I was not surprised to see a story come out about ads being read out by Google Home, but it seems many people were. It seems it’s easy to forget sometimes that Google is an advertising company! The only bit I found surprising was Google’s denial that it was an ad at all. The only way I can parse their strange denial is that this is a test during which the “partner” isn’t paying for the placement. Google said:
“This isn't an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.”
I more commonly write and talk about organic search than paid advertising, but Distilled manages a load of paid media - especially paid search - and so I thought that I’d share some of my thoughts on the future of Google advertising.
Here are five ways that you can’t yet buy advertising from Google, but I predict you will be able to soon:
#1 Voice ads
OK, OK. This is an easy one, and perhaps cheating, but you can’t buy them yet (at least not self-serve) and the interesting part to me is that I believe this will go hand-in-hand with advertising in the knowledge graph / one-box in regular (non-voice) search.
Right now, there are things that look like ads in the knowledge box, but as far as I know, they are all API partnerships, rather than things you can buy self-serve:
I expect that we may see some kind of mechanism for bidding to appear in the answer box for certain kinds of query - though like with PLA / shopping ads, it is likely to be about layering a pay-per-click model on top of organic selection (i.e. you won’t be able to pay to appear in an irrelevant one-box at any price). The reason for connecting this to voice ads is that the one-box and knowledge graph are where many voice answers come from, and it’d be a great cross-over opportunity for Google to roll out new advertising tech.
#2 Mobile ads from earlier voice searches
When you do a voice search without a screen in front of your eyes (on Google Home, when you’re driving, on a smartwatch, or increasingly / soon via wireless earphones), there are going to be many times when an ad doesn’t cut it. Even links to websites don’t cut it - you need answers or actions in this situation. This is one of the things that makes voice search so prone to fake news challenges - it’s simply so much worse when there is only a single result. It’ll be the same thing for ads.
But! That search you did is super valuable information to Google, and I can’t see them letting it go to waste. They are already sharing search history and browsing history across devices - what if the next time you pulled your phone out after doing a pure voice search, Google showed a notification of links to more information about the thing you’d searched for? It wouldn’t have to do this for every kind of search - if the voice answer / action had undoubtedly answered the whole intent, then leave it be - but if there was unsatisfied intent, this would be a great time to offer more information. And ads. Just sayin’.
#3 Contextual ads
We have written a great deal about the ability of Google to deliver better organic results through a combination of machine learning and tons more inputs beyond the explicit query that is typed or spoken. These implicit aspects of the query essentially end up personalising the results you get based on your context, your history, and all kinds of other information Google can infer about you.
Almost none of those implicit aspects are available as advertising parameters. You can bid on location, and time of day, but you can’t bid on the keyword [jordan] only to basketball fans who spend money on sneakers, for example.
I suspect that’s going to change.
#4 Lookalike ads
With the incredible continuing growth of Facebook advertising showing no sign of abating (if anything, being strengthened by the growth of mobile), I suspect that Google will want to introduce more tools for targeting people rather than just actions / activities. I think, incidentally, that this is learning slightly the wrong message from Facebook’s success, which is predicated at least as much on the news feed ad being such a native and integrated ad unit on mobile as it is on the targeting abilities. But nonetheless, I think that the more noise Facebook makes about their targeting abilities, the more Google is going to introduce the abilities to target people - extending the capabilities of tools like RLSA that lets you retarget searchers into the ability to target uploaded groups of emails, lookalike audiences etc.
#5 A new form of AdSense
This is kind of an afterthought for most marketers, who see relatively poor returns from AdSense compared to AdWords, but there is historical context that makes it important in my opinion. The growth of Google search is a fascinating symbiosis between their revenue-generating AdWords machine and the way that AdSense funded the creation of long-tail content making the internet a place that had an answer to every crazy rare query that any user could come up with.
By funnelling revenue to small sites for whom that revenue was sufficient incentive to create content, Google essentially funded the creation of the inventory they needed to index to continue to differentiate as a search engine and build their defensive moat.
But AdSense doesn’t work very well on mobile where opening new links is more painful, screen real estate is more valuable, and most ad clicks on most websites are accidents . There is, however, a glaring need for a form of content advertising that isn’t just a race-to-the-bottom of terrible content:
I wonder if Google’s ML expertise could lead to content recommendation engines that don’t suck, and if they might find the right places to recommend content to us in a mobile-first world (when you open a new Chrome tab, and if you swipe into Google Now are two experiments I’ve seen recently). If they can, could they open this up to content advertisers while keeping quality high?
We will see. In the meantime, I’d love to see your speculation about future forms of Google advertising in the comments, or on twitter.
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