"The playground is open," the ad declares from beneath the Google search box. "The new $199 tablet from Google." And under the ad copy, the image of a partial Nexus 7 peeks up with its lone webcam eye out of a gap in a white surface.
If you came to Google to search for a tablet, your query has been answered before you've begun. Are you feeling lucky?
Google began selling the Nexus 7 in late July, after introducing it at its developer conference a month earlier. The 7" tablet has received generally favorable reviews, unlike many earlier Android tablets not made by Amazon or Samsung, and has been selling well.
Last week, mobile analyst Sameer Singh estimated that the Nexus 7 had sold over one million units. He expects another three million units to be sold in Q3 2012, with three million to five million more units sold in Q4 2012. More conservative sales estimates have been about half that for the year.
[ Learn more about the Google tablet. Read Google Nexus 7: A Work Tablet? ]
Google's use of a homepage ad to promote one of its products is noteworthy because the company has promulgated the idea that Google search is somehow distinct from its other products and services, that it presents "organic" search results, untainted by bias. But since Google began mixing different indexes together as part of its universal search effort in 2007, and more recently with its push to make search personal, the notion of ads on Google's homepage seems less discordant. But it still violates the expectation of a pristine white page that Google has instilled in its users.
Google.com ads are uncommon but not unprecedented. The company currently advertises Google Chrome on its homepage to online visitors who use browsers other than Chrome. First introduced for a week in 2008, the Chrome ad has evolved and is now ongoing, with other promotional efforts.
Google declined to provide data on the click-through rate of homepage ads. But it appears such marketing works: Chrome has attracted over 310 million users in about four years. That works out to an estimated click-through rate of about 0.6%, which is better than average. This a very rough figure based on the assumption that: one billion unique users worldwide visit Google.com every month (reported by ComScore in June 2011); that each of these visitors saw the Chrome ad over four years; and that every click-through converted to a Chrome download and installation. The actual click-through rate is probably significantly higher since many of those clicking through to the Chrome ad landing page probably didn't follow through and install Chrome.
Google has promoted all of its Nexus products--the HTC Nexus One phone, the Samsung Nexus Galaxy, and now the Asus Nexus 7 tablet--on its homepage. And last year, it put permanent links to its products in a black navigation bar than now caps the Google homepage and its various apps.
Google has also opted to use is highly visible homepage for public service announcements, such as crisis relief efforts, for political advocacy, such as protesting against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and as a gesture of respect, as when it included a link to Apple's remembrance of the late Steve Jobs.
The timing of Google's ad may suggest concern about the anticipated arrival of strong competition in the 7" tablet market. Amazon is holding a press event on September 6, at which the company is expected to announce an updated version of its Kindle Fire. An Apple press event is expected the following week. That event is likely to focus on the next iPhone but it may also touch on the long-rumored 7" iPad.
However, a source familiar with the matter insists the online ads are simply part of a larger marketing campaign for the Nexus 7 that began with print ads and evolved to include TV commercials around the start of the Olympics in late July.