Artificial Intelligence Shapes Google’s Future

Artificial Intelligence Shapes Google’s Future

Marketing

For many marketers, Google means advertising. But Google also wants us to associate its name with artificial intelligence. Recent events illustrate how the company has one foot planted in the present and future. Can Google have its cake and eat it, too?

The Present: Advertising

The latest quarterly earnings announcement of Google’s parent, Alphabet, shows that Google remains a formidable force in the world of online advertising. Alphabet’s first-quarter revenues, $31.1 billion, outperformed analysts’ expectations. Why? Because Google is an advertising cash cow. As much as Alphabet likes to tout its forays into emerging technology, its money comes from Google’s ability to secure revenue via time-honored advertising tools such as AdWords.

Approximately $26.6 billion, or 86 percent of Alphabet’s quarterly revenue, came from Google advertising. Think about that: $26.6 billion. That’s enough to land a company in the Fortune500. Google is protecting its position by refining current tools such as AdWords while rolling out new tools to make online advertising more personal and mobile-centric. Although much has been said about Google’s struggle to make YouTube a safer advertising platform for brands, probably Google’s bigger threat is Amazon, which continues to ascend as a major search platform – and offers advertising tools of its own. As reported, Amazon is now a multi-billion dollar advertising giant. Google needs to adapt or fall behind.

The Future: Artificial Intelligence

The 2018 Google I/O event, occurring May 8-9, illustrates Google’s intent to change itself and the world around it. At this year’s I/O, Google has been pushing artificial intelligence through its products. For example, Google announced the creation of Duplex, an “AI System for Accomplishing Real World Tasks Over the Phone” in the words of a Google blog post. As Google noted:

The technology is directed towards completing specific tasks, such as scheduling certain types of appointments. For such tasks, the system makes the conversational experience as natural as possible, allowing people to speak normally, like they would to another person, without having to adapt to a machine.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated how accurate Duplex already is when he showed how Duplex can make Google’s voice assistant (Google Assistant) smart enough to place a call to a hair salon and book an appointment with a real person, sounding so natural that a human being is not aware they are talking with a voice assistant.

Google also unleashed a number of AI-based product improvements ranging from a smarter, more personal Google Maps to a customized Google News. So why the push into AI? Because Google knows that the company needs to become more than a leading search platform. Google has long been evolving as a media platform for accomplishing everyday tasks, and in recent years, it has looked to emerging technology such as virtual reality to do so. Google needs to demonstrate to its advertisers that it can keep consumers inside the Google ecosystem, and simply making search better is not enough to do that.

If Google can pull off a future defined by AI, it will protect its advertising base. But here again, Amazon looms as a threat. Amazon is making its own investments into AI to be a smarter platform for its customers, both online and offline.

The competition between Google and Amazon is good for consumers and advertisers. Consumers should benefit from more personalized services while businesses have more choices to advertise. Choice is good. And Google wants to be the first choice. Contact us to learn more about how to thrive with online advertising with giants such as Google and Amazon.

YouTube Fights for Credibility

YouTube Fights for Credibility

Video

For those of you who kept your New Year’s Resolutions: congratulations. Now get ready to break them on February 4, when everyone gathers in front of that big screen to stuff their faces and watch grown men run around and crash into each other during Super Bowl LII. Of course, the unofficial national holiday also includes a huge chunk of the population who could care less about the action on the field (“Who is this Tom Brady? Oh, you mean Giselle Bundchen’s husband?”) and gather in front of the TV to overindulge in wings, nachos, and sweets for the commercials.

Last year, about this time, I wrote a blog post about investing in the power of YouTube advertising, Noting that the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad was $5 million, I asserted that YouTube could be seen as a replacement for TV advertising. One year later, Super Bowl ads are holding firm at $5 million. Meanwhile, over the last year, YouTube has gotten a lot of flak (rightfully so!) about placement of video ads and banner ads over inappropriate, un-safe, and in some cases downright disturbing content.

Clearly, YouTube has taken some hits.

On January 16, Google announced that the YouTube Partnership Program (YPP) would be updated to address its credibility problem. YPP now requires a channel to have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time within the last 12 months to be eligible to show ads before or during videos. These new rules will apply to everyone, including existing channels, starting February 20, 2018.

By contrast, under the old rules, having only 10,000 views could make a channel eligible for YPP. That’s it. A total view number as the only real eligibility factor is kind of crazy considering bots could hit that number in a matter of minutes.

