YouTube’s Fledgling Search Ads Hit the Big Time

Google has begun distributing YouTube’s Promoted Videos ad listings on its AdSense content network. The move is the latest extension of an ad type that began as a sponsored search format on YouTube.com, and has lately begun to look like a lynchpin of the video giant’s monetization scheme.

In a blog post on Friday, YouTube notified AdSense publishers that Promoted Videos ads on their pages will feature a thumbnail image with three lines of text. When clicked, the ads will deliver a user to the video’s “watch page” on YouTube. The contextually targeted ads are billed on a cost-per-click basis.

Entertainment advertisers are the most active customers of Promoted Videos to date, using them to drive views of their trailers, music videos, and other video content. That’s not surprising because the landing pages for all these ads are video watch pages.

However many cause-based marketers, home improvement brands, and others have also used the ads — often in combination with call-to-action overlays that help video owners drive traffic to their own sites. Those overlay banners, launched in April, are thrown in free when an advertiser buys a Promoted Video ad placement.

For instance, JCPenney recently used Promoted Video ads to drive traffic to a YouTube video. In that video skateboarder Ryan Scheckler talks about a clothing line he created with the retailer and reminisced about a recent signing event at the store. The ads helped JCPenney pick up more than 9,000 views of the video, some of which clicked through to product pages.

In July ClickZ examined the growing list of non-profits and advocacy groups that had have begun testing the ads. These include U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy’s BushTruthCommission.com, which used it to gain support for its petition to “investigate abuses by the Bush-Cheney Administration.”

“With 20 hours of video uploaded every minute, people have discovered that crossing your fingers and hoping people discover your video is not the best strategy,” said a YouTube rep, commenting on the uptake of the Promoted Video ads.

Their inclusion in AdSense marks the second expansion for Promoted Videos since YouTube introduced them on search results pages almost a year ago. The first expansion was in August, when the small units began turning up in the “Related Videos” column on video watch pages. Promoted Ads now drive more than two million video views per week.

For the moment, Promoted Ads can appear only on U.S. publisher sites. They’ll show up within five of Google’s existing ad formats, including the 336×280 large rectangle and the 728×90 leaderboard.

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