Google goes native
Google's +Post ads are the search giant's first step into the sort of native advertising that Facebook and Twitter have in place. But there's a twist.
Google has struggled to persuade a meaningful mass to adopt Google+ since launching it two years ago, and you would expect the search giant to be obsessing over giving people a more powerful reason to visit the social platform, rather than working on an offering for advertisers. But Google is anything but predictable.
Despite the underwhelming performance of Google+ to date, its creator has announced that it is testing a new social ad format, enabling brands to turn their Google+ content into social ads. This so-called ‘native advertising’ is not new – Facebook runs ‘sponsored stories’ and Twitter has ‘promoted tweets’ - with brands now accustomed to paying to ensure their posts reach a greater number of relevant people. Yet while Google+ appears to have joined the party – or is at least hovering at the door, brandishing an invite – its offering comes with a twist. The new +Post ads will not run on Google+ itself, but will instead be disseminated around its vast display ad network, which reaches 95% of the online audience.
Combining the reach of Google’s network with the sharing capabilities of Google+ should be an attractive proposition for marketers, despite the fact that the social platform had a relatively paltry 540m monthly active users in October 2013, against Facebook’s 1.19bn in the same month. It’s about looking at the bigger picture.
Brands are investing more and more in content marketing with the intention that the media it creates will not only be highly relevant to its audience, but will encourage meaningful interaction with the brand, as well as prompting the consumer to propagate the content to his or her own network. Google’s +Post ads promise to enable just this, making it possible for brands to create content that will be displayed to people in a relevant context. For example Toyota, which is testing the new proposition, will have its +Post ads shown to people surfing car sites – across a huge network. In addition, the interactive nature of the ads will, theoretically, encourage engagement. Google’s argument is that they take users “beyond clicks”, with viewers of the ads able to +1, comment, share, follow the brand or join a company’s Hangout On Air, which allows live content streaming and live conversations.
The interactivity is important given that the average person is served over 1,700 banner ads per month and is, supposedly, more likely to give birth to twins or reach the summit of Mount Everest than actually click on one. Google says that the brands currently testing +Post ads - including Cadbury UK - are already seeing expansion rates 50% higher than the industry average for rich media ads.
The nature of the native ads will also allow brands to get more value for money when it comes to creating content. Firstly, brands with a Google+ community can assess which content has already seen high engagement rates before deciding which to pay to promote in a wider context. Secondly, marketers can ensure that their investment in producing a great piece of video or photography, for example, can be repurposed across over two million sites, ensuring the content works hard. Brands will also be able to retarget those who have clicked on a +Post ad, reaching them with different ads on one of the network sites or on YouTube.
Of course the naysayers will say Google should find other ways to build the Google+ community before trying to attract advertisers, but the reality is that this is a clever move that inextricably links the two goals. Inevitably the brands who benefit most from +Post ads will be those who invest in developing – and maintaining – a lively Google+ presence, and this will prompt an increasing number of companies to take the social platform more seriously as the new ad offering is opened up over the next few months.