Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — Google expands ad tracking to measure online success

TODD SMITH — Google expands ad tracking to measure online success

TODD SMITH

Next time you see an ad on Google, the company might be able to tell if you went out and bought it in a brick-and-mortar store.

A new Google feature can tell when someone who clicked on an ad in search results made a credit or debit card purchase at a corresponding physical store. The tool will give advertisers a better idea of how successful their online ad campaigns are.

How does Google know if you bought something at Subway or Aldo? It works with the credit and debit card companies to match up in-store purchases with your online identity. The company has partnerships with companies that account for 70 percent of credit and debit card purchases in the U.S.

The credit card companies provide Google with encrypted information about purchases, which Google software then compares to Google profiles of people who viewed relevant ads. Google cannot actually see any of the encrypted data, so it does not have access to identifiable payment information, like the person’s name or what they bought.

The matches are tallied up in aggregate to protect privacy. That means Google can tell a restaurant their ads resulted in 1,000 people going there to eat and how much they spent, but not share any personal information about individual diners.

For all its futuristic investments like self-driving cars, Internet-beaming balloons and thermostats, Google is still an advertising company. It relies on ad sales for the majority of its revenue. Last quarter, ads made up $21.4 billion of Alphabet’s $24.8 billion in sales. Making the connection between online ads and in-person purchases could be huge for the company, which is competing against companies like Facebook (FB, Tech30) for the same ad buyers.

Google is also adding another real-world tool to get more customers into physical stores. It will show information for local stores on YouTube ads, such as hours and driving directions to the nearest store or chain location. In order to know what stores you’re close to, YouTube will rely on information from your location history. The company has been using this feature on Search and Maps since 2014.

Google announced the tools at its annual advertising and marketing conference in San Francisco recently. The YouTube feature is well timed. Earlier this year, some advertisers pulled out of YouTube ads after they were shown alongside extremist videos.

If the idea of Google tracking real world purchases, even in aggregate, unsettles you, there are ways to opt out. You can log out of your Google Account before using search, or turn off your search history so that it’s not saved. You can also use cash to buy your fast food..

For the local ad information tool, you can turn off your location history.

Pinterest Gains Traction With Ad Buyers

Pinterest has long been seen as a laggard behind the giant platforms, but it’s slowly gaining traction with one key constituency: ad buyers.

After a slow start in advertising, Pinterest has released a slew of new features over the past year – and a newly aggressive agency strategy. Its quick product rollout, coupled with its emphasis on search and scale, has piqued the interest of agency executives.

The moves come as Pinterest is reportedly plotting to go public this year — and hit $500 million in revenue. That would put it within striking distance of the far-younger Snap, which is forecast to pull in $770 million in revenue, and a far distance from the likes of Google and Facebook.

The knock on Pinterest was that it lacked the scale and return of Google and Facebook, and the shiny newness of Snapchat. But Pinterest has impressed marketers with several analytics, targeting and ad options. Marketers can place a Pinterest conversion tag across their websites, which enables them to track existing users onto Pinterest and better target their ads. Pinterest Lens is a new visual search tool that detects objects in the real world and suggests a list of related items. While brands don’t have the option of surfacing their own products through this feature yet, marketers believe it is only a matter of time before Pinterest starts monetizing lenses this way.

According to experts, Pinterest has also been focusing on building deeper relationships with agency partners over the past couple of months, especially in terms of creative collaboration. While Pinterest Lens is not an ad product yet, the Pinterest team has been working with the agency to “hack” the platform for clients.

The newfound attentiveness stands in contrast to the old rap on Pinterest that it was stuck between Google and Facebook and lacked sufficiently sophisticated tools. Back in November, several ad buying executives told Digiday they were decidedly cool on the platform. One common complaint last fall: Pinterest’s archaic application programming interface.

That no longer seems to be a concern, as the interface has become a lot more simplified and transparent.

While Pinterest may be making strides, it should keep an eye out for competition, particularly when it comes to Amazon. Amazon already owns the bottom of the funnel – the people who are on their site or leveraging search have already expressed intent to purchase.

Golden Mic | Gregg Allman & Band Branded Southern Rock

Rock musician Gregg Allman – who died too young at age 69 – and his famous Allman Brothers Band branded the classic Southern rock genre, set the stage for the jam bands movement and influenced generations of players.

Allman’s work and life is entwined with his brother Duane, with whom he founded the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Two years later, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident, but the band soldiered on, and reached new peaks with the 1973 album “Brothers and Sisters,” which featured signature songs “Ramblin’ Man” and the instrumental “Jessica.”

Still, the band found their greatest success as a live act, performing for massive crowds in the 1970s and – like the Grateful Dead – influencing a future wave of concert-focused jam bands.

Throughout their five-decade run – which included a few brief hiatuses – Allman was a constant presence, and his Hammond organ and soulful lead vocals defined their sound as much as his late brother’s limber guitar.

Allman’s sound was further showcased through his solo work, which included six albums and the 1987 hit “I’m No Angel.” His last release, 2011’s “Low Country Blues,” entered the Billboard 200 at No. 5 — the highest chart position of his career. Earlier this year, Allman announced he was finishing work on his next album “Southern Blood.”

He made many friends and inspired countless followers over the years, and several of them paid respects via social media. Charlie Daniels said Allman “had a feeling for the blues very few ever have,” adding it was “hard to believe that magnificent voice is stilled forever.”

The Bonnaroo festival – which sprouted out of the jam band scene Allman helped foster – was quick to respond, as well. “Gregg Allman, thank you for everything. You’re our blue sky, our sunny day, and The Farm will miss you.”

Although Allman’s mic has been silenced, his bodacious sound will continue to inspire generations as long as there is Southern and rock! Allman takes a very solid Golden Mic.

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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