'Ads by Google': A Billion-Dollar Brainstorm Turns 10

Do you see the Knowledge Graph, and Google's broader investment in semantic search, playing a role in its approach to ads?

The nice thing about the Knowledge Graph is that it gives you different answers [than what you would get from a standard search]. And it can understand different components in the search. Although it's probably early for us, in advertising, to think about, I think whenever you understand meaning better, you can serve better results. And since advertising is just another form of information, it means you can serve better advertising, too. But it's still early.

What about the ad units themselves? What do you think will be next for those?

I've talked before about the 5 Cs: five of the things I think are relevant for the future of Internet advertising. And two of those that I think are relevant here are Choice and Charm. When it comes to Choice, the users should be able to opt in to seeing the ad units. One of the places we've done that has been on YouTube, where we've enabled users to opt in to TrueView, which allows users to choose whether they want to see an ad or not. So an advertiser pays only if a user chooses to see that ad. And that's also how search advertising works: the users are choosing to see that ad by clicking on it, and the advertisers pay only when the users click on it.

We've also developed some other ad formats that run across the Internet, engagement ads: an ad where, if you mouse over it, it expands with a video or a catalog or something right there on the page. So, overall, we've seen a lot of engagement by users. Which makes sense. If you seen an ad, for example, for a brand you like -- say, J. Crew -- and you click on it, and that brings you to the catalog ... that's a pretty compelling experience.

The other thing we've done in the engagement format is to live-stream different events out of it. So we've had a lot of different mobile operators -- T-Mobile, for one example -- doing their launches of phones with the streaming. So you're reading an article, you see the ad, you click on it - and here's this live event. So that's a pretty interesting format.

And, overall, I think the formats are going to continue to be more beautiful, more charming, to have richer experiences for the users. But the users will also be able to choose whether they want to see them or not -- and be able to opt in or out of those experiences.

Along those lines, I'm really interested in the signals AdSense reads to determine which ads to serve, and where (and when). I do a lot of Googling and Interneting every day; only some of my searches are for subjects and items that I have a commercial interest in. How do you think about the difference -- when it comes to, say, the keywords that help inform contextual targeting -- between standard web searches and commercially driven web searches? How do you think about distinguishing between intellectual curiosity and commercial intent -- or, I guess, between different forms of interest?

I think that's an example of ads getting more and more sophisticated. How do you understand something in the context of other signals? How do you understand whether a user is interested in something, or not?

I have a third C, which is control. And one of the things I've been advocating for, and that I think our advertising has been pushing for, is more control for users. So we've released some sets of things, but I think there's a lot more that we can do. How do we enable users to tells us, "These are not the things that I'm interested in," or "I want to see more things like this?" So if you were just researching something and now you're finished researching it, and you don't really want to see anything more related to it, how do you communicate that back to the ad system?

And that's another area that I think we can really invest in more in the future. Especially because if you say you are interested in something, that's the best possible signal to an advertiser. If you're going rafting at the Grand Canyon, for example, you'd probably love to see Grand Canyon-related offers and different opportunities, because you're in market for those. But when you're not in market for them anymore, they're no longer relevant. So I'd really like to see users, in the future, being able to be more a part of that process.

I think most users tend to approach ads -- especially, though not exclusively, online -- as things that are, in some fundamental ways, opposed to their own interests. Ads are the stuff we have to endure to get to the stuff we actually want to see. I know it's implied in the idea of "relevance" that ads at their best are, in fact, in our interest ... but I'm wondering how you see that tension playing out in the future. Is is possible to align advertisers' and users' and publishers' interests so efficiently that we'll actually look forward to seeing ads? 

We've always thought about advertising as information. But advertising is just commercial information. So the challenge is understanding what's the right ad, to serve right then and there, for that user. And that's why, in some ways, it's very similar to search: when someone gives you a query "restaurant Palo Alto" - what results do you serve them? It's all about relevance. Advertising is the same thing: you have a page and you a have an ad slot. What's the most relevant thing that you can serve right then and there to the user?

Advertising does have a few different things that you should think about: there are only certain advertisers advertising at a certain time. But advertising can be very, very relevant - and very, very useful to users. And that's been our goal: to try to figure out how to make it useful to users.

One other thing that's important to mention: advertising really does fund the Internet for being free. And that is a really, really important component. You think about all the people who have access to all this information - everywhere, globally - because the Internet provides so much information that's free. And the reason it's able to do that is because of the advertising. So the advertising does fund the Internet. And that has a lot of social and economic benefits for people everywhere.

And it will just get better. As the advertising gets more relevant, as we understand the users better, as we understand the context better, it will just keep getting better. And publishers will make more revenue.

So that's our goal: to continue to support the ecosystem so publishers can continue generating good content. They need to have the income from the advertising to be able to support their sites. And we recognize that. The better job we can do with that, the better job they can do reinvesting in their site, and into the content.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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