Google brings science of search to the art of display

6 May 2009

Produce great content and the ads will follow, the director of AdSense display content for Google and YouTube EMEA, Damian Lawlor, told, as the company embarks on making the creation of display internet ads affordable for business users.

Google has recently unveiled its Display Ad Builder tool that allows ordinary businesses to create their own display ads for the internet, without having to employ expensive designers or online advertising firms.

According to Lawlor (pictured), the search giant has now “hundreds of thousands” of advertisers around the world. “The secret sauce is contextual advertising. Google lives and dies by ads being relevant to the users. We built an engine that could machine-read sites and match ads to that content.

“In the last quarter of 2008, we gave US$1.5bn back to our partners, so it’s a gigantic global business at this point.”

In recent months, publishers in the US, in particular the news wire Associated Press, said that news aggregators like Google News, were damaging their industry.

But Lawlor disagrees and argues aggregators help drive traffic to newspaper websites. “It’s the publisher’s role to create and attract content, the advertiser is all about finding the audience through targeting. The way we’re funding the monetisation of the web, we’re allowing for a creative way of producing great content, allowing publishers to reinvest in that content, grow the user base and build a great business out of it.

“The next step for us is to fine-tune the targeting for advertisers, enable them to have a great relationship with publishers and do a push around interest-based advertising, where interests are not linked to an individual but a browser. If you visit gardening sites, we’ll show gardening ads on the browser. This improves monetisation, provides higher relevance and is less irritating.”

Giving an insight into the placement of ads, Lawlor says Google’s system is auction-based in terms of bids for particular websites. “We don’t just run ads based on what people bid, but we reward relevance very heavily. The scale of automation is vast, the amount of auctions per second is phenomenal.”

Lawlor says the speed of development of smart phones and their place in the online advertising world is breathtaking. “Google is working on its own Android open platform for mobile, but you have to acknowledge the impact of the iPhone, which is a totem for the new world of mobile. People are using these as a mobile computer, an interface onto the web, and for social networking and watching YouTube videos.

“The number of web searches we see on the iPhone is 50 times higher than on a normal mobile phone. But small screens are limited, and very soon you’ll see a convergence between ultra-portable computers and mobile devices.”

The big shift in Google’s efforts came in recent days, when the company moved as Lawlor put it to “bring the science of search to the art of display”.

He says: “We’ve worked very hard to show advertisers the value and return they can get from working with search. Display is about rich media images, and it is something humans respond to. For example, we have built a display ad builder that allows users to build their own display ads. It includes clever innovations, such as what we call ‘gadget ads’, allowing users to interact with the ad without going off the page.

“This allows advertisers to build interactive campaigns using AdSense. This allows smaller advertisers to get used to what display can do for them. It also allows agencies to inexpensively display concepts.”

According to Lawlor: “This is the year we’re coming of age. We’ve still got a growing search advertising business. But we’ve also put a lot of work over the last year into acquisitions such as DoubleClick and YouTube, and we’ve been investing a lot in building out all of those things that advertisers and publishers expect.”

Lawlor believes that despite the breakneck speed of the internet and the increasing noise from bloggers to Twitter, traditional media houses with recognisable brands have a vital future ahead of them, despite the havoc wreaked by economic conditions.

“If you look at the amount of content out there, and the fact that audiences are spending a lot of time online, traditional media has a bigger role to play online than has been appreciated so far. Due to the fact that the spend can be more measurable, it is going to be a greater growth area than they envisaged.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of traditional media like newspapers embracing the online world. Content-based advertising allows the media to offset the shift that is occurring. Audiences are moving online and the monetisation of online is not dramatically different to the print model. If you produce great content, and with ad revenue based on traffic, you will see results.

“Yes,people are excited by all the content out there in its various forms, but you will see a major consolidation occur with quality content on the web winning out.

“People will want to read good quality – quality content will attract readers, and the quantity of readers will attract advertising,” Lawlor says.

On the slowdown in spending that is afflicting media houses around the world, Lawlor is of the opinion that businesses that have expanded their marketing during a downturn will have done disproportionately well when the upturn arrives.

“A lot of companies have made huge gains during depressed years because of their foresight in going out to position their product and invest in growth. Clearly, you can measure the value you are getting from advertising. If you’re converting audience, whatever your goals, that makes a lot of sense.”

While Lawlor believes Google is just a small part of the global media pie that encompasses print, radio, TV and other media, the overall trend occurring is that audiences are moving online. “Hence, it’s only a matter of time before marketers follow.”

He cites YouTube, which has developed a number of offerings that sit alongside its user-generated origins, such as long-form TV episodes and quality content producers. “Fundamentally, it’s a technical platform to put up great content, attract users and use it to assist you to monetise that content.

“Traditional media will have to adapt. There will always be space for people with strong brands. But there’s a new generation growing up online. There’s the ability for people to interact with and for information, seek entertainment and connectedness. There’s opportunity for new business models to develop and thrive.”

By John Kennedy

Pictured: director of AdSense display content for Google and YouTube EMEA, Damian Lawlor