The Google Wave (of Ad Releases)

You probably thought this column would be about Google Wave. Well, it is and it isn’t. Sure, Google has launched a collaboration application to a limited number of beta testers. However, the really important “wave” out of Google this year is the wave of new ad formats, ad opportunities, and monetization methods that are going live soon or are live now.

Let’s look at each of these new ad “opportunities,” some of which you can opt into, others designed to become part of your standard PPC (define) spending. Either way, one thing is clear: Google is set on monetizing greater percentages of its screen real estate while maintaining or even improving the search experience. As usual, Google manages to pull off both simultaneously, but it’s going to run out of levers to pull soon, because it’s pulling a ton of levers this year.

While Google’s Local Business Listings won’t be live nationwide for an indeterminate length of time, it’s clear that they will take up a significant chunk of screen real estate for local searches, particularly on an 800 x 600 and even a 1024 x 768 screen. If you’ve got portions of your campaign that are likely to result in either specific local searches (with geography specified), or geography-imputed (where Google just decides you probably want local results), then keep your eye out for the announcements of this add-on, fixed-fee, optional section of your SEM (define) campaign.

If you were a retailer and Google called asking if you would be interested in it becoming a power search affiliate, chances are you’d say yes. Who can say no to Google? Clearly, the Product Listing ads have been rolled out and are active for many major retailers. Talk about a huge eye-grabber: do a search for products that would be carried by advertisers who use Google’s Affiliate program (formerly Performics, before Google split the company and sold the search side to Publicis). For this holiday season, I think we can expect a considerable amount of activity in the SERPs (define) from product results. I wasn’t able to determine when Google will empower merchants in other affiliate programs to upload feeds into the Google Merchant Center. Nor is it clear which tracking pixels will be used to determine commissionable activity (conversions). Will they be Google Affiliate pixels, AdWords pixels, or Google Analytics pixels? Perhaps, more than one option will be available. For now, I’ve only seen ads from Google Affiliate.

I can just imagine the biz dev people at the Google Affiliate program signing up additional merchants who aren’t already in locked-in, exclusive affiliate deals. Beware though: attribution modeling gets even tougher when a power-search affiliate is involved, and you’re also buying PPC clicks, and Google certainly qualifies as a power affiliate. That 30-day cookie can track orders and conversions far beyond a single session, and Google is clearly looking to set a bunch of affiliate cookies for those late in the shopping process this holiday season…and beyond.

Product listing ads aren’t the only commission or performance-based ads Google is experimenting with as part of a SERP. Range Online Media found some evidence of Google experimenting with non-image, enhanced paid placement. Range referenced it as a form of paid inclusion, but, based on the screenshots, the advertisers are being given premium placement and not randomly dispersed across the results. In addition, the fact that these listings are ads is fairly clear. Again, the advertisers we can identify are participants in Google’s Affiliate program. Now we know why Google kept half of Performics!

Speaking of Google’s foray up the value chain into performance marketing, Google has launched comparison ads that result in a lead gen page. So, Google is moving into the cost-per-lead, lead gen business as well. It makes sense to let consumers check off multiple information requests generating multiple leads from a single search. While the service launched purely in the mortgage space, it’s clear that Google is willing to go into the lead generation business, particularly when it can build a wizard application (as it has done for complex buying decisions, and when consumers are likely to interact with more advertisers during a buying decision than they would ads on a page). Google may have an interesting and viable value proposition here. People trust Google and Google already has the user’s e-mail address, and therefore the lead form could be prefilled out. Google also has phone tracking capability and therefore, can charge for a call as well as a lead.

Google — like any media company — wants more of your marketing dollars and with its huge share of search volume and willingness to monetize increasing percentages of their link inventory, they will likely get it.