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Google is giving advertisers more ways to target YouTube users

Google is giving advertisers more ways to target YouTube users


Part of Google’s growing effort to build search-based ad tools outside its core search engine

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The YouTube logo on a black background
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google is expanding its use of lucrative search-based advertising tools on YouTube, to help advertisers target potential customers as they search for everything from products to movie trailers on the video site. The news, announced this morning at Advertising Week and reported by CNBC, marks a shift in how Google treats YouTube. Increasingly, the company is relying on YouTube as an extension of its core search engine instead of a separate entity. To help drive home the point, Google representatives told the crowd at Advertising Week that YouTube is the second most popular search engine in America, behind Google Search.

The logic makes sense, and Google says it has data to prove that many people who search for products, movies, and other items on Google Search then head over to YouTube to watch reviews, unboxing videos, and other content related to the product. From there, Google says it can effectively target those customers. For instance, searching for movie reviews on Google Search and then heading over to YouTube to watch a trailer may trigger an ad for showtimes at your local AMC theater. Google is calling the tool “ad extensions for video.”

Google is trying to better compete with Amazon and Facebook by expanding search ads

For Google, expanding its ad business is a key component to staving off competition from Facebook and, increasingly, Amazon, which has been building a powerful, product-based ad business based off Amazon product searches. Today, Google makes nearly $100 billion a year. A majority of that revenue comes from ads, a majority of that ad revenue is search-based advertising powered by Google’s AdWords, AdSense, and DoubleClick technologies. However, Google’s dominance in web advertising is tied to the strength of the web, and more companies, like Amazon and Facebook, are cutting into that by locking customers and the behaviors that would drive targeted ads into their own ecosystems. Every time an internet user spends time on Facebook or searches for products directly on Amazon instead of Google is a potential loss for the search giant’s ad business.

So it makes sense that Google would turn to YouTube, which is the country’s most popular video site and could help power a new breed of search advertising that takes into account behaviors across a bigger swath of Google’s network. Only last year did Google start letting advertisers target ads on YouTube based on that individual user’s search habits on the site itself, as opposed to just running ads against the type of content a user was watching. Now, it looks like Google is integrating its search ad tech more directly into the YouTube ecosystem.

Of course, that won’t come without some concerns about privacy, as users who like to keep their Google and YouTube habits separate from one another might find it ever more difficult to use the company’s products without feeling like ads are following them everywhere. Just last month, Google found itself mired in a controversy over Chrome version 69, which would automatically log users into the browser if they logged into an accompanying Gmail or YouTube account through Chrome. The change would allow Google to more easily track behaviors across all of those sites, tie them to a single account, and more effectively target ads.

The shift caused an outcry from critics and privacy advocates, and Google has since announced a way to disable the feature in Chrome 70, due out later this month. Still, it was a telling demonstration of Google’s eagerness to turn its web of products, nearly all of which command more than 1 billion users each, into a more cohesive network to rival the amount of data and personalization that Facebook has been able to offer advertisers for years now. It looks like that won’t slow down any time soon, and that we should expect more ad-based Google products to increasingly work together in the future.