Amazon, Facebook, and Google Earnings: Takeaways for Advertisers

Amazon, Facebook, and Google Earnings: Takeaways for Advertisers

Advertising

The week of April 27 was especially important for the online advertising world. The three companies that account for nearly 70 percent of online ad spend – Amazon, Facebook, and Google – all announced quarterly earnings. Here was the first time advertisers would see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ad spend. And the news was better than expected.

Amazon Advertising Surges

Amazon announced a rise in quarterly revenue as people sheltering in place increasingly relied on digital to manage their lives, including purchasing products. Amazon’s Advertising service saw a 44-percent increase in revenue (advertising is included in the “other” category in Amazon’s earnings). Why did Amazon’s advertising business do so well?

  • For one thing, consumers on Amazon are searching with intent to buy. And a lot of people are searching on Amazon. According to CivicScience, 49 percent of product searches start on Amazon, versus 22 percent on Google.
  • Amazon without question became a more attractive place to find things to buy as shelter-in-place mandates took hold. According to Learnbonds.com, Amazon’s monthly unique visitors for March, 4.6 billion, easily exceeded competitors such as eBay and Walmart.
  • Amazon was prepared to help advertisers build their visibility during the surge. As we have reported on our blog, over the years, Amazon’s advertising service has developed a number of products that have served Amazon and advertisers well. Those products include Sponsored Ads, Video Ads, and Display Ads, among others.

Amazon said it will plow its profits into COVID-19-related relief activities. As CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement, “If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small. Under normal circumstances, in this coming Q2, we’d expect to make some $4 billion or more in operating profit. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Instead, we expect to spend the entirety of that $4 billion, and perhaps a bit more, on COVID-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe.”

Amazon’s steady development of an advertising service helped put the company in the position to be able to accommodate this expenditure.

Facebook and Google: Signs of a Turnaround

To no one’s surprise, both Facebook and Google saw a slowdown in revenue earned from online advertising, especially in March. But stock shares for both companies rose after they announced earnings. Why? Let’s take a closer look.

Facebook: More Users and Engagement

Facebook announced that even though ad revenue had dropped during the quarter, it was showing signs of turning around in April. Overall, quarterly revenue rose by $17.74 billion. As Facebook said in a statement, “After the initial steep decrease in advertising revenue in March, we have seen signs of stability reflected in the first three weeks of April.”

In addition, Facebook said that monthly active users had increased 10 percent year over year to number 2.6 billion, and engagement was up as people sheltering in place increased their use of social media.

The advertisers who maintained their spending levels during the dip in March benefitted by being present during the surge in user engagement, as we discussed on our blog.

Google: YouTube Is the Star

Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, reported quarterly revenue of $41.16 billion, a 13-percent year-over-year increase. Revenue from advertising rose 11.6 percent, with advertising from YouTube surging by 33.5 percent.

Alphabet acknowledged that online ad revenue had taken a hit because of COVID-19. But in an investor earnings call, the company’s Chief Financial Officer, Ruth Porat, said that “We have seen some very early signs of recovery in commercial search behavior by users.”

Because Google is very active in the travel and retail – industries that have been rocked by the pandemic – its performance actually exceeded expectations.

As with Facebook, advertisers who maintained their levels of spending benefitted as the general population shifted its behaviors online during the first quarter. As we noted on our blog, many businesses adapted their tone and content to demonstrate empathy with ads running on Google sites such as YouTube. Those businesses positioned themselves well.

