Google AdWords Invade – Huge Upside or Huge Mistake?


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Today (Friday), as I trolled the Old, I was shocked to find the site running Google Adwords campaigns on the bottom of each product category page. I rubbed my eyes and did a double take. Then I noticed it in left column navigation, too.

“Huhhh?” I retorted, out loud.

As a long suffering ecommerce practitioner, I have studied Gap’s eCommerce infrastructure (which is shared across Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Pipelime and Athleta).  I understand their model, IA, design and functionality… and I have considered it a category leader with regard to usability and merchandising.  Lately, however, I’ve felt it getting a bit cluttered…with solicitations for newsletters, cross-site ads, promotions and extra navigation. Their bill payment areas are problematic, suffer from service outages and are not very usable. Now, on top of all this — I find the addition of the ad words. 

I find this intriguing and perplexing on a personal and professional level.

Competitive ads on an eCommerce site?  Isn’t it a conflict of interest?  Doesn’t it compete with user attention?  Doesn’t it violate some cardinal experience rule related to task interruption? Won’t it motivate shoppers to go purchase elsewhere? Wouldn’t the loss of sales subvert the potential revenue up-side of the advertising?

Evidently not!

I did some web-based probing. I don’t see any articles on the web about this yet. Based on a few spot checks, this is not active on any other Gap property other than Old Navy, yet. I also reached out to @oldnavy on Twitter, waited for response and got nothing. Quickly realizing it does not seem to be Gap’s pattern to publicly interact with anyone on Twitter, other than Re-tweeting positive mentions (Boo for that, by the way).  So, I decided to write a post about it.

Click into just about any category and find a series of text-driven Google Ads under the left-hand navigatoin and at the bottom of the product listing (see magenta arrows above for placement).  Click an ad and you’ll get a new window corresponding to the ad.  The ads are, of course, using Google’s contextual targeting technology.   Men’s Jeans pointed me to Lee, Nordstrom and several other retailers.  Womens Plus New Arrivals points to ads for HSN, Nordstom, Avenue and other retailers.  Women’s Sweaters point to ads for Ann Taylor, JJill, Victoria’s Secret and others.

Last month, Old Navy alone had  2,593,080 unqiue visitors to its subdomain.  That’s a nice amount of traffic and equates to a grand number of impressions.  So, maybe the up-side, from a pure revenue perspective, will be worth it.

As a professional who plays in the eCommerce, Digital/Social media and marketing space… I’d love more information that probably falls in the “none of your business” category!  In the end, I am left asking myself what the tradeoff will be, in terms of sales, revenue and relationship?” Maybe people will filter it out – and maybe not. Perhaps Gap Inc. is merely searching for answers. I applaud them for questioning, and wonder:

  • Is this some kind of public test?
  • Did Gap do any lab-based user testing go gauge user reaction, behavior and sentiment?
  • Does Gap anticipate that people actually click these ads?
  • Is Gap concerned the ads might irritate customers?
  • What is the calculated risk of this practice?
  • What’s the potential financial up-side of this practice?
  • Is the company doing any analysis of click patterns from these ads?
  • Will these soon appear on,, Piperlime and Banana Republic, too?

Not that I think they will give me any public answers…I mean — who am I?  Whatever the case, this is a lot more provocative than adding Facebook “like” buttons to product or the home page.

As a consumer… the ads feel disruptive and out of place.  I literally had a “What The Heck?” moment when I noticed them.  I did notice them right away on this visit, but in fairness, I don’t know if they have gone unnoticed in previous visits.  I haven’t been on the site in at least three weeks.  I weighed my “shopper reaction” and it was negative – although by clicking an ad out of curiosity, I found Hannah Anderson had some really cute stuff!  Further, I find the AdWords placement adds to the confusion of an increasingly cluttered design, which is the tip of the iceberg with my frustrations over some key areas of the site.  
Perhaps most significantly is this:  In the end, after clicking on an ad – I did not make a purchase. What was I worth as a click?  Was the sale worth it? Will I go back and buy anyway? I guess the jury is still out.  We’ll see if the ads continue…or spread.

But now for the most important question:
What do you think?  Does the ad placement strike you as weird? Bothersome?  Desperate?  Smart?  Interesting?  Do you even notice them?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Leigh Durst
Leigh (Duncan) Durst is the principal of Live Path. She is a 19 year veteran in business, operations and customer strategy, ecommerce, digital and social media. As an active consultant, writer, speaker and teacher, she is an advocate for creating remarkable customer experiences that harness digital media and improving business outcomes.


  1. Leigh, I agree that putting Google ads on a ecommerce site doesn’t make much sense for lots of reasons.

    But I couldn’t find them when I visited Maybe it was just an experiment?

  2. Leigh, thank you for writing about this.

    I was also surprised to find Google ads on Old Navy’s site. Weird? Yeah. Desperate? That was my first impression.

    But I have to wonder if there’s something more to this. It would be interesting to know how much revenue a site could gain by advertising the competition.

    Considering that folks who visit are typically set to shop, perhaps the site has nothing to lose: Either the shopper buys from or doesn’t. If not, why not cash in on a click for the competition?

  3. Bob, you’re one of two people who has emailed me to say they cannot find the ads, so it appears this is being rolled out as a test to a limited number of viewers.

    Also significant: Target is also using Google Ad Words on similar pages… even more of them. Not sure how long this practice has been in play but worth mentioning.

    = L


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