The new rules were inevitable after a large number of advertisers threatened to pull out, and, in some cases (I’m speaking from experience) pulled out and STAYED pulled out. Moving forward, YouTube will begin to “closely monitor signals like community strikes, spam and other abuse flags,” which will also help keep those videos/partners who show ads more “brand safe.”

At True Interactive, we are results driven and like to see hard numbers. So here is a hard number: the creators who remain part of the YPP after the new guidelines go into effect make up more than 95 percent of YouTube’s reach for advertisers.

Also note that Google Preferred, which aggregates YouTube’s top 5 percent of content into easy-to-buy packages, will now be manually vetted. In other words, there is an actual person watching these uploaded videos before an ad can be shown. In a blog post, Neal Mohan (chief product officer) and Robert Kyncl (chief business officer) wrote that “99 percent of those affected by the new guidelines were making less than $100 per year in the last year, with 90 percent earning less than $2.50 in the last month.”

Looking back over 2017, you would think that YouTube didn’t do very well. Wrong. The number of channels making over six figures in 2017 were up over 40 percent year-over-year. Even with all of the bad press and advertisers pulling out of showing YouTube video ads, the number of channels making $100K+ last year was up 40 percent! That number alone is proof that TV advertising is starting to go the way of the dodo. Consumers are cutting the cord, and it’s time to get ahead of the competition. Elon Musk said, “The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur.” We are past consumers possibly cutting the cord and are well into the probability of it happening now.

 

Advertiser Q&A: Local Services by Google

Advertiser Q&A: Local Services by Google

Marketing

In 2015, Google began testing Home Service Ads, a digital advertising platform aimed at providers of on-location services such as plumbing, heating, and painting. The program is live in 17 U.S. cities. Google has now rebranded Home Service Ads as Local Services by Google and will expand it to 30 cities by the end of 2017.

The idea behind Local Services is to boost the presence of service providers with a dedicated advertising platform beyond paid search. As more businesses have gotten onboard with Local Services (under its old name), I’ve fielded many questions from clients and colleague in the industry who want to learn more about the platform. In the following Q&A, I’ve answered some of the more common ones. Check it out – especially if you provide an on-location service.

What exactly is Local Services by Google?

Local Services is a platform dedicated to providers of on-location services such as plumbing. Businesses that participate in the program have their ads appear above search results (even paid search results). For example, a Google search for “Plumbers in Los Angeles” reveals the following three sponsored placements for Ninja Plumber, United Plumbing Heating Air & Electric LA, and Expert Plumbing & Roofer – each of which is a Local Services ad:

Notice how the Local Services ads appear above paid search results for rooterhero.com, allsuburbanplumbing.com, and teamrooter.com. They also appear above the 3-pack results and organic listings.

Notice also the “Google Guaranteed” seal in each inset box. As Google notes, “Google Guaranteed” means that providers are pre-screened and meet relevant insurance and licensing requirements. When users book an eligible Local Services provider on Google, they are protected by the guarantee.

Now look at the rich level of detail that a user finds when clicking on one of the Local Services ads (for Ninja Plumber) – everything from customer reviews to information about services provided and location data:

A Local Services ad is more than a banner ad. It’s a mini website with clickable information to encourage a customer to do business with the provider. The content is drawn from a provider’s Google My Business page.

What is new and different about Local Services Ads?

The two most crucial content attributes of Local Services ads are the Google Guarantee and the prominence of customer reviews.

As noted, the Google Guarantee literally gives the provider Google’s stamp of approval. Per Google, here is what a Google Guarantee covers:

  • “If you’re not satisfied with the work quality, we’ll cover claims up to the job invoice amount, with a lifetime cap of $2,000. Your job must be booked through Home Services. Add-on or future projects, damages to property, dissatisfaction with price or provider responsiveness, and cancellations aren’t covered.
  • Claims must be submitted within 30 days of the job completion date.
  • You can identify an eligible pro because they have the Google guaranteed symbol by their name and on their profile page.”

Meanwhile, the prominently placed customer reviews are intended to give users more confidence in their choice of a provider. In featuring a Local Services ad, Google gives preference to providers that have the highest volume of reviews. So it behooves providers to encourage their customers to review them.

What is the compensation model?

The compensation model is pay per lead, meaning that the advertiser pay only for leads resulting from the ad as opposed to clicks. Google charges $25-$30 per lead.

Is a Local Services ad a substitute for paid search?

No. Local Services ads complement paid search. But your paid search strategy may change depending on how effectively your Local Services ad is.

Local Services ads are very similar to Google Shopping ads for retail advertisers, the difference being that Local Services ads are for services, not physical products.

