Google, Facebook, and Twitter are all in the race to be the go-to platform for digital ad buying. Google is the current winner (by far) but with new advances in targeting and intent, Facebook and Twitter are closing the gap. Let's take a look at the strides taken to earn your ad dollars and who will be the ultimate winner:
October 2000: Google launches AdWords with just 350 customers, which allowed advertisers to target users based on their interest at a specific moment -- during search. This was "the birth" of intent-based digital advertising.
In March 2003: Google launches content targeted ads, serving contextually relevant ads on the web page an ad appears on.
August 2004: Google's IPO
In April 2005: Google launches site targeting, allowing advertisers to select specific websites where they would like their content to be shown. This was a step toward giving advertisers more control over the context in which their content (an ad) appeared.
March 2009: Google launches interest-based advertising, associating specific interests with users based on their browsing habits.
March 2010: Google launches remarketing, allowing advertisers to retarget website visitors after they leave a website, with relevant ads on the Google Display Network.
June 2012: Google launches remarketing in search for further search campaign ad tailoring.
Thirteen years in the digital ad biz is no joke. Despite this, recent moves, namely the "shared endorsements" policy update, is a reactive move by Google to compete with both Facebook and Twitter's social ad types by harnessing social proof and peer-to-peer recommendations for ads on their own platforms. Social advertising is a $9.5 billion dollar business, and the search giant wants a cut.
August 2006: Facebook and Microsoft partner to provide Facebook advertising via banners and sponsored links.
September 2006: Mashable reports ads are coming to the Facebook news feed.
April 2008: Facebook launches Facebook Ads.
August 2008: Facebook launches Engagement Ads, encouraging users to interact with ads in an effort to increase click-through rates.
March 2012: Facebook introduces Facebook Exchange, allowing for real-time bidding and retargeting.
May 2012: Facebook's IPO
January 2013: Facebook launches Graph Search, an internal search engine that allows users to search their social graph for people, photos, places, and interests. In September 2013, Graph Search was updated to include posts and status updates. On October 2013, 9to5 Mac reported Facebook planned to include Graph Search in updates to the main Facebook iOS application and Messenger App. Adoption of Graph Search opens the window to future intent-based advertising on Facebook.
September 2013: Facebook launches Public Feed and Keyword Insights APIs which allow partners to see the quantity of keyword mentions over a period of time and the demographics of users mentioning them. Eventually (I bet) marketers will be able to bid against said keywords, enabling contextually relevant ads served at the point of intent (a la Google search) on Facebook.
Post IPO we've seen Facebook investing heavily in tools for marketers in a quest to prove its value to advertisers and investors.
April 2010: Twitter launches its first ad product, Promoted Tweets, officially propelling it into the digital ads game.
August 2012: Twitter introduces interest targeting. Twitter's first foray into targeting allowed advertisers to target their Twitter promotions based on a set of "topical interests."
April 2013: Twitter, enabling advertisers to target based on keywords in users' recent tweets or keywords in tweets with which a user has recently engaged.
November 2013: Twitter's IPO
While it will be interesting to see how an influx of cash will affect the new advertising features Twitter develops, you have to hand it to Twitter for its progress in just three short years. I'd wager that we see Twitter aggressively attacking the intersection of social and mobile with its next wave of ad tools, creating new ad types that are unique to the real-time activity inherent to the platform. Social TV is just a first step.
The battle is on, and while it remains to be seen which of the big three will come out on top, as a digital marketer, I'm loving the one-upmanship that occurs as a result. Competition drives innovation -- leading to more choices, higher value, and better products. And when the marketplace evolves, we all win.
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