SMX West 2012: Keynote with Susan Wojcicki, SVP Advertising, Google, Inc.

SMX West logoAccording to Google’s 2011 earnings report, 96% of the company’s revenue came from advertising. So the fact we’re about to hear from the head of Google Advertising is a big deal. Here’s a bit about Susan and this keynote from the SMX West agenda:

Susan is responsible for the design, innovation and engineering of all Google’s advertising and measurement platforms including AdWords, AdSense and Google Analytics. The San Jose Mercury News called her “the most important Googler you’ve never heard of,” and Forbes Magazine ranked her #16 on its list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2011. During this keynote conversation, SMX West co-chairs Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman will join Susan to discuss the growth of search advertising, integrating search into your overall marketing strategy and a peek at upcoming Google product releases.

Susan Wojcicki with Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman
Photo courtesy Andy Atkins-Kruger of

Chris says that as Larry and Sergey of Google started the company, they had just moved into Susan’s garage. He’s going to look at infamous garages. He shows a pic of Steve Jobs’ garage, where 50 Apple computers were built. Jeff Bezos’ garage, where he came up with the idea for Amazon. Walt Disney’s garage, where Steamboat Willy was created.  He asks Susan how she got the guys working in her garage, and when she did did she have the sense of what it would become.

Susan says her story starts by saying that the homes in the area are very expensive. She had just graduated with an MBA and had convinced her husband they could buy a home if they rented part of it out. She knew Sergey and Larry and they rented from her. At the time she didn’t know what it would become, people at the time said what did the world need with another search engine? As she used it she had an ah ha moment. Being able to provide great search and provide all this info was the future. She says she didn’t work for the company while they lived at her home – that would have been too great a commute. However she did get the benefit of their cable modem. Free cable!

Danny remembers when ads were first introduced in Google search and search marketers weren’t happy about it. Things have changed. That was 2003. At the time AdSense was simple – contextual targeting, opt in or out. There’s no lots of display formats, other targeting, tools to decide where to run – AdSense has grown by offering options for advertisers. You can be on so many different sites and have the controls to manage it. The way the display business has evolved, not just having networks but buying on exchange, and on cross exchange – at the time she didn’t anticipate how sophisticate AdSense would have. It was difficult to explain but it was simple in the sense that you had a campaign, you were matched contextually, and you opted in or out.

Chris says that Google moved away from a classic model of 50% of ad money is wasted to having really good metrics. This is coming back in a certain sense with privacy concerns. Changes to the privacy policy are happening and it seems like Google’s working hard to be transparent, and yet is getting a lot of flack and criticism.

Susan says that Google has taken it very seriously – balancing needs of users from a privacy standpoint and providing a good advertising experience. When they used a cookie on the AdSense network they made sure to follow their 3 main principles:

  • control – opt out
  • notification – it’s explained outright
  • transparent – ads preference manager

At the time no other network had the same notification levels and a preference manager. Once users saw it, they were comfortable with it. Users who go there add as much as remove. There will always be a lot of balances in this industry, but having these three things are the key to a good experience.

A lot of this is new. We’re all professionals. But most poeple don’t really understand. The more you can explain it simply, the more informed choices they can make.

Chris says that the attention by policy makers is unprecedented. How do you balance the public perceptions and continue to provide products that people in this room value?

Susan says that they’re at the point where there is change and people want to understand it. Google is a leader in this marketplace. Go back and look at the concern given to coupons, VCRs, and any new technology – there will be questions and concerns. She remembers getting the notification about the privacy change 20 or 30 times and multiple ways. After notifying and explaining clearly, at the end of the day, their trying to be transparent.

Danny asks why are regulatory bodies not showing the same amount of concern to other companies doing similar things. Susan says it’s hard to comment why regulators focus on Google as opposed to other providers. She thinks that a lot of people didn’t understand that the only thing that changed was the policy – not their practices. As more changes, there will be more notification. She thinks sometimes people confuse the two. This gives them the ability to think about how to create great products with the new opportunities open to them. For instance, features that talk between products will be good for users, as info from Gmail, calendars and maps all come together.

Chris Sherman, Danny Sullivan, Susan Wojcicki
Photo courtesy Andy Atkins-Kruger of

Chris asks Susan to speak about acquistions. Susan explains that there are places and times where it makes sense to do an acquisition: if there’s a reason they don’t think they can build it. Momentum, know how, time to market. In the market, time matters, speed to delivery matters. If they can acquire a company and put together a solution that’s better, a team with knowledge, installed base, that’s really useful. DoubleClick, YouTube have been good acquisitions from an ad perspective, has built out their ad portfolio faster. People dynamics is something Google cares about when thinking about acquisitions as well.

Next Danny asks about Google+. Susan says that Google has acknowledged early user privacy problems with the network, and made fixing it and communicating about it priority. Google asks their users on Google+ whether or not they want to opt in.

Chris says that retargeting and remarketing is great way from an advertiser standpoint. Then there’s the creep factor for users. How does Google balance that, from an advertiser standpoint of giving qualified leads, to users who don’t want be followed. Susan says that it works for marketers because it’s effective. It also works for users because it’s things they’re interested in. Everything is a balance at the end of the day. Users want to see ads for products and services that are useful and relevant. They also want to make sure users are comfortable with it.

Chris says that Google moving into social in a big way has implications for advertisers. Susan says that the first step for any marketer on Google+ is to have a Plus page. Be there. As marketers create those pages its important to make them fresh, interesting. There are interesting things being done with hangouts, for instance. With ads being able to be +1ed, ads work just like content. It’s valuable to understand who has +1ed sites and search results, they can with ads too. This reflects how endorsement works in the real world. The more the real world can be reflected online, the better the experience.

Danny asks if Susan can define what Google+ as a social network – what are the top 5 things Google hopes to get from Google+? Susan says the company’s view is that it’s the next generation of Google products. This next generation is different because users are logged in and are telling Google about themselves. Because of this the experience can be more customized than ever before. It’s an opportunity for Google to deliver services across their products. How will search change and be different in the next generation? Should the same results be delivered to everyone who types one keyword? That’s what Google+ is about – much more personal and useful experiences. It’s still early days so people may not understand it, but that’s the vision they’re moving toward.

Is mobile finally here and how is Google embracing that, asks Chris. Mobile ahs been a huge and interesting and important change, Susan says. She’s noticed that when a change in technology is so big, it may not even be noticed because it instantly becomes something we can’t live without. Google is investing in all areas, but it’s still early. A lot of advertisers still don’t have mobile landing pages. When that’s addressed they’ll be able to make creatives interactive like mobile apps. She says that everything that can be done with a mobile app should be able to be done to a mobile ad. Then there’s tablets, which people are using their free time with. The tools are just being created for that and exciting things are to come.

On the last earnings call, analysts were concerned that cost per clicks had gone down. Should they be that concerned? Susan says that there was a change in CPCs last quarter that surprised investors. However, they look at the overall ecosystem and the performance of the monetization on the page, and the combination of CPC and paid clicks.

Chris wants to ask about how Susan grew into who she is, from her personal background. Susan grew up on the Stanford campus because her father was a professor. Everyone she knew growing up were professors and she had a high appreciation for knowledge as people around her had great passion for their topics. This is consistent with Google – a desire for helping people find information and get to the bottom of knowledge, how to push the limits and offer better services globally. Her grandmother was a librarian at the Library of Congress for like 40 years. She wonders what she’d think about what she does, but she sometimes thinks that this is the new version of it. Google is the information tool of today – people would ask her for info and she’d go to the stacks. Now people go to Google. She feels like she’s following in this tradition.

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

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