Google experiments with map ads

Google is adding graphical advertisements to maps on its local search site, foreshadowing the use of its pop-up balloons for various types of information and activities, an analyst said Monday.

Greg Sterling, managing editor at The Kelsey Groupsaid Google representatives told him several weeks ago that the company plans to let businesses add advertisements and logos to the mapping balloons that appear on Google Local.

“It’s a harbinger of more things on maps,” such as video, embedded chat and pay-per-call or click-to-call, he told CNET at Kelsey’s Drilling Down on Local conference here Monday. “Putting technology in the balloons can enable all kinds of interesting exchanges with merchants.”

For example, someone searching for a car could find locations of sellers on a map and instantly ask sellers whether the car is still available, its price and other information, Sterling said.

Currently, red pushpins indicate on a Google Local map the location of unpaid search results. When the red pushpins are clicked on, balloons pop up showing a merchant’s name, address and phone number, as well as information such as customer reviews and a link to the business Web site.

In January, it first came to light that Google was testing ads on maps. The latest experiments replace the blue pushpins that were being used to indicate a sponsored ad with icons, such as a coffee cup. Google has tested adding image ads in the balloons on a limited basis.

Google said the latest test of ads on Google Local follows prior testing. “As part of our continuing effort to provide a positive advertising experience for users and advertisers, we are always exploring ways to improve the way we display ads,” Google said in a statement. “We do not have any other specifics to share at this time.”

Blogger Shimon Sandler unearthed an example of a recent test search with ads and provided a screenshot on his Internet marketing strategies Web site. Sandler found that searching for “booksellers nyc” displayed a map with icons of coffee cups where a few Barnes & Noble stores are located. The balloons have the Barnes & Noble logo in them.

Sterling said his understanding is that Google is not charging advertisers anything beyond what they pay for the keyword bid. “It’s a kind of a perk to marketers,” he wrote Friday on his blog. “It’s also an enticement to advertise.”

On Yahoo Local, ads are displayed below the map; clicking in a box next to one of them adds the retailer’s locations to the map.