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In January 2017, YouTube announced a significant change to the way ads will be targeted to viewers. Thus far, that change has largely flown under the radar of consumer privacy advocates, but it has huge implications nonetheless. Instead of just targeting ads based on other YouTube videos that you have watched, YouTube will now take into account your recent Google search history.
In search of more relevant ads
According to execs at YouTube, this is being done so that more relevant ads can be shown to users. How many times have you seen ads in the pre-roll to a YouTube video and furiously clicked “skip ad”? Well, YouTube is trying to avoid that type of scenario, which is (presumably) the result of showing you ads that aren’t relevant. If YouTube can show more relevant ads to consumer, though, that automatically makes YouTube more relevant to advertisers.
So now YouTube has a secret weapon in its arsenal – and that’s loads of Google search data. If YouTube knows that you recently searched for a retail product, for example, it would then be able to serve up a relevant ad in any video that you watch. Maybe you’ve searched for “new baseball mitt” on Google – well, you might then see ads from sporting good stores, offering all kinds of baseball-related products.
The specific example that YouTube gave was someone searching for “winter coats.” (That was back in January, so that would have been a very relevant search at the time!) A recent Google search for “winter coats” would be a great time for Wal-Mart or some other big retailer to show you an ad for new winter coats!
The blurring of the line between search and advertising
Google and YouTube, of course, are part of the same company – Alphabet, Inc. (the company formerly known as just Google). For years, there has been a wall between search products and advertising-related products. That’s mostly due to the need to avoid attracting the attention of consumer privacy advocates, who fear that consumer search data is going to be used in nefarious ways by advertisers. Imagine how embarrassing it would be if you were secretly searching for “best condoms” on Google, and all of a sudden, every YouTube video you watched for the next month showed ads for Trojan condoms or Viagra!
Of course, if you’re an advertiser, this change in the way search data is used is going to result in a potential goldmine. It means that Google is finally breaking down the wall between search and advertising (the same way that media companies have broken down the wall between editorial and advertising). YouTube, of course, says it has no other choice, given that Facebook is now able to provide much better targeted ads with all the data that the company has about you.
Understanding purchase intent
Right now, if you were a fashion brand selling winter coats (to use the YouTube example), which platform would you rather advertise on, Facebook or YouTube? Until January 2017, the easy answer would have been Facebook. But now YouTube is a potential answer. What shows greater “purchase intent” – a recent search on Google for “best winter coats of 2017” or the fact that you recently liked a page about a winter music festival? Obviously, the search data is way more reflective of purchase intent.
So, if you’re a small business or brand looking to reach more potential customers, don’t forget about YouTube. Now that the mythical “wall” between search and advertising is being torn down, it will be a lot easier for Google and YouTube to share data. And that’s going to make YouTube a lot more attractive place to advertise. You’ll know when people really want to buy your products.