Google Plus Ads: Will There Be Any & What Will They Look Like?

When Google+ enthusiasts brag about their favorite social network, one of their top talking points is “no ads!” This has been fueled by a persistent belief among G+ users that Google+ leadership has promised to never have ads on the social network. But has there ever been such a promise? The belief that there is seems to have been fueled by isolated statements by Google+ top brass at conferences and in interviews.

Image representing Bradley Horowitz as depicte...

Image by Web 2.0 via CrunchBase

For example, in a late-November 2012 interview at the IGNITION Conference, Google+ Vice President Bradley Horowitz, when asked if there would be ads on Google+ similarly to Facebook, quipped, “We don’t need ads to make next week’s payroll.”  He went on to say:

It’s much more useful (and less annoying) to users to show social recommendations instead of ads. For example, he said, if you search for a product in Google – say a microwave – you can see which one your Google+ contacts recommend.

Elsewhere Horowitz compared Facebook’s style of advertising to someone walking through your conversation wearing a sandwich board.

“Jamming ads and agendas into user streams is pissing off users and frustrating brands too,” he said. “That’s not the way the world works.” [Tweet this quote!]

That certainly sounds like an intention not to show ads in Google+. Horowitz is saying they don’t need to, so why should they? So where does Google+ advertise? Via the personalized search results Google+ users get when they use Google Search. In other words, the Google+ “ads” are the ads you already see: AdWords in Google Search.

Image representing Vic Gundotra as depicted in...

Image by Google via CrunchBase

This seems to be reinforced by Google+ head Vic Gundotra’s remarks at a SXSW live chat with Guy Kawasaki this past summer. Vic talked about his conviction that when people come to a social site, they come there to be social, not with commercial intent. So social sites, he said, are probably not the best place to serve up ads. He compared it to being at a baseball game with billboards on the outfield fence. People are there to watch the game, not read ads. It’s less effective.

Then Guy said, “Are you saying that for the foreseeable future there will be no ads in the Google+ album?” (I’m not clear why Guy asked only about photo albums.) Vic responded, “That’s correct. In the photo album, we have no plans to inject ads.”

“We think we know and believe that it’s a better user experience when your friend sees a recommendation of a restaurant in Napoli when its in a search for a restaurant in Napoli.”

Next Vic went on to provide a hypothetical example. He said suppose you were interested in a new Canon camera, so you go on Google Search to find out about it. In the past you would have been served up with links to articles on various web pages. But now you also get personalized results showing content and recommendations from your friends and from experts you follow. So say you follow popular photographer Thomas Hawke on Google+. If he’s written a G+ post reviewing that new Canon camera, Google will surface that for you when you are searching about the camera.

Google Search Is Google+’s Ad Stream

How does that help contribute to Google’s ad revenue though? Why is it that when asked about advertising in Google+, Horowitz and Gundotra immediately jump to talking about Google Search?

Because they believe those recommendations so improve your search when you are in the “moment of intent” of making a purchase, that Google search becomes more useful to you, and thus their ad revenue goes up.

Understand this: Google’s Search ads are the ad network of Google+. [Tweet this!]

This is why they don’t need to put ads on the Google+ interface. When you really wrap your brain around this, you see how absolutely brilliant the construction of Google+ is. This is what Google missed with every previous attempt they had made at a social network.

Google+ is different because of its intimate integration with all thing Google. It is, as Vic Gundotra is often fond of saying, the social layer of Google. And because of that, they don’t need to show ads on it.

As Vic pointed out in his SXSW chat, not only do they not need to annoy users with ads on their social platform, they realize that such ads are less effective for the advertisers. Interrupting users with ads when they aren’t in the moment of intent to buy something is old school advertising. It’s why Facebook ads on the average have about a 0.05% CTR while Google AdWords ads average around 2% (source).

So advertisers, wondering when you’ll be able to advertise on Google+? The answer: you already can. It’s called AdWords, and it works on Google search, where people who use Google+ are getting more and more value through personalization of their search results.

So, Will There Never Ever Never Be Ads on Google+?

I don’t think anyone at Google+ would be foolish enough to take that pledge. CNET quoted Brad Horowitz from the Business Insider conference as follows:

When asked if Google+ will ever incorporate ads, Horowitz said it would do so if there’s an effective way to add them without upsetting users. “We aren’t struggling with how to monetize,” he said. “We have real plans.” [Tweet this quote!]

