Ads as Content - Content as Ads
It is hard to believe but we are ONLY 5 years into search advertising reaching critical mass. In the blink of an eye it has emerged as one of the world’s most disruptive and successful technology initiatives. Google alone made over $20B in revenue from it last year. For me the key takeaway for the next generation of advertising technology is:
The marketing and advertising apparatus of the web has to be built into its underlying architecture and seamlessly integrate into the way people use it.
Sounds so simple. Yet so much time, energy and money has been spent trying to retrofit solutions -- attempts to anticipate or modify conventional (goal-based) web behavior with ads. While these ideas have short bursts of energy and sometimes glorious exits they eventually die without the scalable and sustainable foundation of the web itself and the way people use it.
To examine this deeper we should look at Google’s foundation, page rank. Page rank is based on links, the underlying architecture of the web. It works great at delivering relevance to people from one place (the page) to another (Google) based on a few major rules (query & authority). The end result, the product, is a mashup of content into a search results page that the user maintains control over.
The ad platform that supports this is also built around the query and a different kind of authority, performance (quality score). The pricing and display are directly correlated to the same inputs and outputs that drive the underlying content. In fact there is the amazing ability to modify the relevance of the publisher content (the SERP) to adjust ad performance and revenue. I’m not suggesting this takes place but the important point is (to paraphrase Neil Young) ”it’s all one song!”
This blueprint is essential as we look to develop products that optimize advertising and marketing. Unless we are making the web better and more useful for people we will never achieve results or scale that breed success. This was the ultimate failing of display advertising – it did not add relevance or interest to the audience, it did not make the underlying content more valuable and it did not perform well for advertisers. That is all about to change.
We are moving forward with a web less about links and more about correlations. Less about talking at someone and more about bringing people, messages and content together. We would be smart to learn from search that if ads are integrated with content in a helpful, useful and ultimately relevant way they can not only support the underlying content but also provide great results for the advertiser and audience. After all, who hasn’t clicked an ad from a search?