September 07, 2008 |
Now that we’ve been talking about Google’s new web browser Chrome for the entire past week, I think it’s time to take a look at its core and finally realize that Google is actually an advertising company and advertising is exactly where Google’s main field of business is. Advertising is how Google makes the money to finance acquisitions of other companies and its own large-scale developments resulting in much-hyped product releases like Chrome.
And since Google is an advertising company, everything it does will sooner or later be integrated into its advertising business. I think Chrome is not supposed to be any exception here and so I wanted to highlight a few facts about Chrome and how it relates to ads so that we could better understand what we should expect the browser to do to influence the advertising industry as it is today.
First of all, it has become absolutely obvious that people got too accustomed to browsing the internet with various plug-ins to block out ads from web pages you browse (and sorry, I’m not linking to any of them – I’m a web publisher myself, after all). And when mentioning why they would not want to migrate to Chrome, the most popular reason I’ve seen people citing is inability to block ads. The reason is simple: many internet users have simply forgotten how many ads they can be exposed to online now and they are not ready to consume any of that sine they are perfectly fine with a plug-in to block each and every page from the sites they browse. So no matter how fast and powerful any new browser can be they won’t even consider migrating until they can turn the ads off the pages.
I myself don’t get this type of mentality at all as a publisher since my own revenue is heavily damaged by availability of these plugins. In fact, I think it could be a good idea to create a group of bloggers to fight with ad blockers to have them completely forbidden by each and every web browser – even if I know it is a goal impossible to achieve. I don’t understand how people want to enjoy all the content others work long hours to create and fail to see that these publishers also have bills to pay and need food to eat. But that’s a topic for another post – here I just wanted to mention that people enjoy the ad-free web world too much to migrate to any new browser that does not provide this experience.
But here comes the problem: as an advertising company Google will never make life easy for people that want to browse internet without bumping into Google’s ads everywhere. Such an approach is just plain obvious and that’s actually something I myself will support 100%. So when Google has an official repository for all the Chrome add-ons or extensions, if there is one plug-in that will hardly ever make it there – it is any ad blocker developed by any third party.
I am quite sure we will very soon see this need addressed somehow but I know equally well that no such plug-in will ever be distributed with Google’s help – after all, why would Google want to make a browser where people could avoid seeing ads same as they now do on Firefox?
Second thing about Chrome and advertising may sound like a conspiracy theory a little (or a lot) but I think it is obvious that owning a tool that allows you to track a user’s behavior to the highest degree possible and failing to use this information for your full advantage could be just unreasonable. And I am pretty sure that this is exactly where Chrome is supposed to do its job – to help Google serve better-targeted ads to web users and, thus, charge advertisers higher.
One of the related discussions is about Chrome’s Omnibox and the privacy invasion it can potentially be for any user keeping browser settings at defaults. The thing is that when a user has Google as a default search engine (and I think many of our readers do) and keep auto-suggestion for URLs and search terms enabled, Chrome will start talking to Google servers by sending every single character you type even before you hit ‘Enter’. But while this may not sound particularly dangerous, Google actually intends to keep 2% of this collected information along with the IP of the computer used to type those characters. And this is where the big game begins because the opportunities for advertisers to reach you better and make you buy their products once they know you need them are immense.
Imagine, for example, you are planning a Christmas vacation on some tropical island. Say, the first idea you have in mind is Bali Island in Indonesia so you start typing “Christmas Vacation Bali” but then you change your mind and decide to see what the most popular options are first before making your decision. So you delete Bali and instead type “Christmas Vacation tropical island”. This is where you hit the ‘Enter’ key on your keyboard but this is not when Google first receives any information from you – it already knows you had Bali in mind so probably the easiest thing to sell to you would be some nice vacation package on Bali. And right there along the results of your second search phrase you get a few paid links from Google Adwords publishers pushing vacations on Bali at you. Will you resist clicking them? Honestly, I would have clicked immediately myself and I don’t think I am the only one like that. It is obvious that this simple new addition can add a lot of power to advertising targeting and the way advertisers will face less difficulties in reaching us, the potential customers, with what we are willing to pay for anyway.
Another advertising-related thing about Chrome is advertisers’ complains about Google’s privacy mode “Incognito”. The problem as advertisers see it is Incognito mode removing all the evidence a user visited this or that site and – more importantly – viewed this or that ad. This is done by deleting all the cookies of private browsing sessions once the sessions end.
And this really sounds like a potential threat to advertisers because they will face chances of paying much more simply because they will be showing the same ads to the same users where otherwise frequency caps could prevent this from happening. And without cookies advertiser will have to pay for what he or she would have never paid for otherwise – the same user watching a banner for CPM ads or the same user clicking a link for CPC ads. It is obvious that those additional advertising expenditures won’t be particularly efficient as the user has already seen this ad and will hardly want to click it if he is not interested anyway or make the second purchase if interested.
Yet while this sounds like a bad idea for advertisers, it is a very good one for Google because Google itself serves as a middleman between advertisers and publishers – thus the more advertisers pay, the higher commissions the advertising giant will receive. But on the other hand, Google will lose its own targeting power without cookies so it is a double edged sword that has both advantages and disadvantages for Google.
Honestly, I actually don’t think this one is a particularly serious problem because I doubt privacy mode will be used a lot for anything other than watching porn. I’m not sure if people browsing porn sites click ads a lot but I don’t think this is exactly the target market to many advertisers concerned here.
Private browsing mode could be a problem if it was a default setting but this is not 100% beneficial for Google so we’ll hardly see this happening. Besides, I don’t understand advertisers grudging about Chrome’s incognito without paying attention to a very similar functionality – inPrivate – available in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 beta. I really think that since there is demand in the market for private browsing, developers will offer their solutions promptly, no matter what advertisers may want.
Finally, there is also a question if a browser itself can be used as an advertising platform without relying on serving them on the pages you visit using the browser. Google Chrome EULA reads in the advertising-related section:
17.1 Some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the Services, queries made through the Services or other information.
17.2 The manner, mode and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.
17.3 In consideration for Google granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Google may place such advertising on the Services.
From the language in the EULA you can easily draw a conclusion that Google can actually push ads at you right in your browser – the way you can now see with some IM desktop clients, like ICQ, for example. And while I do think it is fairly possible to do just that, I somehow doubt it will actually happen on Chrome. I believe for Google it is perfectly enough to have a browser that never prevents a user from seeing an ad – no matter what. And if a browser can do just that Google will be fine with it – given the huge number of websites monetized with Google AdSense.
I hope it is now clear that this is what Chrome is intended for in reality: to allow the company serve you better targeted and more personalized ads, at the same time preventing you from blocking them. And if they do manage to make your internet experience shinier and more flexible at the same time, it will be a nice side effect and a means to bring more people into the platform via which Google will serve its ads.