The Feed Is Coming. Here’s How Google Could Monetize It
If you use the Google app on your mobile device, you may already be aware of Google’s recent addition of a newsfeed, a Facebook-y, portal-like feature that allows would-be searchers to skip the search completely and dive right into new content relevant to their interests (based on their past searches as well as topics they opt into, plus Google’s now ever-present machine learning algos). It looks like this.
If you’re Mark Irvine, this feature makes you very nervous:
Well, prepare to get even nervouser. Google just announced that “the feed” will soon extend beyond the mobile app to appear on Google’s homepage across devices.
Outside of sounding like a low-budget horror flick, and G apparently thinking its user base is comprised solely of Brooklynite neckbeards (“Whether you’re a pet-loving, Nietzsche-reading, sports fanatic; a hip-hop head and burgeoning brewmaster; or anything in between, your feed should fit your fancy”), the feed appears to be a perfectly practical application for app users who don’t want to bounce between search and social for news updates.
But wait, there’s more!
Per the BBC, Google plans to implement the feed on Google.com as well; the media outlet also claims that “the focus of the service [is] to make Google more useful and drive users to its other services,” but there are no (public) plans for monetization. Yet.
What is The Feed?
Simply put, the feed is Google’s answer to Facebook’s News Feed and Twitter’s, well, Twitter-ness.
A reality: Search is all about intent. This positions Google as the apex ad platform, a place where advertisers can reach prospects at any point during the sales cycle based on the words typed (or spoken) by those prospects. The ROI is awesome because you're only bidding on terms that show intent relevant to your wares.
When it comes to news, though, people prefer a little bit of serendipity. Google doesn’t really do serendipity. Sorry, didn’t do.
Per Google, the feed’s goal is to make it “easier than ever to discover, explore and stay connected to what matters to you—even when you don’t have a query in mind.” How does it accomplish this? The cards in your feed are “not only based on your interactions with Google, but also factors in what’s trending in your area and around the world. The more you use Google, the better your feed will be.”
Incentivized activity? Limitless utility? Tell me that isn’t the foundation for a new revenue stream and I’ll never believe another word you say.
Before I get to the speculation about how the feed-as-ad-platform might exist, some credit where credit is due.
The Feed: The First Step Towards A Balanced Media Diet
Unlike Twitter (where I get most of my news), the feed can grow and evolve without exacerbating the curated media echo chambers in which the majority of us reside.
Again, here’s Google: “To provide information from diverse perspectives, news stories may have multiple viewpoints from a variety of sources, as well as other related information and articles. And when available, you’ll be able to fact check and see other relevant information to help get a more holistic understanding about the topics in your feed.”
The ability to synthesize informed thought based on multiple sources, how novel!
In all seriousness, this is really cool. Comparably interesting, at least from an SEM perspective, is the fact that the topics in a user’s feed link to a SERP (you know, one with ads).
And now, some advertiser-focused speculation…
How Will Google Monetize The Feed
Note: that wasn’t a question.
Without a stated path towards monetizing the feed, a lukewarm take might be something like…
“The ‘follow’ button will be used to create audiences for advertisers to use on existing channels”
“Turning to Google for news, sports, culture, etc. instead of Facebook/Twitter will incite more searches (from links and due to an influx in overall use), which in turn means more opportunity for Google to sell text ads on the SERP.”
Google didn’t monopolize search by glossing over valuable opportunities in the name of altruism (“helping people find information!”) , and that’s exactly what the feed is: a valuable opportunity for Google to monetize native ads and audience-targeting.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always yearned for a side of “you’ll never believe what these 9 child stars look like today” on my SERP.
The feed seems like the perfect place for Google to test native ads in a very big way. The tiny white and green “Ad” tag appended to text ads makes it clear(ish) to searchers that the results atop their SERP were paid for; how will Google go about distinguishing between curated news, opinions, and an “article” about buying a new pair of shoes written and paid for by BIG SHOE?
I’m all for a new approach to news (we need it), but the potential for it to become bogged down with clickbait feels very real.
As I mentioned earlier, search is fantastic because intent is clear; audience-based targeting (the likes of which you use on Facebook) represents a different kind of value.
While audiences on the Display Network are relatively robust, they don’t hold a candle to the audiences available on Facebook (or even LinkedIn).
But imagine if Google had information on exactly what you like, how long you’ve been into it, and how your preferences shift over time; that’d be pretty damn valuable to advertisers, don’t you think?
Whether these potential audiences would be used to target users via Search and Display or with (speculative) native ads is anyone’s guess; that being said, it seems completely logical to assume Google would implement a means of testing pure, audience-based targeting—a keyword-free model of targeting outside of the third-party dependent Display Network—in a way that doesn’t disrupt their existing ecosystem (and by “ecosystem,” I mean “substantial revenue stream”).
There’ll be some gorgeous irony in the use of Dr Seuss’s “there is no one alive who is you-er than you” quote if your you gets lumped in with a bunch of similar you’s, shaken up, packaged, and sold as a top-of-funnel targeting method to enterprising individuals.
Do people really want a new home page that’s not social media based?
Google has attempted to chase the Facebook experience before. It didn’t go well.
It’s also a bit presumptuous of the Search juggernaut to assume that people want a new home page that doesn’t simultaneously inform them of foreign affairs, the Sox, and what their pal ordered at Taco Bell.
While the feed could very well be the future of digital news consumption, a source for content that exists outside of users’ pre-existing points of view, I’m infinitely more interested in how Google lets us use it to grow our brands and push existing prospects down the funnel with yet another touchpoint. We'll keep an eye on it, and let you know how things develop!