What You Should Do 

Amazon, Facebook, and Google will continue to dominate the world of online advertising for the foreseeable future. Here is what we suggest:

  • Don’t go dark. Businesses that maintained their visibility online during the March advertising downturn benefitted from the increase in online engagement. Even as states ease up their shelter-in-place orders, social distancing is not going away anytime soon. We’re living in a digital-first world now amid longer-term behavioral changes. Being present with paid media means taking a digital-first approach.
  • Mind your tone. As I blogged in March, businesses need to do a gut check on the tone of their content. Many businesses have successfully incorporated empathy into their advertising while others have changed their messaging to focus on health and safety. Taylor Hart shared some examples of successful social media advertising in this blog post.
  • Be open to different forms of engagement. It’s important that businesses be ready to adapt different forms of engagement to reflect changing user behavior. For instance, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed out during Facebook’s earnings call, livestreaming on Facebook is a more attractive alternative to live events. Moreover, Facebook had already been seeing a marked increase in use of its Messenger app before the pandemic. Héctor Ariza recently shared examples of ad products that capitalize on the popularity of Messenger. Given the increase in Facebook’s monthly average users, now is a good time to try those products.
  • Capitalize on new ad products. Google is fighting hard to protect its turf amid the rise of Amazon Advertising. The company continues to roll out new products to make the Google universe more appealing to advertisers. For instance, I recently blogged about how Google has adapted the YouTube masthead ad format for the era of connected TV. As Mark Smith discussed in December 2019, Google has been developing some impressive location-based advertising tools.

Contact True Interactive

We know how to create and manage online advertising that is appropriate for the times we are living in — don’t hesitate to reach out. We can help.

 

How Brands Are Succeeding with Social Media Advertising

How Brands Are Succeeding with Social Media Advertising

Advertising

There’s a disconnect between how businesses and consumers are behaving on social media during the coronavirus pandemic. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, people are spending more time on social apps such as Facebook, but businesses have scaled back their advertising during the first quarter (although in its latest earnings announcement, Facebook said that ad revenue had stabilized at the beginning of the second quarter in April). Companies that go dark on social create an opportunity for their competitors to engage with a growing audience. If you are one of those brands thinking of scaling back, perhaps you should reconsider. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on.

Consumers Are Online. And They Are Receptive to Ads.

Life under lockdown has resulted in a spike of internet usage. The latest report from App Annie indicates that worldwide, average weekly time spent in games and apps on Android devices increased 20 percent year-over-year in Q1 2020. Significantly, consumer spending also ticked up: “In Q1 2020 consumers spent over $23.4B through the app stores, the largest quarter ever in terms of consumer spend.”

Increased time online also means an uptick in social media usage. According to TechCrunch, an April 2020 Kantar report reveals the extent of this uptick during the pandemic: Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram experienced a 40 percent+ increase in usage. Facebook usage has increased by 37 percent overall.

Not only are consumers online more, and still spending, but they are open to seeing ads. GlobalWebIndex research reveals that globally, approximately 50 percent of respondents approve of brands running “normal” advertising campaigns not linked to COVID-19. Strongest approval was reserved for businesses offering practical and informative tips to deal with the current circumstances.

As reported in Social Media Today, a recent Twitter survey provides some context as to this consumer openness to ads. One interesting finding: 52 percent of respondents said that seeing/hearing ads provides a sense of normalcy, even comfort. In other words, regular promotions are familiar. Anything familiar right now is welcome.

Brands That Are Doing It Right 

As we’ve already blogged, companies like Ford, Hanes, and Budweiser have all managed to strike the right tone in their coronavirus-era advertising. Brands that are specifically advertising on social media, and doing it well, include:

  • TOMS: in a recent Instagram ad, the shoe manufacturer acknowledges the fact that one’s workplace might look a little different right now. “Working from home?” the ad asks, over an image of cozy slippers from TOMS. The implication here is that times may be different, but TOMS shoes, familiar and comfortable, can help make these unfamiliar times better.

  • Dial: at a time when the CDC is recommending handwashing as a safety measure, antibacterial soap manufacturer Dial has created a 10-second spot for Facebook and Instagram that focuses on how to wash hands thoroughly. Dial’s name bookends the ad at beginning and end, but the focus is on customer safety. That’s a sound approach, given GlobalWebIndex research revealing 80 percent of respondents approve of brands running campaigns which demonstrate how they are helping their customers.