For retail advertisers, Shopping ads complement paid search (and vice versa) by doing a few things:

  • The ad takes up more space on the search results page.
  • The ad acts like a display branding ad by placing your brand name in multiple spots on the search results page, thereby making you more legitimate.
  • The ad drives orders.

Local Services ads act in the same manner by:

  • Placing your brand in more than one spot.
  • Boosting your legitimacy.
  • Allowing users to find and hire you via multiple tactics.

Local Services ads also result in your brand taking up more space in the search results page, thereby driving your competitors below the fold.

How do I participate in Local Services Ads?

You’ll need to undergo an extensive security and verification check that includes submitting background checks on your employees to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Note that the program is restricted to certain markets but is growing rapidly. To learn more, check out this Google page.

From our experience working with clients, you’ll want to prepare yourself by making sure your Google My Business page is up to date and that you are getting a steady stream of customer reviews.

What’s in it for me to advertise with Local Services Ads?

Local Services ads are especially appealing if your business has received a high volume of favorable customer reviews and your Google My Business Listings are rich with useful content. In a sense, a Local Services ad complements your website if the cost of the program is right for you.

The lead-based compensation model is especially appealing if your cost per lead is higher than $25-$30 because Google charges $25-$30 per lead delivered.

What should I do next?

  • Closely examine your cost per lead to determine whether the compensation model is worthwhile.
  • Audit your Google My Business page and make sure all its content and data are accurate and complete. Remember, your GMB page feeds your Local Services ad.
  • Make sure you are actively encouraging your customers to review you.
  • Be ready for an onboarding process, which can take weeks to complete. You may need outside help to complete the process.
  • Monitor your paid search activity. If you see a decline in click and impression volume, your Local Services ad might be the reason. Determine whether your market is included in Local Services ads by reaching out to Google (or doing a search on your own). Then check to see if the decline in click and impression volume is due to a sudden drop in average position, which could be a sign of three factors:
    • Local Services ads are in your market.
    • Competition is heating up among established companies in your market, especially during the October-January months.
    • A new entrant to your market is driving up the level of competition.

The Local Services ads end up limiting the number of paid search ads that are served — so your own Local Services ad could be the cause of the drop in click/impression activity. But keep in mind that Google will never show just a single Local Services ad to a user; rather, Google will show all available. So, it isn’t necessarily your own Local Services ad that causes the drop but rather the introduction of the new ad type as a whole.

If you see a drop in click and impression volume for paid search, the other option available to help increase paid search volume (impressions/clicks) is to improve your average position so that you show in the top 2-3 spots. But, an advertiser is going to have to be willing to accept higher average CPCs and spend more to get the same amount of volume as pre-Local Services launch.

Once you set up a Local Services ad, you can basically take a set-and-forget-it approach. You don’t need to worry about doing bid adjustments or other tactical tweaks.

If you need assistance figuring out whether Local Services ads are right for you, contact True Interactive. We’re happy to help. We can provide both counsel and management.

Lead image source: https://pixabay.com/en/building-glazurkarz-ceramic-tiles-1080597/

 

Why Google’s Ad Problem Won’t Go Away

Why Google’s Ad Problem Won’t Go Away

Video

A few years ago, right when I was starting out, I built keywords and wrote ad copy for a big agency. During this time, I learned about “brand protection negatives,” or the phrases that the agency’s client did not want the brand associated with — hence the “brand protection” name. That list of negative keywords was outrageous and would make many people blush. Whenever I need a good laugh, I took a look at this list and wondered about the person who had to sit down and think of these completely inappropriate, NSFW phrases.

I thought about those brand protection negatives earlier this year when Google found itself in hot water as businesses discovered that their advertisements were appearing alongside inappropriate content in the Google Display Network, most notably on YouTube. Big brands such as Starbucks and Walmart pulled their advertising. Reportedly the boycott has cooled off. But the problem of ads appearing alongside inappropriate content on YouTube is not going away. The risk remains real: YouTube is vulnerable.

Context

For context, let’s look at a few revealing statistics:

  1. YouTube reaches over 1 billion users (1/3 of all people on the internet)
  2. YouTube can be navigated in more than 76 different languages (95 percent of the internet population)
  3. There are 300 hours of video uploaded every minute.

The staggering 300 hours of video uploaded every minute results in lot of content flooding YouTube (432,000 hours per day or 157,680,000 hours per year). When one of these videos is uploaded to YouTube, it is put through an editorial process that labels it as G, PG, Teen, or Mature as well as a variety of other groupings (Police/Crime, Acts of Warfare or Violence, Social Issues, Religion, etc.). But it can take some time for Google’s reviewers to complete that process.

