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January 21, 2016

Google is in a fight for their life and mobile is forcing its hand.

It’s an unlikely position for a company that has pioneered countless forms of digital advertising and racked up $66 billion in revenue in 2014, some 90% of it coming from advertising.

Strange, perhaps, but true. Consider:

  • Google lost some 13% of it’s mobile ad share between 2013 and 2014 while Facebook gained 10%.
  • Though Google owns 4 of the top 10 apps, none saw double digit growth in 2015, a stark contrast to an app like Facebook Messenger (+31%) or Instagram (+23). This means less space to sell ads.
  • Thanks to declining web traffic, growth in paid clicks grew just 17% against an expected 22%.

In the past few months, it’s as if the beast woke back up. Google has been on a tear, trying to earn back dollars and attention of mobile advertisers.

The set of moves make it clear that this is an all-hands attempt to right the ship and regain the lead position. Below, we chronicle each and highlight early feedback from advertisers, and both critics and supporters. One thing is clear: Google’s plan to win back mobile advertisers has begun.

Magic Banner

August 2015

What it is: Google started by trying to breath life into an old standby – the banner. Magic Banner can piece together content drawn from multiple API’s, allowing up to 95% of an ad unit to be dynamic. The latest iteration also pulls in search insights and local context – be it time or weather.

Early results: Strong case studies aren’t out yet, but’s CMO called Magic Banner one of the companies top priorities according to VentureBeat.

Universal App Install Campaigns

September 2015

What it is: Universal App Install campaigns let people like these Android app developers from UK and marketers easily blanket their app promotion across Google’s massive index of properties.

Campaign creation is simple – set a few benchmark goals (creative is automatically pulled in from your Google Play listing) – and your ad will be on it’s way to Google Search, Google Play, Google Search Partners, YouTube, and Google Display Network. Talk about scale!

Early results: Sparkpeople’s marketing director, Joe Robb, said that Universal App Installs have “performed much better than my expectations” and are now making up 20% of overall app downloads.


Customer Match and Similar Audiences

September 2015

What it is: Anyone who runs ads on Facebook knows the importance of custom audience uploads, and the Lookalike audiences that they power. Google’s Customer Match looks to provide an equivalent by allowing for uploads of e-mails, while Similar Audiences then expands those to find more people like existing customers to serve ads to.

Early results: WordStream called the release “THE most exciting AdWords update in the history of the platform.” It also found that the match rate on a Google upload was 50.4%, edging out Facebook (48.99%) and crushing Twitter (10.2%). A high match rate alone doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s a significant foundation, and one that Google was missing out on until this release.

Streaming Mobile Apps

November 2015

What it is: Perhaps the most ambitious release in the past months, App Streaming lets users use an app without ever downloading it.
The move could easily be read as a way for Google to continue it’s presence beyond search results and reach into the app experience, a world it’s mostly been locked out of. Reactions to the update were immediate, with Button’s Chris Maddern saying:

The ‘App install’ is the ultimate cut-out for a service like Google. Google makes the introduction, then the user ‘goes direct’ from then-on. Streaming is their solution?-?they become the proxy (literally & metaphorically) and you never establish the direct recurring relationship with the app that’s providing the service. In doing so they diminish the user experience, marginalize the brand and re-establish the user’s reliance on Google to discover anything… where they then show them more ads.

Early results: Don’t expect to see streaming mobile apps everywhere quite yet. The early test includes just 9 apps, and is only available to those within the Google app on an Android 5 or 6 device with a strong Wi-Fi connection.

App Interstitial Penalty

November 2015

What it is: An update to Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm stated that “pages with an app install interstitial that hide a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page won’t be considered mobile-friendly.”

Google defends the move by saying it simply is in interest of providing the best user experience on mobile, while critics see it as a defensive way to continue to keep people out of apps (and thus mostly away from Google’s reach). There’s likely some truth in both.

Early results: We’ve yet to see specific numbers behind the implications of the change, but it does have big companies scrambling to adapt. Both Yelp and Pinterest have re-worked their app interstitial experiences significantly since the algorithm update.

Trial Run and Interactive Interstitial Ads

December 2015

What it is: Two new ad units built specifically for mobile that allow high levels of customization and interaction. Trial Run ads are aimed at the massive mobile gaming business, allowing for up to 60 seconds of trial play before an app download. This is a format that MNectar has pioneered, and that the Agawi acquisition last year made possible. Interactive interstitial ads are immersive, highly customizable and feel like a variation of Facebook’s upcoming canvas unit.

Early results: We’re just a few weeks in here, so we haven’t seen any case studies put out quite yet.

What’s an advertiser to take away from all of this?

First and foremost, we’d suggest spending some time revisiting Google. Many leading performance marketers strayed from it (with good reason) when it’s offerings looked meager compared to Facebook. It’s time to reconsider given the improved, expanded offerings. Pick a few releases profiled above that are most relevant to you, and run small tests within your marketing mix.

Otherwise, just buckle up for 2016. Google is on the cusp of getting it’s ad mojo back and is sure to create even more controversy as it toes the lines of user privacy and platform control to grab mobile market share.

Google, though knocked down temporarily, is a behemoth that has the power to make things very interesting very quickly. And that’s exactly what it’s going to do.

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