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Google’s mobile tracking: the “holy grail? ” advertising

ByCindy J. Daddario

Nov 7, 2013


The news that Google is constantly following the whereabouts of people is making agency executives salivate. While its beta tracking program is currently limited to connecting Google’s mobile search to store visits, it represents a significant step towards achieving Google’s “holy grail of advertising,” according to an executive who was informed by Google .

This holy grail is connecting users’ location data with all the other information users provide to Google through its suite of desktop and mobile products. Agency managers see an opportunity to follow consumers through every step of the buying funnel: from the initial intention (a Google search for “shoes” on a computer, for example) to the final purchase ( using the smartphone’s location data to track that person’s subsequent visit to a shoe store).

Ray Velez, cto of digital agency Razorfish, said this is potentially transformative for “attribution analysis” – by tracking people’s internet (and real world) activity on devices and services, Google will be able to prove that an ad seen on one of its many channels led to a purchase elsewhere. The better Google can show that its ads are effective, the more attractive the business to advertisers.

Google, which declined a request for comment, mentioned the measure of “cross-device conversions” in an October 1 blog post.

Sean McDonald, Vice President and Group Director of SEO at DigitasLBi, illustrated the importance of the program with the following scenario: A consumer Google searches for “sunglasses” on their computer and clicks on a paid search ad to a chain of sunglasses (thus showing an intention to buy). That same person then searches for that channel on their Google Maps mobile app, again signaling purchase intent, and is able to see where the nearest location is. Once inside the store, he opens his Gmail app – which has location sharing, telling Google that he has visited that offline store.

The obvious privacy concerns aside, there are plenty of stars that need to line up for this chain of events to unfold. The user should be ready to click on a Google ad, should want to bother finding a store, should sign up for location services on their Gmail app, and then open their Gmail while in the store.

But McDonald’s – who was not made aware of the offline program under beta testing – added that Google’s tracking ability would be even greater if Google Wallet ever reached critical mass. And if Google were able to tie users’ detailed in-store purchases to the pre-roll ads they saw while watching YouTube, then this would have an incredibly compelling proposition for marketers.

“If there was a way to have a universal Google Analytics tag and you could create that holistic view through a mobile app and desktop experience, you’ll be able to generate more relevant ads,” said Velez de Razorfish. .

Google is trying to create this holistic web experience for users (and advertisers) by trying to get people to log into its various desktop services. Google’s Chrome web browser and its Google Maps desktop site work best if a user is signed in with their Gmail account, for example. In September, Google made setting up a Google+ account a prerequisite for leaving comments on YouTube.

For its mobile applications, Google not only asks users to sign in with their Gmail accounts, it asks them to constantly share their location with Google. The intended effect of this two-pronged strategy is to envelop internet users in a cohesive Google ecosystem and, in turn, increase the value of its advertising products.

“Once you start following people on mobile, we can have a plan for all of the channels we use,” said Michael Collins, CEO of mobile ad targeting company Adelphic. “If I’m able to build a behavioral database based on where that user has been, that makes the media more valuable. “

Google’s Mobile Tracking: The Advertising ‘Holy Grail?’