Revisiting Google as a Media Network

Almost exactly four years ago, I examined how Google had begun positioning itself not as a search engine but as a media network by introducing its Content Network. (My two-part series can be found here and here.)

Today, I doubt you’d find anyone in advertising who doesn’t think of Google as a media company. As it continued to expand its media network through innovation and acquisition, however, Google felt the term “Content Network” no longer represented its vast offerings.

So this past June, it rebranded and launched the Google Display Network (GDN). For all you search marketers out there, the GDN is basically the same interface as you’d reach through the Google AdWords dashboard – it’s just skinned differently and packaged and presented with a lot more information on the front end. And to be even clearer, the GDN’s offerings cover everything other than text: banners, rich media, and video ads (through the network and on Google-owned YouTube).

The Same Old Content Network?

Curious to learn if the GDN is anything more than the old Content Network with a new name, I spoke with Bruce Falck, Head of GDN. Does it surprise you to know the GDN’s ad mix breakdown runs 60-to-40, text versus display? Four years ago, it would have been closer to 100 percent text ads.

Falck says advertisers – even brand advertisers – have come to the GDN for performance-driven buys where “performance” means driving some kind of action or outcome, not necessarily some kind of classic direct-response return on investment. The GDN can accommodate any kind of performance-based price scheme (CPA, CPM, CPC) and campaign performance can be measured by click, impression, or view-through. When it comes to creative production and ad specifications, Falck also says that in the past 18 months, Google has made large strides forward to adopt Interactive Advertising Bureau standards (though these specs can still be challenging to find – here’s the link to Flash ad standards, for example).

What’s New Within GDN

This year has brought innovations and new offerings (though some sound suspiciously similar to offerings by different names from DoubleClick and the DoubleClick-acquired Performics). Interest-based targeting (Google’s version of behavioral targeting) assesses a user’s interests based on her activity across the GDN and determines what kinds of categories into which these interests fall. An advertiser can then limit targeting based on those interests. Google wants to distinguish its new remarketing feature (its name for retargeting) not only by it performance among other retargeting competitors, but by also enabling users, through the Ads Preferences Manager, to view and edit the interest categories to which they’ve been assigned…or opt-out of remarketing completely.

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Google’s remarketing doesn’t cost extra. Like everything else on Google, it sits on a bidding platform (though advertisers bid on remarketed placements separately than they do the original ad serve). Falck emphasizes that advertisers should not expect audience-based buys alone to generate the optimum outcome. Instead, broad-based content-targeted buys should lay the foundation and work in tandem with narrower audience-based ones.

Some other targeting innovations to come along include Above the Fold placements, big brand-oriented AdPlanner 1000, and the advertiser demand-inspired GDN Blast Campaign for large budget, short-lived campaigns looking to make a big reach buy efficiently (e.g., Seventh Generation’s home products blast during Earth Day). For large advertisers, Google can also build custom ad bundles to reach particular target audiences; and for DIY’ers or search marketers finding it hard to produce display (or video overlay) advertising altogether, Google has created the template-based Display Ad Builder. Mobile is still outside of GDN right now but it can be bundled in with a custom program.

More Back-End Assistance

Mature direct-response campaigns often face the challenge of continuing to manually scale at an effective CPA. Google’s new Conversion Optimizer puts Google’s massive computing power to work to scale and optimize a campaign automatically. An advertiser just enters her target CPA and relinquishes bidding control to the Conversion Optimizer. For the first few weeks, these campaigns may deliver fewer results, but Falck says that over time Conversion Optimizer well makes up for it.

Lastly, there’s Campaign Insights, which allows brand advertisers to compare in terms of relative lift, the impact of a GDN campaign on search volume and site visits from those who viewed the campaign to those who did not.

Make no doubt about it: Google’s trying to flex some major muscle to attract large brand and smaller advertiser dollars alike. Does its new re-branding help? Let me know what you decide.

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