Google Links Mobile Ads to Desktop Purchases and Vice Versa

Ad-Tech Giant Is Also Automating Native Ad Buying and Selling

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Credit: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

All of the devices people use to browse the web pose a problem for advertisers and the companies trying to sell them ads: They don't know whether an ad someone saw on one device led to a product purchase made on another device.

Google and Facebook have solved this problem for ads served on their own sites, and now Google is applying the fix to more of the ads it serves on others' sites.

Google began measuring cross-device conversions in 2013 for its AdWords ads, which are the search ads that appear on Google's sites and that can be syndicated as display ads across Google's network of third-party sites. Now Google is adding the more traditional ads it serves on others' sites and mobile apps to the mix. That means advertisers will get a better idea of whether the banner ads they're buying all over the desktop and mobile web led to a product purchase or some other conversion, even if that conversion happened on a different device from the one on which the person saw the ad.

"It's really about stitching together that full consumer journey, if you will. But ultimately the end event is some sort of conversion activity, whether it's a sale or a download or what have you," said Neal Mohan, Google's VP-video and display advertising, who had been reportedly in talks to jump to Dropbox but instead is staying put at Google.

Google's cross-device conversion measurement isn't an exact science. It's an estimate. Instead of knowing whether any and every ad it serves led to a purchase, download or other conversion, Google will take the aggregated and anonymized data it has on people who are signed into Google and extrapolate it to cover the ads it serves to people who aren't signed in. This is Google's way of combatting Facebook's cross-device conversion measurement that's more exact because it relies on people being signed in to Facebook to see the ad and track conversions.

In addition to giving advertisers a better look at how their ads perform, Google is going to make it easier for brands and publishers to automate more customized ad sales, like so-called "native" ad placements and deals that involve guaranteed inventory.

Advertisers seem to like native ad placements that -- instead of looking like a boring, boxy banner -- disguise an ad to look like a piece of content that would naturally appear on a publisher's site or in an app. However the tradeoff is that these ads need to be tailored to the site's or app's environment, which makes it hard to run a bunch of these native ads across different publishers.

Twitter and Facebook have started to solve this problem by converting native ad creation into a game of color by numbers. And now Google's following suit. Publishers will be able to upload templates or specifications of their native ad formats that will effectively deconstruct the ads into slots labeled according to where individual pieces like a photo, text or link should appear. Publishers will then be able to use Google's ad-selling tools to find advertisers to fill those native ad slots.

To make sure enough of native-seeking advertisers are available, Google will work with brands to make sure they are providing those individual assets like photos and links that can be plugged into the publishers' native ad templates on the fly. "Now all of a sudden that advertiser can basically take the simple ingredients that they would like to have in the ad and run them natively across thousands of sites kind of instantaneously," Mr. Mohan said.

This native-ad automation is part of Google's effort to automate any of the ad inventory a publisher might sell. As part of that push, Google is going to automate any upfront deals that a publisher may strike with a brand to guarantee a slice of the publisher's inventory to the brand at pre-negotiated rate.

As a hypothetical example of how these so-called "programmatic guaranteed" deals would work, let's say Brand X wants to buy the biggest banner ad that runs on Publisher Y's home page. Publisher Y could guarantee that Brand X would be able to have that inventory for a certain number of impressions at a certain price. Both sides agree to the terms. Those terms are then passed along to Google's ad-tech tools, and those tools ensure that, when someone visits Publisher Y's home page, they see Brand X's ad in the agreed-upon spot for the agreed-upon price. The automated tools also enable Brand X to target which of its ads should fill that slot based on the audience visiting the page at the moment the ad is being served, just as they would target an ad bought programmatically on-the-fly.

"It's something that our large media publishers as well as our global brands have been asking for for a long time because it's a means by which they can conduct the brand advertising that they do but do it by using and harnessing the power of programmatic," Mr. Mohan said. He added that the traditional way that publishers and advertisers execute these kinds of deals can take roughly 40 steps, whereas a programmatic guaranteed execution would only take four steps.

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