So what’s clear to me is that, for the foreseeable future, Google+’s priority is with making its user base happy, and that user base has strongly indicated that it doesn’t like Facebook-style ads. Recently several very heated discussion threads popped up when some users spotted in their sidebar what they felt was an ad: a link to a free download of Guy Kawasaki’s ebook What the Plus (a guide to using Google+).  Both Vic Gundotra and Guy Kawasaki confirmed to me that this was just a “promotion,” not a paid ad, but the incident indicated how entitled established G+ users feel to an ad free environment.

One of the things that regular Google+ users are pleasantly surprised by is how much the “owners’ interact with regular users about the platform. Several hundred Google employees can be found who regularly post comments and answer questions on users threads, and not a few users have been shocked and surprised to find a +1 or even a comment from Vic Gundotra himself. That doesn’t happen on any other major social network I’m aware of. It indicates to me that the leadership of Google+ is sincere in their concern that users have a good experience on the platform. When I put all these things together, it allows me to make with confidence the statement that I think it will be a long, long time (if ever) before we see real ads on Google+. And even if they come, they will be in some creative and well-integrated form that ads to the user’s experience, rather than interrupting it.

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  1. Great article, Mark. Why do I find it so hard to really believe that Google will not show ads in G+? I know a lot of people are happy to hear this. But as I think about promoting pages, it’s going to be tougher, if we have to rely on traditional Google Search alone.


  2. Sounds right… and I heard Vic tell me to my face that there is no need for ads in our social space… hope he can stick to that!


  3. This makes perfect sense, Mark. G+ is the personal data mind which makes Google Search so attractive to advertisers.

    They continue to spend a lot of resources to make Google+ both a pleasant social experience for users and a better option for businesses to reach out to clients.

    As Horowitz says, we don’t need a guy with a sandwich board walking between us while we’re having a conversation.
    Google provides many ways for businesses to lead clients to their G+ Page; +1’s, badges, Authorship and now, Adwords Express.


  4. If it ain’t broke ♠ don’t fix it ♠ Plus is doing its part to ensure social signals + shares become the currency of choice


  5. I’m a bit shocked by the reaction on both sides of the issue. I saw the book down there the day it came out, and I thought, “This is a good thing”. I think it is primarily due to the growth we are all seeing these days. Frankly, Google+ is exploding with new users, they are hard not to spot if you manage a Community. I think the reaction by some is frankly jealousy, but Guy wrote a book that deserves, if any, to get the exposure. More power to him, and I think Google handled it in a balanced way.


  6. Since I didn’t mention this in the post, I’ll clarify for anyone reading this not familiar with what J.C. is referring to. Today some Google+ users noticed a little promo Google+ had in the sidebar of users’ streams that invited users to download a free copy of Guy Kawasaki’s ebook about Google+. Some of these users reacted strongly against this, proclaiming it as evidence that Google+ was going to begin to put ads in their streams.


  7. Great points. Good information. I agree.

    We won’t see ads on Google+… for now.

    Right now the big benefit to Google is that Google+ is providing great personalization data that makes their search (and even more importantly their display advertising) more relevant. They want more people putting their demographic data into Google+. It is working. Keeping ads off the platform increase the chances of that moving forward.

    Once they are the true “white pages” of the Internet (as Facebook already is), they will put ads on it.

    I would almost stake my life on it. I’m so certain of it.


  8. You could be right, of course. I’ve been sharing this post some of the time with the headline “Why I’m Sure Google+ Will Never Have Ads,” but I’ll admit that was intentional hyperbole 😉 Of course “never” is a long, long time, and I’d be foolish to think Google+ would take such a pledge (they haven’t).

    That being said, I do think it will be a long time before we would see any, and even then, I don’t expect them to be as blatant as Facebook ads. In a recent cNET interview VP Brad Horowitz said that if they ever did have ads, they would come up with a way for them not to be intrusive on the user’s social experience.


  9. I’m going to update my post with the Horowitz quote, as it brings some perspective. Here it is:

    When asked if Google+ will ever incorporate ads, Horowitz said it would do so if there’s an effective way to add them without upsetting users.
    “We aren’t struggling with how to monetize,” he said. “We have real plans.”


  10. Makes sense to me. As Google says in its ads for AdWords, “Who wants a guitar? People who are searching for guitars.”



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