How to improve “Why this ad?”

I was reading an article today about Google’s efforts to put more transparency into their advertising, by offering a ‘Why this ad?’ link on text ads that appear in your search. I mean, I think we’ve all gotten weird, random ads from time to time, and thought ‘how the hell did this find its way onto my screen?’ So good for you, Google. But I have one suggestion – do more.

What do I mean by more? Glad you asked. Well, it seems to me that Google probably already knows enough about us through our search behavior and actions online, that it can offer more ‘Why’ services to us, to help us get through everyday things that require a bit more transparency.

For example, your boss sends you a curt email telling you to put everything aside and get those reports by 5 pm. Wouldn’t you love to have a ‘Why is he picking on me?’ link to help you out?

Or what about watching a movie online? Have you ever watched with your girlfriend who always asks annoying questions during the best parts? Wouldn’t you rather she had access to a ‘Why is he after the hero now?’ link to keep her quiet?

Or how about when you buy something online and in the shopping cart there are a few of those mysterious fees and taxes (I’m looking in your direction, rental car companies, airlines and Ticketmaster). I think a ‘Why are you charging me a facility fee’ link would come in pretty handy, too.

So keep up the good work, Google. But next time you offer this link, don’t think so small. Go big and start offering a ‘why’ link to everyone and everything online. Why, you ask? Because you’ll make my life a whole lot easier.

3 not-so-simple ways to improve online display advertising

doubleclickIn its battle for display ad supremacy against the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft, Google has just launched its DoubleClick ad exchange, which industry experts are touting as the ‘best advertising base’.

According to a Business Week article, Google hopes to diversify its revenue because it still relies on 95% of its revenue from search ads. Neal Mohan, Google’s vice-president for product management was quoted as saying that “Display advertising is still not living up to its full potential.”

I don’t claim to be an online ad expert, but I get the sense that search ads do very well for certain reasons, and that to ‘live up to their potential’ and level the revenue playing field at Google, display ads will have to adopt the same model as search:

1. Let everyone play
Here’s my beef with ad networks. Generally speaking, they require a minimum spend in order to get your ads served. That can eliminate participation of a good portion of small businesses (under 10 employees) in the US, which make up about 67% of employer firms. So it’s not that small business doesn’t want to get online, it’s that it can be cost prohibitive. The reason why search ads work so well is that there is no minimum spend. If the new ad exchange works this way, then everyone can participate.

2. Eliminate the acronym ‘CPM’
Search ads work incredibly well because you only pay if someone clicks on your text ad. Cost Per Click (CPC) is also a great way to measure ad effectiveness. So why is it that so many display ad networks insist on keeping the CPM model around? It’s basically transferring old world thinking (see: Mass Media) and its metric of ‘impressions’ to Online Media. If Online Media is really so persuasive at converting consumers, then the payment model of display ads should be CPC (or PPC). An effective solve for these ad networks could be a blend of CPM and CPC, which would expire ads after a certain amount of impressions or clicks. This could eliminate types of fraud, or lousy display ads that no one wants to click on.

3. Let us tell you where our ads are going
Many ad networks won’t reveal which sites your display ads are appearing. This shroud of secrecy has to go. Letting advertisers choose where their ads go in terms of sites and geography would be a welcome change, and allow advertisers to use their knowledge of relevant interests/sites for their products. It also allows advertisers to ensure their company stays on brand. Of course for those advertisers who don’t know how to place their ads, offering a behavioral model for a higher CPC could be a suitable option.

Like I said, I’m no expert, but I believe that display ads can do much better by increasing their appeal to advertisers, large and small, if they adopt the previous steps. Display ads will never quite be as effective as search because of their push model, but any online media buyer would tell you that a blend of search and display is critical for campaign success. Here’s hoping this new ad exchange lives up to expectations. If it does, we’ll see Google grab even more of the online spend, and maybe even revolutionize online advertising in the process.

Is Google off Target?

google-mapsI just moved. And anyone knows that when you move all of the sudden there is a huge need to buy little housewares, like garbage cans, kleenex, bath mats, etc. I was given the unenviable task of buying these things, and as a male of the human species I wanted to find all of it in one location. So, I Googled “Target Seattle“. Sure enough, several locations popped up in Google Maps. I copied down the direction to the nearest one (7 miles away) and headed off.

Just one problem.

When I got to the location, there was no Target there. In fact, they’d moved some time ago. Not cool.

The same thing happened when I tried to find the closest Payless Shoes (yes, I am cheap, Sherlock). Google directed me to a location where Payless no longer exists.

So how many more times does Google have to be wrong before I stop trusting its results? Has this happened to anyone else out there?