Google Has a Problem

The sheer volume of videos that posted on YouTube is reason alone why Google’s problems are far from over. Google reviewers can’t keep up with the number of hours of videos uploaded. As a result, the review process is, to a degree, automated — which results in videos being mislabeled or missing a label. In addition, reviewing and approving a video also makes it possible for the video to qualify for monetization (via the YouTube Partner Program), meaning that the video may accept advertising. Currently, YouTube requires a YouTuber to have 10,000 lifetime views to monetize their YouTube channel. Now, that may seem like a lot of views, but it’s a lifetime view count, which means I can create 10 videos that each get 1,000 views, 20 videos that get 500 views apiece, 50 videos that get 200 views apiece, and so on. Once that 10,000-view count is hit, all channel videos begin to be monetized.

The lax reviewing standards coupled with a fairly easy monetization process can lead to some unfortunate situations, as the following example shows. In March, James Dean of The Times tweeted a troubling image:

In this example, an Oracle image ad was placed over a video for an extremist group. Obviously, as part of the brand safety process I mentioned at the beginning, Oracle would want this type of video excluded. But why did this video specifically qualify as part of the monetization process? The answer: tough to say. In some instances, videos are uploaded and disapproved because of a single word in the video title (e.g. “dead” or “death”) but in other cases, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, a video may have a racial slur in the title or description and still get approved. What’s ironic — and probably should have been expected — is that once these stories began to pop up back in March, YouTube went to the extreme and began demonetizing large amounts of content without any warning — and in some cases prematurely.

A Flawed Process

Clearly, if YouTube is going to monetize a video, they need to be more vigilant as to where those dollars originate. Essentially, in the example from James Dean, YouTube made money off a video that supports terrorism. How did that video get monetized? How did the reviewers not catch that? When there are so many hours of video and so much money involved, not to mention YouTube’s belief in free speech, it’s easy to understand why videos such as these slip through the cracks.

Google Goes to Extremes

YouTube went to the extreme when it came to demonetizing videos. For example, consider the case of Real Women, Real Stories, created by Matan Uziel. The goal of his channel is to give women the opportunity to give voice to their stories of survival from trauma; ranging from physical abuse to sex trafficking. This channel is a noble endeavor of survival and resolve, if ever there was one. Uziel uses the funds from ads on the channel to direct and produce future videos. But, one day, out of nowhere, all funds ceased because his videos got caught up in the demonetization process that YouTube began. His videos don’t support hate speech (just the opposite in fact). But nonetheless, the content addressed a subject that Google didn’t want on YouTube. Uziel has seen ad revenue slowly come back as the YouTube algorithm “learns where they should show ads, and where they should not” says Jamie Byrne, a director of enterprise at YouTube.

The examples I have cited represent just two instances out of thousands, maybe even millions that occur daily. We have given YouTube (and Display networks in general) the benefit of the doubt over the years because “it’s a new product,” “it’s not a science,” or “it’s difficult to monitor.” But, if Google is rolling out a product that can track brick-and-mortar purchases at your nearest Wendy’s back to your double-bacon cheeseburger search, then Google needs to find a consistent and responsible way to protect brands from advertising on videos that push violence, hate speech, or any other topic that goes against a company’s corporate belief.

But, we need to remember that YouTube would have to hire more than 75,000 employees to watch video for 40 hours a week to manually review every minute of every video uploaded. That scenario is unrealistic. So, advertisers, as well as consumers, need to be aware that Google’s ad problem will never go away.

Image source: videoadvertisingnews.com

Digital Video Advertising Outshines TV

Digital Video Advertising Outshines TV

Video

Digital video is hotter than ever for brands. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau Video Ad Spending Study, advertisers are spending on average more than $9 million annually on digital video advertising (a 67-percent increase from two years ago), and video represents more than 50 percent of their digital/mobile ad spending.

The IAB report is based on a survey of brands and agencies across a wide spectrum of industries ranging from automotive to telecom. Most of the respondents plan to invest more into both digital and mobile video over the next 12 months. Many will fund their investments into video by reallocating their television budgets, and most respondents believe that original digital video content reaches an audience that TV cannot reach. They also prefer video because of the quality of the environment and overall effectiveness of reaching an audience.

These findings don’t surprise me. My own client experiences suggest that advertisers are also drawn to the measurability and audience segmentation possible with digital video compared to TV advertising. As I wrote on the True Interactive blog, not only can you target customer segments with online video, but you can see how many of them interacted with your site, subscribed to your YouTube channel, made a purchase, or watched another of your YouTube videos (other than the ad you just showed them). Not only can advertisers see the different interactions of an audience, but they can also see how much of the video ad that they watched.

