A Brief Look at Google's Mobile Evolution

New Formats This Year Entail Text Messages, Formats While Driving

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Google Enhanced Campaigns system was created to reduce the hurdles for marketers looking to go mobile.
Google Enhanced Campaigns system was created to reduce the hurdles for marketers looking to go mobile. Credit: Courtesy Google

For more than a decade, Google cashed in on its dominance of desktop advertising without emphasizing mobile, even as consumer adoption accelerated and marketers wondered where the company was. Three years ago, the search giant finally set out to answer them.

One leader of that effort, VP-Global Performance Jason Spero, said part of his task upon joining Google in 2010 was "to think about what search meant for mobile, and how we can get more customers on board with mobile." Along with longtime Google exec Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior VP-ads and commerce, Mr. Spero and others eventually introduced products such as Enhanced Campaigns, an ad system announced in 2013 that was designed to help marketers target and bid on mobile ads as well as manage advertising across multiple devices.

Since then, the search giant has rolled out a slew of products, including mobile ads specifically for the auto and hotel industries designed to catch consumers as they search for a new car or a place to stay. It also has Search & Play and Universal App Campaigns, formats to drive app downloads and app reengagement. And Google has touted to advertisers its "micro-moments" strategy, which capitalizes on times when consumers turn to mobile search for quick answers or solutions.

Signs suggest its efforts are taking hold. Mobile traffic driven by shopping ads was up 150% in the fourth quarter, according to Jerry Dischler, VP-search ads at Google. Though mobile search ads were once responsible for Google's cost-per-click declines, growing revenue from ads on Google properties now "reflects substantial strength in mobile search," the company said in its latest earnings call.

Google has also placed a big emphasis on measurement, such as linking online behavior with offline purchases -- a huge concern for marketers. "In the desktop world, measurement was easy," said Mr. Dischler. "On mobile, the situation is more complicated, because often people browse on mobile and convert on desktop or go in-store."

The company has been addressing the gap in part by aggregating and anonymizing location data that mobile users are willing to share.

Last year, Google started mLab, an immersive daylong course for its ad customers. The client-specific course covers everything from changes in the industry to creating better user experiences to search data specific to an advertiser's category. A December session for Nutrisystem showed executives that mobile searches on weight loss often revolve around short-term goals like losing five pounds before a big event, while desktop searches more often center on the long term, said Brad Sockloff, senior VP of e-commerce at the marketer.

"Desktop was so dominant for us, but we knew we needed to improve our mobile experience," he said.

Google is staying relatively quiet on upcoming products, but Mr. Dischler hinted at what's to come. "You'll see more innovation as we unveil new formats this year to meet people in even more convenient ways, like in a text message or while you're driving to the store," he said.

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