SearchTHIS: The Gift of Google Angst

The holiday shopping season is about to pop with the much-hyped Black Friday only two days away. Along with the holiday search engine marketing campaign jitters, a couple of key developments from the ubiquitous search and technology giant have advertisers and agencies chatting it up about changes in the search business.

First, Google announced that contextual search placement pricing will be separated from directive search listings -- a move that would place them on par with other search providers like Yahoo! that made the move some time ago. Second, and perhaps a bit more controversial, Google announced new terms for the use of its API (Application Program Interface) that allows developers and other third parties to interface with its AdWords system.

The search world continues to change before our eyes. As the industry leader in search technologies, when Google makes a change it usually has far reaching effects for advertisers, site hopefuls and the connected online world in general.

Content begets content

Search outside the boundaries of the simple directive query box input has been the subject of much controversy since its inception. It started with publisher-based programs that place keyword driven text ads on publisher's pages. Advertisers bid for placement within these "networks" of content sites and hope that their listings will be seen and clicked by those perusing content pages.

Today we see listings placed in email (among other places) as well. Keywords and ads move about as content ebbs and flows. Write to your sister using Google's mail application about fly fishing and she just might see a few ads for water safety or the best ways to land Brook Trout. As content changes on websites, ads become more targeted to key information contained therein.

Anyone that has advertised in search knows that publishers are always anxious (understatement) to get more advertising dollars into the space. The benefits are clear for publishers and the search sites, but advertisers still have a couple of key concerns about content listing advertising.

Assigned value

Despite the best efforts of publishers to limit the placement of inappropriate listings on content pages, the occasional train wreck appears. In addition, many advertisers are still concerned about the liability of say, an ad for an alcoholic beverage appearing near content that opposes alcohol consumption. Perhaps a link to a luggage retailer might appear near editorial about lost luggage or airline disasters.

These scenarios are becoming few and far between since publishers are constantly enhancing the technologies used to match listings to content. Simple keyword scan and match technologies have been replaced by complicated tools designed to match advertising to content while limiting instances of inappropriate placement.

The voluntary audience-driven mindset of directive search shifts to an involuntary interaction in the content environment. Advertisers hope to catch surfers when they might be interested, and the value of content listings quickly comes into question when response and desired action rates bear a striking resemblance to run of site or run of network advertising.

Content bidding

Yahoo! Search and others, recognizing that content search may not represent the value of directive search advertising, began allowing participating marketers to establish separate campaigns and cost architectures for contextual search some time ago.

Google's announcement came after much demand from advertisers and agencies. While it appears to have arrived a bit late compared to other providers, there are one or two attributes that will help expand the reach of search initiatives.

First, the new system allows for more (and less) targeted clicks to be adjusted according to the value of content or publisher, since Google allows advertisers to select specific sites in its content network. Second, since advertisers are always looking for new ways to reach out and spend a bit more money during the holiday season, non-adopters might have the incentive they need to participate in Google's content advertising program.

Tit for tat?

Now that advertisers can (and probably will) bid down content listings, there will have to be a way to replace any revenue shortfalls. When Google makes a change, everyone listens, and the other interesting topic that has everyone talking is Google's recent announcement for an enhanced API interaction.

Third party search agencies and advertisers often use an API interface to manage multiple search campaigns across many providers. A third party tool or API often accommodates customized campaign management and reporting, while allowing integration into inventory management for retail advertisers.

At press time, Google has simply restated terms for use of its interface and announced a more robust program for commercial developers. In the simplest of terms, Google has left the door open to charge for access to the API (the service is currently offered free) and the possibility of a fee has a few agencies and advertisers a bit vexed.

Sound off

The possibility of having to pay for something previously offered free or at a deep discount always gets a few togas in a bunch. Yahoo! charges a (nominal) fee for access to its API, so paying a fee for an enhanced search advertising interaction shouldn't be anything new, right?

Not exactly, Yahoo! does not charge direct advertisers and agencies for access. Conspiracy theorists cite this new development as yet another way Google's third party relationships will be strained, suggesting this is a good way to remove third parties from the picture.

What do you think of a fee based structure for Google's API? Is there something to the conspiracy theory, or is Google being unfairly targeted? How will this change affect your business? Drop me a line and sound off!

Next week: Your comments and more!

Additional resources:

Search THIS: Breaking News: Contextual Search Indicted

SearchTHIS: Search is Over, Content is King

SearchTHIS: Buy Your Own Search Listings

 iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Ryan is Managing Partner at Kinetic Results