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The CDC recommends washing your hands as one of the best ways to help prevent you and your family from getting sick. Follow these 5 steps to wash your hands the right way every time:⁣ ⁣ Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.⁣ ⁣ Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.⁣ ⁣ Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.⁣ ⁣ Rinse your hands under clean, running water. ⁣ ⁣ Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.⁣ ⁣ #Dial⁣ ⁣ #WashYourHands⁣ ⁣ #DialUpProtection

A post shared by @ dial on

  • Bones Coffee Company: in an Instagram spot that includes a coupon code, Bones Coffee Company encourages consumer engagement while speaking to our current quarantine situation head on. “How to self-quarantine,” the coffee company muses. “1. Stay Home. 2. Get Coffee.” The message is short, sweet, and to the point: small pleasures are still in our reach. They’re just enjoyed at home right now.

Tone Is Key

Brands do need to tread carefully to build trust. As reported in eMarketer, a March 2020 Kantar survey finds 75 percent of respondents saying businesses “should not exploit [the] coronavirus situation to promote the brand,” and that brands need to be careful with their tone. The Dial ad works because Dial is sharing useful information. The TOMS and Bones Coffee Company ads work because they discuss products that people would naturally want to use at home. Although the TOMS and Bones Coffee Company ads strike a lighter tone, they fall short of outright humor, which would have made them potentially tone deaf.

In short, not all ads work in a COVID-19 world. It’s also important to remember who your audience is: age group and quarantine status are bound to shape what that audience wants to hear.

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How to Adapt B2B Marketing during Turbulent Times

How to Adapt B2B Marketing during Turbulent Times

Marketing

Businesses that market to other business can and should keep engaging with their clients and prospects during the disruption we’re all enduring right now. Let’s take a look at why this is so and how a B2B brand should stay visible.

The B2B Customer Journey Is More Complex

The B2B customer journey is more complex, and the sales cycle is lengthier. The decision-making process for purchasing a product or service for a business requires more research and approvals. So in a B2B setting, it’s even more important for a brand to maintain frequent outreach to stay on a prospect’s radar screen. During a disruption of operations, your prospects may postpone their decisions, thus making the sales cycle even longer. But if you fall off their radar screens, it’s going to be harder for you to re-connect with them when they are ready to re-engage.

What You Should Do

So what should you do to remain engaged? Here are a few tips:

1 Examine Your Analytics

Your B2B customer is just like a B2C audience: likely stuck at home during a period of social distancing (unless their profession dictates otherwise) doing their jobs exclusively online. We’re seeing dramatic shifts in both desktop and mobile search behavior across the board while people practice social distancing. Now, dig deeper into your own audience behavior. For instance:

  • What changes do you see in click-through rates for different paid media campaigns you’ve been running and at what time of day? They’ve probably changed depending on the type of product you offer.
  • What changes do you see in the content your prospects are searching for?
  • Where is your audience spending your time? It’s quite possible they are engaging more on social than they ever have while they combine professional and personal priorities while they work at home. A social platform such as Facebook, which might not have been your natural choice to advertise, might make more sense right now.
  • In addition, if you are a global B2B brand, your mileage may vary depending on where you do business, as different countries are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with varying degrees of severity and with different recovery time frames.

2 Be Ready to Adapt Your Tactics

Depending on what your data tells you, be ready to adapt the nature of your campaigns, for instance:

  • Adapt your keyword strategy to be more in tune with the topics they are looking for right now. Carefully manage your keyword exclusions to avoid having your name appear next to COVID-19 content.
  • Be prepared to invest more into paid social media if your audience is navigating there. In addition, consider that Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s audience targeting tools make them ideal for experimenting with the type of audience segments you want to reach.

3 Mind Your Tone

B2B audiences are experiencing the same feelings of doubt and uncertainty that B2C audiences are. Re-examine the tone of your content. Be prepared to tone down overly salesy, chipper content that will come across as tone deaf. Use phrases and images that emphasize that you are here for your customer and seek to partner with them during a difficult time.

