April 28, 2014, 11:28 AM

Google connects search ads to mobile apps with new AdWords updates

A new feature lets a retailer take a shopper directly to a page within its mobile app, rather than to a page on a mobile web site. For now, it only works on Android phones, as Google knows which apps an Android user has installed. Google says it will add the service to other phones, although one expert says that could take a while.

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Search giant Google Inc. last week announced updates to its AdWords paid search platform that will give it an edge in mobile marketing over Facebook, Twitter and its main mobile technology competitor Apple Inc., say search marketing experts.

The biggest change to AdWords is that Google will now allow marketers to link ads directly to a specific page in a mobile app, rather than to a mobile web page, for consumers that have the app installed. For example, if a shopper with the Macy’s Inc. app on her smartphone taps a Macy’s ad for a red dress in her mobile search results, the app would automatically open to a page displaying that red dress. If she doesn’t have the app on her device, she’ll instead be taken to the product page for the dress on Macy’s mobile web page, likely with a banner at the top encouraging her to install the app.

Google can also serve mobile ads inside apps and link between apps. For example, as the search giant writes in an announcement about the new features, a consumer that usually watches the show “Deadbeat” on Hulu might see an ad for a new episode while he’s inside another app. Tapping that ad would then take him directly into the Hulu app page where he can start watching the show.

The new in-app linking features initially work on just Android phones, though Google plans to roll it out to other mobile platforms soon, a spokesman for the company says. He did not give a timeline or more details.

Google says the new mobile ad capability will help advertisers reengage shoppers who have downloaded apps but rarely or never open them, which it claims happens with about 80% of app downloads.

“Google’s upcoming updates for targeting, linking and measuring apps speak to the growing influence of apps in e-commerce and online search,” says Mary Weinstein, content director at search marketing agency CPC strategy.

And with the focus on apps rather than web pages, Google will no doubt end up driving more consumer interest in downloading apps from its Google Play marketplace, says Tim Kilroy, CEO of search marketing technology provider AdChemix.

“Google is seeing the world is a bigger place than just the Internet or their search results page,” he says. “People have really valuable information locked inside apps.”

Most importantly, he says, Google will be getting more consumers to use apps and explore more content without requiring any behavioral changes—consumers still type or speak their search phrases into the Google browser on a smartphone or tablet as before. What’s different is that they may end up inside an app rather than on a mobile web page once they tap on a search result.

The move highlights how the search engine’s roots set it apart from its top competitors in social media and mobile technology. None of Facebook, Twitter or Apple offer the same capability in their ad formats, Kilroy says. None of those three companies immediately responded to a request for comment.

Weinstein agrees that this feature takes advantage of Google’s unique position. “Unlike Facebook, Google has the advantage of users who are actively searching for something, which is not the primary utility for social networks,” Weinstein says. “Additionally, social isn’t fully vetted by advertisers, whereas the majority of advertisers use some form of Google advertising—whether that impacts mobile ad adoption is hard to gauge, and which of the two mobile advertising options converts higher and gets higher engagement for merchants will likely vary.”

Facebook, which recently announced plans to launch its own mobile ad network, will likely add a similar app-linking capability in the near future, Kilroy says. But he expects the social network will put a greater emphasis on linking to pages in its own apps, as it doesn’t derive revenue outside its own network. Twitter, meanwhile, is way behind in terms of mobile ad sophistication, he says. That’s largely because Twitter has far less data about consumers’ preferences, locations and activities outside its microblogging network. By comparison, Google knows every app an Android user has installed on each device, and most likely also has data on that user’s location and activities throughout the day, Kilroy says.

In his opinion, Apple Inc. will face the toughest pressure in light of Google’s new mobile advertising capabilities, he says, because of its “editorial bent on controlling the whole experience.” That includes a more rigorous vetting process and set of coding standards for developers creating iPhone apps than Google applies to Android apps. Furthermore, while Google has said it plans to make the in-app linking feature available on other mobile platforms eventually, Kilroy says “the roll out to non-Android platforms is likely to be very slow.” Mainly, that’s because Google already has access to, and knowledge about, the apps running on Android devices, but not on other mobile devices.

“For retailers, as always, the rule with Google is to think about your users’ needs,” Weinstein says. “If Google is updating app promotions, then you should think about how and when your users use apps, particularly on mobile.”

Along with the new mobile app linking capabilities, Google announced other enhancements to its AdWords platform. It now enables marketers to set up campaigns based on metrics besides clicks or conversion, such as impressions or traffic. The search giant has also been improving its algorithms for automated ad bidding, which will make using AdWords significantly easier for advertisers, especially small businesses, according to Kilroy.

 

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