Google Tests Display Ads in Gmail

Gmail's text-based advertisements are so unobtrusive that they're sometimes unnoticeable, which might explain why Google is now testing display ads with color images.

Testing began a week ago, but went undetected by the tech blogosphere until Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling spotted a display ad for organic cotton T-shirts in his Gmail account. Google has since confirmed the test with the following comment:

"We're always trying out new ad formats and placements in Gmail, and we recently started experimenting with image ads on messages with heavy image content."

Getting Creepy

I have a hard time casting harsh judgment upon Google for making its Gmail ads more conspicuous. Ad revenue pays my bills and I don't want to be a hypocrite.

But Gmail is practically defined by its clean interface, and it will lose a competitive advantage by using display ads. Also, considering that Google places contextual ads based on the content of your e-mails, the use of images might boost the creepiness factor for users who let subtler text ads fly. Sterling said the ads were "really jarring for me to encounter."

Besides, e-mail is an inherently non-visual method of communication. You can attach images or video to a message, but for the most part you're reading text, so display ads will always be a distraction. On the rare occasion that I must use Yahoo Mail, I'm always aghast by the vertical banner ad that runs the length of the screen.

If display ads become a part of Gmail for all users, I have two suggestion: At least let paying users -- the ones who've purchased extra storage space -- opt out; and please, no pop-ups or animations.

Jared Newman is a Los Angeles-based blogger and journalist. Say hello on Twitter and also follow Today @ PCWorld.

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.