As Google Turns 20, What Does Its Future Offer Advertisers?

Chief business officer discusses maintaining competitiveness amid technological change and heightened consumer expectations

Google turned 20 years old this month, and the first Google Doodle appeared on this day in 1998. Since its early days as a project at Stanford University—named Backrub—to rank webpages based on their authority, it has morphed several times over to become arguably the most important media—or technology—outfit in the world.

Adweek recently caught up with Google’s chief business officer and svp of global ad sales and operations Philipp Schindler to discuss how he sees the company’s advertising offering evolving, given the pace of technological change.

The rise of ‘assistive computing’

“There seems to be a big shift every decade or so,” he said. “We had the web coming along and then with the mobile transition and now we have cloud computing being fundamentally changed again—although some would call this an evolution—when it comes to machine learning, and this has a lot of consequences for our business and the industry.”

These forecasts are based on usage habits the behemoth is already seeing, with Schindler reporting that approximately 20 percent of Google’s U.S. search queries from Android devices are voice-based.

“It’s important to consider that [the] assistive computing environment … means you have a lot more natural means of engaging with digital devices across multiple different surfaces [note, not necessarily screens] that you interact with on your desktop, phone, TV or car,” he predicted.

In terms of consumer expectations, this means the precision level of search returns has to be higher, especially as usage migrates from the desktop.

“We can also see that the query stream is different in the sense that the amount of actions that a user will point at an assistant [such as ‘buy me a pizza from a nearby restaurant’] is dramatically higher,” added Schindler.

The challenges and opportunities for advertisers

Needless to say, such changes mean consequences for the advertising industry, according to Schindler. For example, he said, the smaller the surface areas of a device, the more relevant the results to a search query have to be.

Schindler also said that one of the biggest changes in recent years has taken place with little or no public attention: the rise of “responsive search ads.”

He added that responsive search ads are “shining a new light on an old problem” with Google now using machine learning to test which campaign creative operates best in a given environment, whereas this was previously a task that had to be performed manually, costing many man hours.

“Machine learning is fundamentally disrupting things we thought were established [practice],” he said.

The positive feedback from advertisers on its machine-learning offering has prompted Google to open up its APIs to advertisers, which means they can in turn benefit from the behemoth’s machine-learning capabilities and infrastructure without having to make the initial financial investment to build such capabilities.

“The next revolution is that we will provide, as part of our cloud offering, something I’d call ‘machine learning as a service’ … we’ve seen an incredible amount of interest which goes beyond what the advertiser wants; it’s what the CEO wants to see as well,” added Schindler.

Given the changing nature of consumer behaviors, and Amazon’s rise in the digital advertising rankings, a recent report from Canalys suggesting that shipments for Google’s personal assistant Home have now outpaced those of rival Amazon Alexa is welcome news for the company.

However, now that a significant number of searches are voice-generated and “small-screen audiences” have heightened expectations, just how will Google create an advertising opportunity around these behaviors?

When probed by Adweek on how Google aims to square this seeming conundrum—i.e., will Google Home users ever have to sit through a six-second voice ad after making a query—Schindler claimed any such monetization opportunities won’t be so linear.

@ronan_shields Ronan Shields is a reporter for Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.