4 Invest in Thought Leadership

Sharing thought leadership (such as blog posts and white papers) is a great way to augment your digital advertising with top-of-the-funnel awareness. Why? Because during a slowdown in operations, it is not uncommon for B2B customers to brush up on professional knowledge, and they’re also going to be more receptive to practical ideas for managing their businesses during trying times.

Contact True Interactive

True Interactive knows how to create and execute digital marketing for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business clients. We’re here to help you. Contact us to learn more.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

Consumer Spend on Mobile Hits Record Levels in Q1 2020

Consumer Spend on Mobile Hits Record Levels in Q1 2020

Mobile

On April 1, I blogged about some trends in mobile behavior based on a 2020 App Annie State of Mobile report. As if on cue, App Annie then revised its report to note the incredible surge in mobile usage during the first quarter of 2020 as people have practiced social distancing on a widespread scale. These numbers should convince businesses to invest in mobile advertising now more than ever:

  • Q1 2020 was the largest-ever quarter in terms of consumer spend on apps: $23.4 billion.
  • The number of new app downloads in Q1 totaled 31 billion, a 15 percent increase over the fourth quarter of 2019. As Tech Crunch reported, “That’s notable, given that the fourth quarter usually sees a big boost in app installs from holiday sales of new phones, and Q1 managed to top that.”
  • The United States and China were the largest contributors to consumer spend on the Apple iOS operating system.
  • Users of the Google Android operating system spent the most on games social, and entertainment apps, in large part due to Disney+ and Twitch.
  • The Top Five apps worldwide for Q1 based on downloads and consumer spend: TikTok, WhatsApp Messenger, Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger.

All of that time people devote to managing their lives with mobile devices creates opportunities for businesses to engage with customers. The key is to create a sustained presence and to be mindful of using tone appropriate for the times we’re living in right now.

At True Interactive, we have deep experience helping businesses thrive on mobile. For instance, for Snapfish, we launched a digital media campaign that combined major platforms such as the Google Display Network with mobile-centric display networks that serve up ads to consumers on mobile devices. Revenue from mobile app installs grew 343 percent year over year during the holiday season. Mobile app installs grew 23 percent during the same period. Overall, Snapfish saw a 756-percent return on ad spend. Meanwhile, Snapfish saw a 56-percent decrease in costs per install.

For more insight into our work with Snapfish, read this case study. For more insight into responding to the surge in mobile activity, check out my recently published blog post, “Why Mobile Will Power Your Marketing Future.”

Contact True Interactive

Mobile is where the action is. Are you getting in on it? Contact us.

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Quibi, the Newest Disruptor: Advertiser Q&A

Quibi, the Newest Disruptor: Advertiser Q&A

Advertising Video

Just when you thought you had a handle on content streaming (Netflix: check, Disney+: check), a new player has emerged with the potential to shake things up all over again. Backed by a boatload of cash and the imprimatur of Hollywood royalty like Steven Spielberg, Quibi is poised to carve a unique niche in a crowded field. Read on to learn more.

What Is Quibi?

 

Quibi is a new premium streaming service that imposes a cap on programming time: the name Quibi, in fact, is shorthand for “quick bites” of video. Quibi aims to showcase stories of 10 minutes or less; content is meant to be viewed specifically on one’s mobile phone. The platform, founded by chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, has installed tech vet Meg Whitman as the CEO, and investors include studios like Walt Disney Co. and WarnerMedia.

What Kind of Content Will Be on Quibi?

Given the unique mobile phone focus, Quibi will be generating all new content. As Whitman tells Marketplace, “We will be the first streaming service that launches without a library.” As Whitman sees it, starting from ground zero means an opportunity to create something truly fresh: “We have . . . invested significantly in content. This is all about finding the great stories, attaching the great actors and actresses to it and getting them excited about doing something entirely new.”

