Google’s next big move: from search to discovery

By Grant Lapping, Managing Director at DataCore Media

Google has focused on evermore precise targeting of advertising for almost as long as it has existed, but the growing power and maturity of artificial intelligence (AI) is enabling it to take smart targeting to a whole new level. In the process, it is opening up some exciting possibilities for marketers who want to reach users with the right message in exactly the right micro moment.

Here’s how the technology works. The AI can collate and make sense of thousands of data points about a web user across multiple Google platforms and products – among them YouTube, Gmail, Play Store, News, Photos, Shopping, Translate, Calendar and any website that has a Google tag or Google Tag Manager.

Using these signals about a user’s intent and interests, the AI can personalise content according to the emotional and rational factors that matter to the individual. One of the gamechangers here is the advertising on Google Discover, a feed that serves relevant content to a user, even when they’re not searching.

The collection of user data to better target ads is nothing new, but the volume of intent signals they are now able to gather has grown significantly in the past couple of years allowing for a radical shift, in Google’s search model.

Think of it as an alternative to the Facebook newsfeed except that instead of friends sharing content, the content is generated through AI ‘learning’ from your behaviour about which content will appeal to you in a particular moment in time.

The algorithm keeps learning more about you

The platform is especially powerful because of the depth and breadth of the enhanced data Google holds about its users. It means Google no longer needs to wait for you to tell it what you’re searching for, because the smart technology knows what you are likely to be most interested in at that instant.

Through machine learning, the system learns more about you with each interaction. Google’s algorithms become more powerful as it discovers more about your brand, product, political, lifestyle, and other preferences from the way you engage with the content. As an example, the technology claims to be so advanced that that it would know not to show a video on the basics of how to play a guitar to an experienced musician, while it would know to show that video to a beginner.

Another advantage of the Discover platform is that Google can roll out ads in a native format rather than traditional display banners, which is similar to the newsfeed that has been so effective for Facebook.

In addition, advertisers can now reach customers earlier in the customer journey, before they start searching for and evaluating options. Brands can run Discovery campaigns across YouTube home feed, Gmail social and promotions tabs and Google Discover feed. The company claims that more than 800 million people now use Discover each month.

For marketers, this platform offers a compelling way to get better returns from their advertising investment. However, with the debate currently raging about how tech giants collect and use people’s personal data, we may see some questions arise about how consumer-friendly this all is.

Over the next year or two, we can expect lawmakers to closely scrutinise the data privacy ethics of platforms such as Google Discover and to question whether regulations like the Global Data Protection Regulation go far enough to protect consumers’ interests.

I believe that these platforms can be used to create value for users and brands alike – but brands and marketers should be careful about how they use this power.

Expect to hear much more about this debate throughout 2020.

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