COLUMN: For those of you who use Google News (the news portal that is a subset of the megalith that is the Google content universe) regularly, you might have noticed a month ago (end of January) that Google “flirted” with the idea of ads on their news search pages, with the same look/feel as normal search engine pages. This went away fairly quickly, the same day Google was having style sheet hiccups (I got several hours of “Times Roman” fonts versus normal sans-serif). I was pretty happy to see the experiment go away, and most of February the ads were missing from the news searches.

Well, here we are again the last couple of days of the calendar month, now February, and the ads have come back, and numerous folks have suddenly noticed them and started mentioning it as if it was entirely a new thing. Which, it seems like it will be officially full-time come March 1st.

Certainly we can’t begrudge was is ostensibly a “free” online service from pushing ads in our face, much like everything else in our society (the local TV stations now sell their helicopters in “wraps,” so the choppers look like giant flying McDonalds billboards — at least the birds can see them and fly away in terror); but, for me, it is very distracting from reading the news when doing specific searches, since I am not looking for ads, in the same way I might be when searching in the “main” search engine. Sigh.

Of course, I’ve learned to ignore the ads wrapping my mom’s whacky pet photos in my gmail account, and I tune out most other things at some point, so I’m sure I’ll get used to it. It’s funny to see the kinds of ads that show up in relation to news searches, since I typically look for news on topics completely different from what I might search for in the main engine. Particularly bizarre was a search I was going on behalf of one of my clients, who is running for Los Angeles mayor on a pro-cannabis platform, and he happens to be a pastor. In doing a search for pastor and marijuana, and Los Angeles, some really odd and particularly “adult” results came up. I’ve tried to replicate that, to no avail.

A posting on a Google company blog by Josh Cohen, a business product manager at Google, had this to say:

In recent months we’ve been experimenting with a variety of different formats, like overlay ads on embedded videos from partners like the AP. We’ve always said that we’d unveil these changes when we could offer a good experience for our users, publishers and advertisers alike, and we’ll continue to look at ways to deliver ads that are relevant for users and good for publishers, too.

Oh well. Now I have to see competitor ads when looking for my own company and client news items. Kind of annoying, and sometimes I find myself wanting to click on the ads from a competitor to use up their ad budget. Er, but that would be wrong, wouldn’t it? (Did I type that out loud…whoops.)

[tags]Google News ads[/tags]