Marissa Mayer talked to Bloomberg Radio earlier this week and she didn’t deny the possibility:
We haven’t found a proper way to monetize image search to date. You may see us roll out an ads-image search in the future, but when we do you’ll know that’s because we found a way that ultimately enhances user happiness with the product.
Even more interesting was the information Mayer provided on their previous attempts at monetizing image search:
Google calculated in 2006 that it was giving up as much as $200 million a year by not including text advertisements with its image search results, and that figure has probably increased since, Mayer said. Trials showed that text ads drove people away from conducting image searches, and Google dropped that idea.
So, apparently there’s a possibility, but no guarantee that they’ll go this route.
What would it take to make relevant image display ads alongside image search a reality? Well, for one thing, advertiser interest. When users drill down to use image search, they’re looking for images (gasp!). The proportion of informational-intent searches is probably even greater than that found in “regular” search.
However, if Google can establish that there may be some interest from users and advertisers in placing relevant image ads, it seems that most of the rest of the implementation should be easy. Have the advertisers generate their own creative and keywords, just like Google’s extant display system.
Of course, a system that’s truly useful for users would probably require some sort of oversight on Google’s side, to ensure relevance (and also that whole “Safe Search” deal). However, if they’re already working toward “regular” SERP image/display ads, it would be easy to expand that same platform into the image search area. Bloomberg also notes DoubleClick’s display ad platform, which Google now controls, as being helpful in this area.
But none of that solves the problem that Google had with text ads a couple years ago. I really think that people are less likely to search for purchasable goods on image search than they would on regular old text search. They might appreciate the occasional product images which Google Universal SERPs supplies, but if they’ve gone to the trouble to look for images only, odds are poor that they’re in (or even near) the buying phase of the conversion funnel.