When Google+ enthusiasts brag about their favorite social network, one of their top talking points is “no ads!” This has been fueled by a persistent belief among G+ users that Google+ leadership has promised to never have ads on the social network. But has there ever been such a promise? The belief that there is seems to have been fueled by isolated statements by Google+ top brass at conferences and in interviews.
For example, in a late-November 2012 interview at the IGNITION Conference, Google+ Vice President Bradley Horowitz, when asked if there would be ads on Google+ similarly to Facebook, quipped, “We don’t need ads to make next week’s payroll.” He went on to say:
It’s much more useful (and less annoying) to users to show social recommendations instead of ads. For example, he said, if you search for a product in Google – say a microwave – you can see which one your Google+ contacts recommend.
Elsewhere Horowitz compared Facebook’s style of advertising to someone walking through your conversation wearing a sandwich board.
“Jamming ads and agendas into user streams is pissing off users and frustrating brands too,” he said. “That’s not the way the world works.” [Tweet this quote!]
That certainly sounds like an intention not to show ads in Google+. Horowitz is saying they don’t need to, so why should they? So where does Google+ advertise? Via the personalized search results Google+ users get when they use Google Search. In other words, the Google+ “ads” are the ads you already see: AdWords in Google Search.
This seems to be reinforced by Google+ head Vic Gundotra’s remarks at a SXSW live chat with Guy Kawasaki this past summer. Vic talked about his conviction that when people come to a social site, they come there to be social, not with commercial intent. So social sites, he said, are probably not the best place to serve up ads. He compared it to being at a baseball game with billboards on the outfield fence. People are there to watch the game, not read ads. It’s less effective.
Then Guy said, “Are you saying that for the foreseeable future there will be no ads in the Google+ album?” (I’m not clear why Guy asked only about photo albums.) Vic responded, “That’s correct. In the photo album, we have no plans to inject ads.”
“We think we know and believe that it’s a better user experience when your friend sees a recommendation of a restaurant in Napoli when its in a search for a restaurant in Napoli.”
Next Vic went on to provide a hypothetical example. He said suppose you were interested in a new Canon camera, so you go on Google Search to find out about it. In the past you would have been served up with links to articles on various web pages. But now you also get personalized results showing content and recommendations from your friends and from experts you follow. So say you follow popular photographer Thomas Hawke on Google+. If he’s written a G+ post reviewing that new Canon camera, Google will surface that for you when you are searching about the camera.
Google Search Is Google+’s Ad Stream
How does that help contribute to Google’s ad revenue though? Why is it that when asked about advertising in Google+, Horowitz and Gundotra immediately jump to talking about Google Search?
Because they believe those recommendations so improve your search when you are in the “moment of intent” of making a purchase, that Google search becomes more useful to you, and thus their ad revenue goes up.
Understand this: Google’s Search ads are the ad network of Google+. [Tweet this!]
This is why they don’t need to put ads on the Google+ interface. When you really wrap your brain around this, you see how absolutely brilliant the construction of Google+ is. This is what Google missed with every previous attempt they had made at a social network.
Google+ is different because of its intimate integration with all thing Google. It is, as Vic Gundotra is often fond of saying, the social layer of Google. And because of that, they don’t need to show ads on it.
As Vic pointed out in his SXSW chat, not only do they not need to annoy users with ads on their social platform, they realize that such ads are less effective for the advertisers. Interrupting users with ads when they aren’t in the moment of intent to buy something is old school advertising. It’s why Facebook ads on the average have about a 0.05% CTR while Google AdWords ads average around 2% (source).
So advertisers, wondering when you’ll be able to advertise on Google+? The answer: you already can. It’s called AdWords, and it works on Google search, where people who use Google+ are getting more and more value through personalization of their search results.
So, Will There Never Ever Never Be Ads on Google+?
I don’t think anyone at Google+ would be foolish enough to take that pledge. CNET quoted Brad Horowitz from the Business Insider conference as follows:
When asked if Google+ will ever incorporate ads, Horowitz said it would do so if there’s an effective way to add them without upsetting users. “We aren’t struggling with how to monetize,” he said. “We have real plans.” [Tweet this quote!]
So what’s clear to me is that, for the foreseeable future, Google+’s priority is with making its user base happy, and that user base has strongly indicated that it doesn’t like Facebook-style ads. Recently several very heated discussion threads popped up when some users spotted in their sidebar what they felt was an ad: a link to a free download of Guy Kawasaki’s ebook What the Plus (a guide to using Google+). Both Vic Gundotra and Guy Kawasaki confirmed to me that this was just a “promotion,” not a paid ad, but the incident indicated how entitled established G+ users feel to an ad free environment.
One of the things that regular Google+ users are pleasantly surprised by is how much the “owners’ interact with regular users about the platform. Several hundred Google employees can be found who regularly post comments and answer questions on users threads, and not a few users have been shocked and surprised to find a +1 or even a comment from Vic Gundotra himself. That doesn’t happen on any other major social network I’m aware of. It indicates to me that the leadership of Google+ is sincere in their concern that users have a good experience on the platform. When I put all these things together, it allows me to make with confidence the statement that I think it will be a long, long time (if ever) before we see real ads on Google+. And even if they come, they will be in some creative and well-integrated form that ads to the user’s experience, rather than interrupting it.