Quibi expects to deliver 175 shows and 8,500 episodes in its first year. The content promises to be a diverse mix, from long-form narratives to reality programming, documentaries, food shows, and daily news programs. Given Quibi’s format, the long-form narratives will be delivered in bite-sized chunks, serial fashion (think Dickens and the serial way he delivered novels like Pickwick Papers). Whitman is quick to stress that short format doesn’t mean inferior quality. “Nothing’s lesser about the movies [we’re developing] other than the chapterized way we deliver them,” Whitman says.

Content can be downloaded, so users won’t need an active Internet connection to view programming. And quality of the viewing experience is a prime mandate. As Whitman told Marketplace, “[P]eople are watching a lot of videos on their mobile phone today, but it’s an uneven experience. Sometimes, if you’re holding the phone in portrait, it’s a little postage-stamp size, then you turn it horizontally, it’s got big black lines. Some content is only available in portrait, some is only available in landscape . . . we have to be able to have seamless portrait-to-landscape rotation with full-screen video.” To that end, the company is employing what Whitman calls “compression technology,” and reportedly working with Google to ensure flawless video streams. Whitman also notes, “[W]e shot, obviously, to the aspect ratio of the phone.”

How Is Quibi Different from YouTube and Other Platforms?

As noted, story lengths on Quibi are capped at 10 minutes. And Quibi content has specifically been created for viewing on a mobile phone.

There is a distinction between what Quibi promises and the content made for mobile phones on free platforms like, say, TikTok. Services like TikTok offer user-generated content. By contrast, filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Catherine Hardwicke are collaborating with Quibi to create programs designed specifically for viewing via Quibi, sometimes even at certain times: “Spielberg’s After Dark” series will only appear on the service at night, for example. An untitled show devoted to zombies is reportedly being discussed with Guillermo del Toro. User experience will also be informed by how customers hold their phones: changing from vertical to horizon orientation will change what the viewer sees.

Who Is the Target Audience for Quibi?

The target audience is Millennials—ages 18 to 44. The idea is that the platform will especially appeal to consumers on the go: someone waiting in line at the bank, say, or taking a quick bus ride during which 10 minutes of content might be the perfect diversion.

When Does Quibi Launch?

The platform is due to launch in the United States on April 6, 2020, but as Whitman notes, “you don’t have to wait till then to get involved.” On Quibi.com, you can learn about new shows, the technology, and any milestones before launch date. Whitman adds, “We’ll let you know on April 6 when you can download the app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.”

What Advertising Opportunities Exist on Quibi?

There will indeed be opportunities for advertisers, as users will be invited to choose between Quibi with or without ads. The service will launch, for viewers in the United States, at $4.99 a month with ads, $7.99 a month without. Whitman shares with Marketplace, “We think that most [consumers] will pick the ad-supported version because it’s a very light ad load. It’s only 2.5 minutes per hour of watching, which is much less than prime time TV, which is 17.5 minutes of advertising for every hour that you watch.” Ads will appear before a Quibi show begins and last six, 10, or 15 seconds. They will be unskippable. Advertisers already onboard include Discover, General Mills, Taco Bell, Walmart, and PepsiCo.

Quibi programming will also come with ratings to help advertisers determine whether a show is geared to mature audiences. At the WSJ Tech Live conference in October 2019, Whitman said, “[Marketers] can feel safe that their brand shows up next to content that they’re OK with.”

And because Quibi programming is structured around serialized chapters, the platform is looking into an alternative where advertisers could serialize their ads, too.

What Kind of Reception Has Quibi Received?

It’s a mixed one. Naysayers insist the endeavor is a gamble, and that the subscription fee will discourage consumers used to video content that can be viewed for free on platforms like YouTube. Katzenberg, however, is confident. “I think we are doing something that is now such a well established consumer habit,” he told NewsDio. “There are 2.5 billion people walking with these televisions in their pocket. They are already watching a billion hours of content every day. I just know that it will work.”

Quibi has tried to get out in front of its critics by building visibility through some (presumably expensive) ads during the 2020 Super Bowls and Oscars.

