been testing a new feature that allows advertisers to add massive banner ads above their search listings. The move comes amid falling prices for Web advertising, but breaks a promise Google made in 2005: “There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results page… Ever.”

Google is testing the service with about 30 advertisers, according to Search Engine Land, including brands like Crate & Barrel, Virgin America and Southwest Airlines. Google said that it is a “very limited, U.S.-only test,” and that it’s just an extension of other products that allow advertisers to add visual elements to search ads.

But these images aren't added to the search ads, they are added to the search results themselves. Google groups the image together and clearly labels the section as sponsored, but this grouping is actually the top search result.

It’s just the latest example of Google further blurring what is organic search content and what is a paid advertisement. Google Shopping results are ads, and booking links from flight or hotel searchers are also sponsored. An image from Google Operating System points out how a user searching for “tablet” has to scroll through ads before finding an organic search result.


When Google made the promise on its blog in 2005 to never include banner ads on search results, the Mountain View, Calif.-based search-engine giant also promised that it would never provide “biased” results.

“Business partnerships will never compromise the integrity or objectivity of our search results,” Marissa Mayer, the former vice president of search products and user experience at Google and the current CEO of Yahoo, said in 2005. “If a partner’s page ranks high, it’s because they have a good answer to your search, not because of their business relationship with us.”

With that promise now broken, will the mantra of “Don’t be evil” come next?