It's not easy to embrace new ideas.
I remember back in 1998, when search engine marketing and pay-per-click advertising were new. Few thought that any users would actually click on the ads. Portals and publishers didn't want to compromise their users' experience with advertising. Search purists were concerned that serving paid ads would hurt search relevancy and cripple this new industry. But Bill Gross from Idealab saw the opportunity and persisted with GoTo. Then Google followed, and the rest is history.
Fast-forward eight years to 2006 and paid search revenue is estimated at nearly $14 billion, comprising 54 percent of the global online advertising market according to Mayfield IMPACT 2006, Piper Jaffray. Advertisers have finally found an ad vehicle with accountability, users keep clicking to drive up pay-per-click ad revenue and online content is becoming the primary source of information for more and more people every day.
What a difference a few years make.
Now let's go back to 2004. In-Text Advertising was launched and caused a controversy when a very distinguished news web publisher ran In-Text Ads on their news website. (In-Text Ads are user-initiated ads that appear within online content when a word is highlighted in a different color, usually with a double underline. When the reader mousse over the word, a small window opens with a text and/or a graphic ad and by clicking on the ad the user is linked to the advertiser's webpage.) Editors were concerned and felt that their content was being sold as ads. Publishers worried that users wouldn't click on the ads. The problem that caused the controversy in In-Text Advertising had more to do with the medium in which it appeared than with the message.
But in the last two years, the In-Text Advertising industry has learned where and with what frequency to serve ads within online content. And the industry has also learned that with the right technology that can enable analyzing content and serving ads in real-time, real value is provided. From technology reviews to sports, travel, health and lifestyle publications, from forums, blogs and social networking websites to automotive, finance and entertainment content, publishers are now benefiting from In-Text Advertising without compromising their readers.
In Steve Lohr's insightful article for The New York Times from April 9 titled "This Boring Headline is Written for Google," Lohr makes the case that newspaper headlines are now written for search engine optimization. In the article, Ed Canale, vice president for strategy and new media at The Sacramento Bee is quoted saying, "part of the craft of journalism for more than a century has been to think up clever titles and headlines, and Google comes along and says, 'The heck with that.'"
The article continues by highlighting the changes made by The Sacramento Bee, BBC News and The New York Times to accommodate search engines. "We're all struggling and experimenting with how news is presented in the future,'' said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media. ''And there's nothing wrong with search engine optimization as long as it doesn't interfere with news judgment. It shouldn't, and it's up to us to make sure it doesn't. But it is a tool that is part of being effective in this medium.''
The internet has changed the way we obtain information. As Steve Lohr noted, publishers are responding by changing the way they serve information and the way they allow advertisers to advertise. With In-Text Ads being automatically generated after the content has been written and posted online, the risk of compromising editorial judgment is no greater than with any other form of advertising.
Like paid search before it, In-Text Advertising is the new kid on the block. Those who had the vision to embrace the opportunities in paid search early continue to profit from that vision today. Why not share the vision?
Yoav Shaham is CEO of Kontera. Read full bio.