Copycat ad networks threaten Google’s stability

Any successful business model is going to have imitators.  Google knows this as well as anybody.   But now the stranglehold on the distributed ad model is feeling weaker than ever with new competitors every day.

The magic formula = isolate revenue collection system into a platform + make it available to other web sites – share earnings back to transaction/click source.

Yahoo! rolled out a similar offering about a year ago with YPNeBay launched their own version recently.  Amazon has had their affiliate program for years.  Kanoodle, IndustryBrains, Feedburner and a host of others all know this solution with their own twist on it.  Media networks such as IDG smartened up to the opportunity, as well.

The magic formula is showing cracks, though.  Click fraud is not being measured effectively by independent audits nor is payment being adjusted to compensate for it.  And Google has no short term incentive to solve the problem just as Microsoft once had no incentive to fix Windows security threats.

Linux gave Microsoft reason to change.  I wonder who will push Google into panic mode.  They may just sleepwalk into the death trap as long as their search market share remains strong.

Though have no doubt that Google can change.  At some point Schmidt’s insistence that Google is a technology company may actually trickle down and create some revenue opportunities that are more service based.  If they can scale their office products for mass adoption and perhaps create a browser optimized for those products, then they will finally have a potential revenue model to match the rhetoric.

The question is whether the market share losses surely in AdSense’s near future will fracture Wall Street’s love affair with the company before they can not only diversify but also stabilize on a mix of technology service revenue streams.

I can’t even imagine the complexity of the cultural war that will wage internally when/if the “technology” part of the business actually becomes a real slice of Google’s revenue pie.  Manufacturing consent will probably work while Google continues to grow.  I’d still hate to be on a “technology” product team at a company where 99% of the revenue comes from media products…wait…from one media product.

The Google Phd’s are probably predicting the copycats, the corporate positioning conflicts and internal competitive challenges as I write this, but are they smart enough to get their Product Managers and Biz Dev guys to help them actually figure out how to solve the problems, or do they just write papers and send long emails with subject lines in all caps?

CORPORATE STRATEGY RESEARCH STUDY: IMPACT OF ‘TECHNOLOGY’ MARKET POSITION IN THE FACE OF MULTI-FRONT WAR ON ONLY REVENUE STREAM MAY CAUSE INTERNAL STRIFE

Maybe Microsoft’s MSN team has some advice for Google’s technology product teams about operating in the shadow of the cash cow.

Why (and how) the online ad model needs to change

Somehow I keep expecting some company to break through and solve the problems with the Google AdSense model. As advertisers, buyers and media vehicles get smarter about efficiency, the holes in the system get bigger and bigger.

AdSense revenues help a lot of mid to large-sized web sites, but really more as incremental revenue. By the time you’re big enough for AdSense to support your business there are several other revenue opportunities with larger payouts avaiable to you.

And there’s no doubt that AdSense (and most Internet advertising) is failing to help people find and buy the things that matter to them. How can it be that we have an ad model that is considered wildly successful when a campaign or ad unit gets a click-through rate of 1%? And the reality is that it’s much much worse than that on average.


Photo: DWS

Why are click through rates so low? Because the ads don’t matter to people. They aren’t relevant. They don’t help people identify products or brands that matter to them. They don’t help people locate the right deal at the right time.

Yes, some people get lucky if they’re paying attention. There wouldn’t have been $5B in search ad revenue in the market in 2005 if nobody was clicking on the ads. But the click performance and subsequent conversion rates suggest this kind of ad network is just a spray hose of wasteful bits showering the Internet with clutter.

It doesn’t work for advertisers, either. Advertisers want more control over their ads, where they appear and to whom they are shown. Blanketing text links blindly across the Internet does not necessarily result in paying customers. They know they’re wasting money, but they can’t afford not to be present in the network.

The AdSense model does much more to help Google and the Google shareholders than it does to help any of the customers it is supposed to serve.

I think the Amazon affiliate program is much closer to a more sustainable ad model for the future. When you can track clicks all the way to a sale then everybody wins. The weakest link in the Amazon affiliate chain is the media vehicle which has to work a lot harder to drive clicks that convert to sale. But the buyer and the seller are both happy, and that’s ultimately what matters most.

I’d love to see an ad network that is able to let media vehicles optimize the ad content and display rules for the ads. The look and feel of an ad is not going to crank up the conversion rates. Media vehicles need to help the right ad get to the right person.

For example, when I post on my blog, I should be able to flag a stream of ad content and define the type of algorhythm that makes the most sense for that post and the users who are most likely to read it. This post should probably link to lead generation service providers even though I haven’t explicitly used the term “lead generation” anywhere in the post…uh, well, you get the idea.

Likewise, users should be able to self-identify as buyers. I haven’t yet setup a wifi network in my home, so I’d love for every tech-related web site I visit to show me the latest deals and setup guides and retailers for wifi gear. I’d actually like the content on all those sites to adjust, as well. I want to see what’s new and interesting at these sites, but they should be able to surface content from deep in their archives that is relevant to the things I’m actively pursuing. My intent should edit the home page for me.

I guess I’m saying that somebody needs to build a service that on one side connects directly into an advertiser’s sales conversion or transaction systems and on the other side distributes marketing links and images for media vehicles to take and optimize. The system should track performance across the chain and offer optimization options at all points along that chain.

Pieces of this exist and some of it is very complicated, I know, but I don’t see why efficiencies can’t be improved. And if enough advertisers are able to offer affiliate programs to track impression-to-click-to-sale, then they may even start competing with eachother and offer better incentives to media vehicles that find customers for them.

Users would see ads for things they want to buy. Advertisers would sell more product. And media vehicles would earn more from the revenue share.  Where’s the down-side?