Not all watchers have been impressed, as this Verge article discusses.

There’s no denying Quibi has attracted some heavyweights to create content. Will consumers be willing to pay for that content? Only time will tell.

Contact True Interactive

Curious about Quibi and the opportunities this new platform affords? Contact us.

What Is DuckDuckGo? Advertiser Q&A

What Is DuckDuckGo? Advertiser Q&A

Advertising Marketing

Part of the price of being popular is being a target. And as we enter 2020, Google is certainly a big target for privacy advocates, who are uncomfortable with the amount of personal data that the master of the search world collects. And when privacy advocates talk about Google, they mean more than Google.com – there’s also Google Maps, YouTube, and a host of other Google-owned properties to consider. Amid the ongoing discussion about Google’s size and reach, search engine DuckDuckGo has emerged as an alternative for privacy advocates. DuckDuckGo is cast as an underdog and defender of personal privacy, partly because of how the company positions itself (“privacy, simplified”) and partly because of DuckDuckGo’s operating model (DuckDuckGo does not store personal information, follow users around with ads, or track users).

What, exactly, is DuckDuckGo, and how big is it? Let’s tackle these and other questions we’ve been getting from clients.

What Is DuckDuckGo?

Founded in 2008, DuckDuckGo is a search engine whose claim to fame is protecting user privacy. DuckDuckGo does not store IP addresses or log user information; and DuckDuckGo uses cookies only when required. The search engine also markets itself with a bit of cheek (according to its website, “At DuckDuckGo, we don’t think the Internet should feel so creepy and getting the privacy you deserve online should be as simple as closing the blinds”) and defiance (“Too many people believe that you simply can’t expect privacy on the Internet. We disagree and have made it our mission to set a new standard of trust online”).

Think of DuckDuckGo as an alternative search engine for those who want to maintain a brick wall of privacy between themselves and the digital world when they search.

How Big Is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo accommodates 1.5 billion searches a month with nearly 15 billion searches conducted in 2019. By contrast, in 2019, Google accommodated 2 trillion searches a day. Although DuckDuckGo is tiny by comparison, the search engine is growing. Those 15 billion searches represent a 60 percent increase over 2018 (9.2 billion) and nearly a tripling of 2017 searches (5.9 billion). Clearly, DuckDuckGo is catching on – with a small segment of the population, yes, but a growing on.

How Does DuckDuckGo Make Money?

DuckDuckGo makes money through advertising and affiliate marketing. Just because DuckDuckGo protects your privacy, it doesn’t mean DuckDuckGo offers ad-free search results. If a user searches for, say, “vinyl records near me,” DuckDuckGo returns advertisements based on the keyword search. But DuckDuckGo does not track or use a person’s data after the search is completed. In addition, DuckDuckGo earns affiliate marketing revenue from sites such as from Amazon and eBay. When users buy something on those sites after reaching them through DuckDuckGo, DuckDuckGo collects a commission. For more insight about advertising on DuckDuckGo, check out this link from the company.

Is DuckDuckGo Reliable?

Your mileage may vary. The search engine has been called out for lacking certain functionality available on Google and Bing, such as custom date ranges. And to be sure, Google provides an interconnected universe of properties (Google.com and Google Maps being a good example). But DuckDuckGo is building out its functionality. For instance, you can do location-based searches through an integration between DuckDuckGo and Apple Maps. The best way to test it is to try it.

Should I Advertise on DuckDuckGo?

Businesses with a limited budget should focus on the properties where they’ll get the most bang for the buck, and without question there are bigger alternative such as Google and Bing that provide much more ad visibility. One of DuckDuckGo’s challenges is that the site itself requires a bit of word of mouth for people to find. But that said, businesses might want to consider DuckDuckGo for discretionary ad spend targeting a smaller privacy-conscious segment of the population.  According to research from SimilarWeb, loyal users of DuckDuckGo love tech, and they use DuckDuckGo as an alternative because they’re concerned about having their privacy protected while they search online. If that’s the type of audience for you, consider DuckDuckGo.

