Google’s Vision for the Future of Online Ads (And Where Publishers Fit In)
Last week Publishing Executive hosted the Data, Insight & Revenue Summit, which featured Google’s partnerships manager Felipe Calderon as the keynote speaker. Calderon manages publisher partnerships, and he explained how Google is working to improve the online ad experience and cope with the many issues currently bogging down publishers, advertisers, and consumers online -- from poor mobile ad experiences to advertisers’ mistrust of publisher data and the inability to identify users across devices.
Google must walk a fine line: while it is trying to help “fund content,” as Calderon put it, it’s core mandate is to help maintain the speed and user-friendliness of the web. Calderon envisions a more data-driven online experience where user activity can be tracked across devices, where publishers and brands can deliver a more personalized experience to individual users (powered by quality data), and where greater revenue can be derived from content, rather than ads alone. (Listen to Calderon’s full keynote here.)
Building Data Trust
Some of the biggest challenges that publishers and brands face online can be summed up in a word: data. Advertisers lack confidence that publishers’ audience data is accurate and are concerned that any re-targeting efforts they pursue may not deploy ads to the right consumers. Calderon said that the most trusted publishers tend to be those that require registration in order to view content on their sites. Those publishers are able to pinpoint specific users and individual activity on their sites, which is increasingly valuable to advertisers.
Another challenge is the difficulty of tracking consumers across different devices. “Marketers are increasingly trying to understand the entire path [of the online user],” said Calderon. “How can we actually tailor the experience on the web for different users, based on their pathing? What happens if a user comes from a path you don’t expect? You don’t recognize that user so they will have a different experience than the marketer intended.”
But new solutions will overcome these challenges soon, and publishers need to be ready. Calderon shared a colleague’s estimate that true programmatic customization -- where ads are displayed based on an individual’s online path -- will be achieved within five years’ time. Customization will provide advertisers with the right audience, and it will provide a more positive ad experience to consumers who will only see messaging that they’re interested in. That means publishers need to start getting their data in order now. If they do not have the capabilities to tag certain users, track their activity across their sites, and connect that to a marketer’s user graph, advertisers will spend their dollars elsewhere.
Going Ad-Free (Not Revenue-Free)
Google also seems to be preparing for a future with a lot less online advertising. “You can imagine that our engineers are not the biggest fans of ads, even the engineers that work on ads,” admitted Calderon, noting that most ad experiences disrupt the user experience rather than improve it.
This dislike led Google to develop a few monetization products that offer an alternative to ads. One of those is Contributor, which allows readers to pay a certain amount for an ad-free experience. “With Contributor, users can sign up for an account and say, ‘I'm willing to pay X amount of money to not see ads.’” That amount is essentially is a CPM bid that competes against different ads, said Calderon. If the users wins, the ads are blocked and a message appears where the ads would have been, thanking the user for supporting the publisher’s content. Publishers are paid the same as if an ad was served through AdSense or AdExchange.
Another ad alternative is Google’s Consumer Surveys. The product blocks the user from reading a publisher’s content until he answers a question or series of questions. The survey might ask about a certain brand or ask for demographic information. Google sells the survey results to market research firms and businesses. Calderon clarified that publishers do not have access to this data. Rather, they are paid for each survey completed. “It’s working really well for the publishers that have adopted it. The challenge we have right now is getting more advertisers to adopt it as well.”
Of course there are still many barriers to the user-friendly, data-driven ad experiences that Google envisions. Spam and ad fraud still plague publishers and diminish the value of their inventories. Content consumption continues to grow on mobile devices where ad experiences are poor and ad blocking is rampant. And consistent user pathing continues to elude advertisers. Calderon remained optimistic, though, and believes that new technology will soon resolve these issues.
If it’s only a matter of time for Google’s vision of the internet to become a reality, then the question is, are publishers ready for that future?