Google Image Search Ads In The Wild, Looks Like They Need Work

Last May Google announced that it would begin experimenting with display ads on its popular Image Search, which it has largely been unable to monetize – in 2006 the company estimated that it was missing out on $200 million a year because it wasn’t including ads in search results, and that number has almost certainly gone up since then. Google has previously tried to incorporate text ads into results, but abandoned the practice after seeing a marked decline in traffic.

We haven’t heard anything from Google about the ads since then, but we’ve just gotten a screenshot of one of them in the wild. As promised, the ad is distinguished by a subtle yellow background and a “sponsored link” header. Unfortunately, it seems like these new ads may only be taking text matches into account, without using any image recognition – the ad below is for a Guinness barstool that happens to be named “Buffalo”, but is clearly unrelated to the other images that dominate the results.

It’s impossible to judge the new algorithms based on a single example, but I hope this isn’t representative of what we’ll be seeing when the ads launch to the public. It’s not uncommon to see Google AdSense ads that are irrelevant to text searches, but these aren’t intrusive and generally don’t detract from search results. With images, a botched match is far more jarring – bad results on Image Search would probably turn off far more users than the abandoned text ads ever did.

Thanks to former TechCrunch contributor Steve Poland for the tip.