Minimalist Google tries out image ads

Google has begun offering AdWords customers the ability to display image ads on third-party sites, in a move that could potentially be seen as opening the door to graphic ads on the search giant's own traditionally minimalist pages.

The company, which has recently been the center of media and investor scrutiny as it prepares for a much-vaunted initial public offering (IPO), began offering a beta of the new feature late Wednesday. Advertising customers of the company's AdWords program can now upload images to be displayed on the content pages of AdSense publishers within the Google network.

A spokeswoman for Google in the U.K. said on Thursday that the company had no plans to put image ads on Google.com, though a posting about the offering on Google's Web site says that it is looking "forward to offering more image ad distribution options in the future."

Advertisers are not guaranteed that their image ads will be displayed. As it does with text ads, Google will link the image ads to keywords bid on by advertisers and place them using its ranking formula. Google said that it would only place the image ads if it deems them to be an equivalent or better user experience than text ads. And as with text ads, Web site publishers can choose whether to accept the ads and where to place them on their site.

Google said that the new offering comes in response to common requests from advertising customers and publishing partners. But the move places the search giant more firmly in the territory of Web advertisers like DoubleClick and Yahoo's Overture ad placement subsidiary.

Keeping in character, the quirky Internet company is putting its own twist on the ads, by appending a bar to the bottom of each image, indicating the URL (uniform resource locators) that the advertiser is leading them to and a link for users to give feedback to Google on the ad's relevancy and quality. This is meant to offer a better user experience, Google said.

The company is offering four image ad formats: banner, leaderboard, inline rectangle and skyscraper. The image ads come at no extra cost, the spokeswoman said.

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Scarlet Pruitt

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