Google Drops Ad Planner Bomb on Web Analytics Industry
Google is going after the media buyer crowd with its latest free offering, a bundle of tools designed to help advertisers find the best Web sites for delivering their messages to a highly targeted demographic. Google's Web analytics push undoubtedly is stirring up some anxiety in the industry, but the jury's still out as to how competitive its free services will be.
A few years ago, it became clear that Google was gunning for a big chunk of Microsoft's empire. Now, the undisputed king of search is targeting another online category with the release of Ad Planner, a package of free Web analytics, research and media-planning tools.
Ad Planner essentially helps advertisers find appropriate Web sites for their messages. Not surprisingly, it runs much like a search engine; advertisers can enter their target demographics or sites that are linked to their ideal audience. Ad Planner then spits out traffic information about those sites.
The product is aimed at media planners, not consumers -- the company took care of that constituency last week when it introduced Google Trends for Web sites.
comScore and Nielsen Online are the two companies likely to be the most impacted, as they provide largely the same services -- for a fee. On top of the fee vs. free issue, there is Google's unparalleled collection of user data. The lure of this painstakingly detailed mass of information, collected over the 10 years or so of Google's existence, cannot be overstated: It is the equivalent of a mother ship calling media buyers home.
"Think about how big Google's user base is -- its panel size cannot even begin to compare with comScore's or Nielsen's," said Deborah Armstrong, a media planner expert with SVP Mediaspace Solutions, a large media buyer.
The firm currently uses comScore, she told the E-Commerce Times, but it will be investigating what Google has to offer. "I am very intrigued by Ad Planner -- intuitively, it makes a lot of sense."
Indeed, this new way to slice and dice Google's data is no doubt going to attract all kinds of users apart from the intended media buyers, once it becomes generally available. For example, Kim Garretson, a principal of Realist Ventures & Advisory Services, intends to use Ad Planner as a due diligence tool when conducting a demo for potential investors on behalf of startup BackstageGallery.com.
"Most investors today ask entrepreneurs who have not yet launched their sites and businesses to demonstrate comparable businesses' track records in attracting audiences and advertising revenue," she told the E-Commerce Times. "By creating scenarios of advertisers and current sites competitive with their planned sites, they can show potential investors 'the possible' once they launch and begin to attract an audience."
Just Out of the Gate
Before saying a requiem mass for the Web measurement industry, however, it should be noted that little actual user data is available on how the site works. Like the first generation of Google Documents and Spreadsheets, it may be that this tool is not sophisticated enough to match comScore and Nielsen.
From the initial glimpse provided, Ad Planner does not appear to offer as much control over placement as competing service providers, Quantcast CMO Adam Gerber told the E-Commerce Times. Quantcast is a measurement company that uses a mix of metrics to measure traffic, including cookie, panel and inference data.
"We provide publishers and markets with exception control over how their data and ads are leveraged and protected," he said. "The Google tool is a different solution -- one that primarily allows buyers to leverage publisher data to maximum effect."
Incumbents will likely push back on the lower quality of placement and the missing human touch, observed Joelle Kaufman, vice president of media operations for Adify, a vertical ad network management company and subsidiary of Cox Enterprises.
"Large agencies need to know the quality of the sites their ads will be placed on, and that they have been editorially reviewed and safe for the clients," she told the E-Commerce Times.
That said, some media buyers may be OK with the lack of human editing, Kaufman continued. "I could see a media buyer wanting to place ads next to, say, any site devoted to women's issues."
Another potential drawback is the business process for buying the ads. Media buyers have to create media plans and export them to a .csv file to be opened in a spreadsheet application. Or, a user can export to DoubleClick's MediaVisor.
All those steps will create a "mess" in no time, Kaufman said, especially if a media buyer is placing a lot of ads with different demographics.