To maximize the value of online video, I suggest that advertisers:

  • Develop an interactive video strategy tied to your branding goals and aligned with the behavior of your customers. Map out your customers’ journeys throughout the digital world and figure out how interactive video will best move your customers from the awareness to consideration to purchase and retention. In the healthcare profession, for instance, medical providers use interactive video to educate potential patients on topics such as wellness care, which raises awareness for providers when customers are researching topics such as proper dieting or exercising.
  • Understand the nuances of using video — both paid and organic — across different platforms. “Video” can mean many things to different brands, ranging from a bumper ad on YouTube to a Facebook Livestream. According to a recently released report from think tank L2, video formats provide different advantages depending on what platform you use. Instagram content provides higher levels of engagement compared to other platforms, Facebook provides incredible reach, and YouTube is better for longer-form video content that lends itself to episodic storytelling.

In addition, it’s important to stay on top of this fast-changing format. The different platforms are constantly introducing new features as they attempt to gain an advantage on each other, and advertisers that stay in the know will seize a first-mover advantage. On the True Interactive blog, we regularly discuss how to succeed with video (as shown by this example about livestreaming). Other useful resources include the blogs from platforms such as YouTube and third-party content from institutes such as the IAB. How are you capitalizing on interactive video?

Image source: Marketing Land

Putting Google Experiments to the Test

Putting Google Experiments to the Test

Analytics

I always found AdWords Campaign Experiments (ACE) to be a slightly cumbersome way to test different variables with online advertising campaigns. Reporting, particularly at the keyword level, took some effort, and the setup of the test itself could be time-consuming. So, when Google announced it was going to replace ACE with “campaign drafts and experiments,” I was rather giddy. Now that I’ve had some time to work with campaign drafts and experiments (aka Google experiments) option, I urge you to try it.

With experiments, Google allows advertisers to create a draft campaign (a replica) of a real campaign they are running. By doing so, the advertiser can make adjustments to advertising campaigns in a number of ways, such as changing keyword bids, ad group setup, ad copy, ad scheduling, and geo-targeting.

And how can an advertiser run the 50/50 split properly? Well, Google now asks advertisers how much traffic (budget) they want to spend on the new experiment campaign and how much they want to spend on the control (current) campaign. And with Google experiments, if an advertiser wants to run a test with 90 percent of traffic being piped through the control and 10 percent through the test, they can do so. Having the option to test traffic in this manner gives advertisers the capability to test even if they might be wary to spend more on a true 50/50 test.

Unfortunately (there’s always an unfortunately, amirite?) there are limits to what an advertiser can test, but those limits are not nearly the same as with ACE. For instance:

  • Some reporting isn’t available such as ad scheduling, auction insights, display placement reports.
  • The Dimensions tab is not available. Dimensions reports on search terms, by-day results, paid versus organic, and other deep-dive report.
  • Some automated bid strategies (e.g., “target search page location,” “target outranking share,” and “target return on ad spend) and ad customizers (e.g., “target campaign,” “target ad group”) are not available, either.

But, how many advertisers are looking to test these settings? Not many (other than me, that is). Rather, most advertisers will be using experiments for testing many of the basic questions, such as:

  • What messaging performs best in my ad copy?
  • Do increased keyword bids improve conversion rates?
  • What landing page leads to higher conversion rates?

For those with more advanced tests in mind, advertisers are able to dive deep into each campaign and try testing a number of variables, such as:

  • Excluding a search partner (e.g., another engine powered by Google, such as Ask.com) from the test campaign and keeping a search partner in the control campaign.
  • Targeting a city/state differently in the test campaign then in the control campaign.
  • Bidding differently on gender, age, device, or income.
  • Testing a different ad schedule.

The best new feature of the experiments is easier reporting. Instead of pulling segments, subtracting test totals from the overall totals, or having to run a crazy formula to confirm all of the test keywords were pulled correctly, Google breaks out campaign experiment results simply as “Experiment” and “Original” in the experiments tab. The totals are easy to see and couldn’t be easier to pull. Even better, these numbers are reported on in Analytics! The Analytics feature wasn’t possible through ACE.

After an advertiser does the tedious work of building out an account’s keywords, ad copy, and extensions, experiments allows the advertiser to test, and testing is the fun part of the job. Experiments allows us to get actionable data that can lead to better decision-making, not just for display or paid search, but in some cases across multiple tactics. Those results may give senior marketers another view of their marketing campaign effectiveness and rethink their approaches.