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From Sponsored Links to Ads: What Does Google Have Up Its Sleeve?



Normally, the change of terminology in any company is a pure marketing move designed to breath new life into something that has some wear and tear. Aside from just the “new and improved” kind of changes, you occasionally get a completely different word to make a person think about the product again. Rarely, however, do you see a change like Google is experimenting with as they move to calling AdWords ads just that, Ads, rather than Sponsored Links.

First brought to my attention by Search Engine Land last week that this switch is official, I had some time to think about the possibilities. I will now happily cross-over to ‘speculation land’ and let my imagination run a little wild. So what could this change indicate?

Paid search moving to blended ad option – By calling a Sponsored Link an Ad, Google is no longer constrained by the limitations of the blue link text paid ad in the ever so lightly tinted (read: barely discernible) box at the top of the SERP’s and along the right column. With all of their advertising in the trades like AdAge and MediaWeek about how Google is changing display advertising maybe this is one of those ‘game changers’ that we could see. Imagine that top spot in the SERP’s being a display ad? What kind of premium would that draw?

Display ads just being more prominent period – With Google changing the search landscape with its moving around, resizing, rearranging and otherwise blowing up the local search side of the business Google is getting us used to seeing an image in the right column (where the maps are generally showing up). Wouldn’t it be very Googleesque to announce “Oh, the whole map on the right thing isn’t working’ after getting people used to it. They could then move the map back where people were familiar with it then replace that newly created empty space with an, you guessed it, display ad.

Google x.0? – Let’s face it, everything online is changing and shifting. Even Google will have to look different at some point or else they run the risk of appearing to be ‘your father’s search engine’. What better way to do this than by easing people out of things that were not necessarily top of mind (let’s face it, who amongst the regular Google users even saw the Sponsored Links moniker considering many people STILL don’t know those are paid ads). By also changing the rules on the still under appreciated local side of the ledger Google is making a nuanced shift to the next generation product and presentation of that product.

Clearing way for social search product of the future – This is a real stretch here because I am not quite sure how this would all play together but Google’s anticipated foray into the social realm has few options but to be heavily integrated into their flagship offering. Why? They already tried Wave as a standalone and that has been shelved. Google Buzz has been a relative non-issue and that was integrated into Gmail. So what’s left? Playing with the secret formula by integrating their flagship search product and the social web. Of course, they run the huge risk of pulling a New Coke or they could knock it out of the park. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

So these are just a few thoughts behind why an otherwise innocuous event could actually be signaling a larger and more sweeping overhaul for the search giant. I have no inside track or anything like that. I am just observing the landscape and thinking about what could possibly take place. I’m a blogger and this is what we do ;-).

Maybe Google won’t admit it but the heat has been turned up by Facebook, Apple and others on several fronts. If they sit still and don’t do anything they will probably still be OK but they may end up looking like the Internet’s version of Microsoft which I doubt Google is willing to settle for.

Just imagine 10 years from now and we are making fun of Google’s every attempt to play in the social sphere while they still milk the search cash cow. Sounds a lot like how we treat Microsoft today with regard to their Internet efforts.

So am I reading too much into this little name change? Maybe. What are your thoughts?