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Will Increased Scrutiny Make Google More Transparent?

Will Increased Scrutiny Make Google More Transparent?

Advertising Google

It’s been a tough week for Google from a PR standpoint.

On November 11, The Wall Street Journal published a story about how Google has been collecting Americans’ personal health data as part of an ambitious foray into healthcare. Although Google was not accused of any wrongdoing, the examination of its data collection practices resulted in the announcement of a federal probe. And then to cap off the week, on November 15, The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article, “How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results.”

Let’s just say the title of that second article captured plenty of interest in the advertising world.

Do Google’s Actions Match Its Message?

The November 15 article, like the article about Project Nightingale, did not accuse Google of doing anything illegal. But The Wall Street Journal painted a picture of a company whose actions are not always aligned with its statements. For instance, The Wall Street Journal pointed out examples of Google intervening to manage search results contrary to what Google says on its blog, “We do not use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Google:

  • Weeds out more-incendiary suggestions in the search auto-complete function.
  • Has made algorithmic changes to search results that favor big companies over smaller ones and “in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser,eBay, contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action. The company also boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc.  . . . .” (The comment about Facebook and Amazon is especially interesting given how Amazon and Facebook compete with Google for advertising revenue.)
  • Employs thousands of contractors whose job is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. “Even so,” says The Wall Street Journal, “contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.”

For me one of the most fascinating details in the article is the inference that Google’s advertising growth has influenced how the company treats businesses on Google. According to the article:

Some very big advertisers received direct advice on how to improve their organic search results, a perk not available to businesses with no contacts at Google, according to people familiar with the matter. In some cases, that help included sending in search engineers to explain a problem, they said.

One former executive at a Fortune 500 company that received such advice said Google frequently adjusts how it crawls the web and ranks pages to deal with specific big websites.

Google updates its index of some sites such as Facebook and Amazon more frequently, a move that helps them appear more often in search results, according to a person familiar with the matter.

For its part, Google said it does not provide specialized guidance to website owners. Google said that faster indexing of a site isn’t a guarantee that it will rank higher. “We prioritize issues based on impact, not any commercial relationships,” a Google spokeswoman said.

I would urge any business to take the time to read the article. Here again, this is not an exposé of wrongdoing but rather an in-depth examination of how well Google’s practices align with its words.

The Core Issue: Transparency

Google is certainly not alone in facing increased scrutiny for its management of data and its relationship with advertisers, and the heat Google is experiencing right now is nothing compared to the firestorm that Facebook is enduring.

To me, the core issue of the November 15 article is this: transparency. Google’s practice of holding its cards close to the vest has created an impression of a business that has something to hide – perhaps not a fair impression, but as they say, perception is reality. As Google manages the fallout from the November 15 story, I do think we may see some interesting outcomes for advertisers:

  • Smaller businesses — which the article characterizes as second-class citizens groveling for fair consideration — may receive more responsiveness than they typically get from the advertising giant when issues arise that demand attention.
  • All businesses may see more transparency from Google, such as how the algorithm works and the explicit impact of the many algorithm changes that Google enacts through the year. A message of “Trust us – we know what we’re doing” just isn’t going over very well. At the same time, Google needs to protect its intellectual property, and the company says that revealing too much of how the algorithm works will make it easier for parties with bad intentions to game the system. It will be fascinating to see how Google reconciles these factors amid increased scrutiny.

In many ways, Google is grappling with issues that social media platforms do all the time – providing an open forum for the exchange of ideas among people while at the same time making it possible for businesses to succeed through advertising and commerce. What exactly goes on behind the scenes to represent the interests of both people and businesses is not always clear. But that situation may change soon.

Contact True Interactive

At True Interactive, we live in the world of online advertising. We know how to help businesses succeed with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many other advertising platforms. Contact us to learn how we can help you.