Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Google has been up front about their upcoming ad format releases, so this doesn't come as a bombshell. Nick Fox shared the news at SES San Jose, and we were offered examples previously, posted here.
Today, VP of Product Management Susan Wojcicki officially describes a variety of the new formats, with appropriate screen shots.
One reaction might simply be, "OMG another nail in the coffin for SEO!". I'm sure some in the SEO community will be afraid that more and more paid screen real estate will make it harder to drive organic traffic, and to some extent that's true. Whether elements of "universal search" take away organic traffic by one mechanism, or whether big local (paid) units take away organic traffic by another mechanism, it's an ongoing shift in the works.
And yes, it's a shift we said SEO's should get used to even back when we wrote about paid inclusion and paid search in the period 2000-2002. It's not easy news to share; never has been.
Google will no doubt protest it isn't turning into the Yellow Pages entirely, and certainly there will remain a huge amount of "unmonetized" inventory.
Susan Wojcicki makes another point worth noting, though, and that's "remaining loyal to [Google's] core principle" of "getting the right ad to the right person at the right time." Perhaps that's a core principle, but it's one that was invented and then emphasized by Wojcicki as a "core principle" in a blog post in 2008.
That implies that the new ad formats are, well, sort of an incremental, evolutionary change. On the face of it, this is disingenuous. In fact, if you looked up disingenuous in the dictionary...
I mean, look at some of the units. Hey Pizza Hut. Want to take up 50% of the screen real estate above the fold, on searches for "pizza hut"? You might have already, but with our new "pay us more" plan, you can sort of control how we display your listings.
Don't pay? Well, it might look something like the screen shot below, when a Toronto native searches for "pizza hut." Oh sure, you show up nicely in the organic results. But doesn't it really stick in your craw that the top sponsored listing is for Pizza Pizza, the leading pizza chain in Canada? Arrggghhhh! Pay up, Pizza Hut.
It naturally occurs to us, then -- given Pizza Pizza's success at "brandjacking" in this instance (largely legal in North America, though often subject to trademark litigation) -- that Pizza Pizza could scoop up the whole area above the fold, even on a search for "pizza hut," if they paid enough. I'm not saying it will happen, but while we're massaging core principles, what's a nuance among friends? Why not go all the way? I'm sure a few users will want to find a Pizza Hut, but they'll quickly lose interest when they see that Pizza Pizza has more locations anyway, to say nothing of seven flavors of dipping sauce.
It may well be significant that Nick leaned towards the word "revolutionary change" in his keynote. He wanted the community, and advertisers, to know that every assumption is on the table for discussion. Implying, in a way, that Google was adopting a new "open for business stance." While Google isn't about to throw its users under a bus entirely (at least if anyone remembers the Google Paradox that made them as wealthy as they are), it's hard to agree that this shift squares with Google "staying loyal to its original principle," unless that principle is a malleable, made-up principle that started making the rounds fewer than two years ago.
Are these significant enough changes to be unsettling, at least to the large contingent of longtime punters who thought they understood what Google's core principles were in the advertising realm? Absolutely. It's way beyond just rattling a few cheapskate SEO's. It's going to shake you up even if you liked buying the paid listings in the past.
Those who will be most comfortable with the changes may well be old-school big brand marketers, and agency veterans from the interruption marketing, big media buy era. Curious. Google spent ten years deriding that paradigm, forcing its adherents to play inside of Google's platform. Now, it's "you got money? let's talk."
They're radical changes, but naturally, Google is painting them as gradual. (Well actually, Nick Fox was honest. He used the word "revolutionary" at one point.)
Here are the key differences between New Google Advertising (2009-) and Google Advertising Classic (2001-2008):
- Google is doing paid inclusion! In several ways. If this is just the beginnings of it, as it probably is, then Google is moving into paid inclusion in a major way. Almost all of Google's competitors have been lambasted for muddy ways of monetizing that didn't firmly explain what should go where, and whether it's paid for or not. Now that it has a monopoly position, Google is angling to do more of this muddy inclusion than any of its rivals ever did. Danny Sullivan, one of the only people in the industry who has followed the details of all forms of relationship between monetized and unmonetized search inventory, from Day One, of course called this right away in a column last week on Nov. 16, "Google Experiments with Paid Inclusion". And called "BS" on any attempt to deflect attention from this major shift in approach.
- Google is ramping up a direct ad sales force and turning into the Yellow Pages, where it suits them. Folks, you can't buy all these various ad formats through a platform, and you don't have to adhere to an algorithm or an auction. Arguably, if you want to throw more money at Google, bunches more, for innovative forms of exposure and attention -- so innovative that they impact how Google manages the user interface, not just where it puts your message -- you're free to do so. Hello deep pockets, goodbye level playing field and transparent pricing.
I'm sure more bullet points could be enumerated, but that's the heart of it.
- Google, the search engine, is now heavily dominated by advertising and thinking about advertising. If you're into information, we suggest you consider Wolfram Alpha, or the local library.
Heck, as a search advertising specialist, I should be thrilled. Maybe, but I'm also a search and information geek. Media buying is at the heart of what SEM geeks do, so I'll survive and so will our corporate clients, who seek ways to buy digital exposure on search engines and elsewhere. But I'm not entirely sure how anyone at Google can talk about their new ad formats cleaving to Google's "original principles" with a straight face, unless they're referring to an "original" principle that's all of two years old.
No one's holding a gun to anyone's head, of course. People love to shop. They love movies, and they love to compare mortgage rates. Hey, many consumers willingly watch infomercials. It's still a free country and you're still free to use or not use the engine and free to look or not look at the ads. But make no mistake, it's a significant change, and it comes at a time when the only significant challenge to Google's monopoly on commercial search in many markets is a search engine run by Microsoft.
Google's early experiments with blended search results made it seem like they never planned to charge anyone for appearing in a whole diversity of (often commercial) forms of listings. Viewed from a certain angle, it now looks like they're cooking up ways to charge everyone for everything. The free ride is rapidly coming to an end.
Labels: advertising, google, google adwords
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