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

Although we've invested really heavily in this business for the last ten years, it's an area that we plan to continue to invest in equally heavily going forward. I think the next ten years will be as exciting as the last ten years were.

Has your sense of what "relevance" means, in the advertising context, changed at all over the past 10 years?

What we pioneered 10 years ago was contextual targeting: the idea that if you have an article about cooking, or making a craft, or travel, then we would serve an ad that's relevant to that. So if you have an article about cooking, you have, say, an ad for the ingredients that go in the recipe.

What's evolved since then is the recognition that there are some types of sites where the context isn't really relevant for advertisers. And probably the most significant area in that regard has been news. You read about what's happening in the Senate, or you read about a bill being passed, or you read about a controversy that's happening at the moment - and that's not necessarily a commercial type of content. It's very important, but it's not commercial.

So what we've really invested in has been audience targeting, and really trying to understand who the users are, and to understand what they want to see.

So if you have a person who is reading a lot of articles and headline news, what are the things that are relevant for them? It's trying to understand your user base a little bit better. The more you know about the users, the more you can serve something that's useful for them. So audience targeting, and serving ads to the right audience, is something that we've invested a lot in.

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?

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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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