Live Blogging the Google (Susan Wojcicki) SMX West Keynote

Danny Sullivan, Chris Sherman and Google SVP of Advertising Susan Wojcicki are now seated for her on-stage keynote interview this morning at SMX West. It’s a capacity crowd as Chris Sherman introduces Wojcicki as “one of the 50 most influential business executives” (Forbes). He also characterizes her as someone “you may not have heard of at Google.”

Chris then leads off with a humorous slide-show of famous garages in Silicon Valley and beyond: HP, Apple, Google, Walt Disney and Amazon. Now the serious part begins. (The dialogue below is paraphrased.)

The Early Days 

Chris: When you first let Larry and Sergey into your garage did you have any idea what you’d be getting into?

Wojcicki: We had just bought our house and I convinced by husband that we could afford the mortgage if we rented part of it out. So we rented the garage to help pay our mortgage. They [Page, Brin] weren’t allowed to walk in through the front door.

(Wojcicki was working at Intel immediately before she began at Google.)

She says that the more she used Google in those early days the more she realized what an important product it was. She had her “aha” moment when the servers went down one day and Google was unavailable; she really felt its absence.

Reflections on Changes in AdSense

Danny: What are the biggest shifts in AdSense from 2003 (when you last spoke at this conference)?

Wojcicki: We have lots more formats and controls for Google display ads now. I could never have anticipated how sophisticated AdSense would become and how many options and controls would develop for advertisers. For example, now we have exchanges and real-time bidding.

Google’s Privacy Policy Changes

Chris is the first to raise privacy issues with the impending changes to Google’s privacy policy. “You’re being transparent about what you’re doing but you’re getting a lot of flack.” Chris asks her to explain how privacy issues may impact Google’s display network and targeting capabilities in the future.

Wojcicki: We’re trying to balance advertiser and consumer interests. We did not have a cookie on the AdSense network until we acquired DoubleClick. She goes on to explain Google’s three main principles around privacy:

  • Control (users can opt out)
  • Notification (information about who’s serving the ads, etc.)
  • Transparency (e.g., ad preference manager)

Most people don’t really understand this (privacy). The more you can explain things in a simple way to them the more they can make choices. This is what Google is striving for she says.

People have always been concerned about new technologies. But we’ve tried to be clear and notify people about what we’re doing. We’re trying to be transparent and explain things in simple English.

At the end of the day there is going to be change, this is new. People need to understand it, they’re trying digest it.

Danny is empathizing with Google around the challenges of making privacy policy changes and the regulatory scrutiny the company is getting. He asks why is this scrutiny not happening to Google’s competitors.

Wojcicki declines to comment on why others are receiving the same attention. She says there’s misunderstanding around what’s happening, however. She says the changes are ultimately about building better products “because we understand more about you.”  We want to enable our products to talk more together and make better products by better understanding our users.

That’s what’s really driving our privacy policy changes, she says. When we actually make changes we’ll notify our users about what’s happening.

On Acquisitions She’s Been Involved With

Chris asks about what acquisitions Wojcicki has been involved with. She says YouTube and DoubleClick, among others. She says that she’s involved with most of the ad-related acquisitions.

Wojcicki: If we don’t think we can build it or do it fast enough . . . that’s when we think about buying companies. Time to market is a factor. Time matters. DoubleClick has been a wonderful acquisition for us; so has YouTube.

She adds that are a lot of “people dynamics” when you acquire a company.

Google+ (and Safarigate) 

Danny asks about the Safari opt-in cookie workaround. Wojcicki says “there’s been a lot of coverage” about Safari and “we acknowledged the mistake.” We’re still in the process of fixing it. We’re fixing it as fast as we can. We try and acknowledge mistakes and fix them.

If a user opts-in to our services how does that work in a situation like Safari, which has a default opt-out? “But we’ve acknowledged our mistake.”

Retargeting, the “Creep Factor” and “Do Not Track”  

Wojcicki: Retargeting works because it’s effective. She cites SMX conference ad targeting as an example of successful retargeting. “I was seeing my face [on that ad] on every site I visited.”  She says, “Everything is a balance at the end of the day. Users want to see ads are useful and relevant. But we need to make sure that users are comfortable with it.”

Danny asks about how “do not track” might work (or not) with retargeting. The Obama consumer privacy bill of rights is an industry initiative, she says. Google is fully participating: “We’ve made recommendations that are very balanced.”

Users will have the ability to opt-out. But we’ll need to track some things to prevent fraud and make sure that “the internet continues to work.”

Moving into Social “in a Big Way” 

Chris: Google+ has implications for users and advertisers as well. He invites her to comment on the advertiser side of Google+.

Wojcicki: The first step is for advertisers to have Google+ pages. “That’s step uno. Be on Google; have a Google+ page.”  Hangouts provides a really interesting way for businesses to provide customer support and other services. She cites several examples of companies using Hangouts.

We’ve enabled ads to be +1′d. The idea is that ads work just like content. “That’s the way the real world works.” She likens Google+ and +1s to word of mouth and recommendations.

Danny: Define what Google+ means for Google. What are the top 5 things Google hopes to get from Google+?

Wojcicki: This is part of the next generation of Google products. Our users are logged in and they’re telling thing about themselves. We can customize results in ways that we couldn’t otherwise. It’s a way to work across our products and create more relevance and personal experiences for users.

She rhetorically asks: How will search be different 10 years from now? If I type in “best vacations,” should I get the same results as everyone else? How do we make the information more useful, relevant. Google+ is about moving to that next generation experience, making search better and more relevant.

“Mobile Is Finally Here”

Chris: Every year we talk about the year of mobile; is mobile finally here?

Wojcicki: We can’t live without our smartphones. But in terms of ads, there are a lot of advertisers and SEMs who don’t have mobile landing pages. That’s the first step. Then: how to you add location? How do you make creative more interactive? Especially on tablets; those creatives can be really interactive and engaging.

Mobile is really here, she says.

Wojcicki also discusses click to call. She explains that PPC and C2C were linked in the beginning but then Google enabled the ability to bid separately on calls.

Danny: how’s that going? Wojcicki: It’s been good. She expounds on the virtues and value of calls — especially for local merchants.

About the Last Earnings Call and the Decline of Paid Clicks

Wojcicki: We did have a change in CPCs last quarter and it did surprise some investors.  We do make changes from time to time and they affect paid clicks sometimes. We try and think holistically about the page.

(I missed a good deal of the discussion here.)

On Her Background and Her Parents’ Influence

Chris asks Wojcicki about how her parents’ influence shaped her. (Her dad is a Stanford physics professor and her mom is a teacher.) She says that growing up on the Stanford campus gave her a passion and appreciation for knowledge. At Google there is a similar passion . . . to help people to discover and find information.

Wojcicki: My grandmother was a librarian at the Library of Congress for a long time. Google is the “modern version” of that. In some ways I feel like I’m following that tradition.

Q&A Session: 

Q: how do you balance pushing out new product features (in AdWords) with the need to keep your advertisers and advertising ecosystem efficient in their daily lives.

Wojcicki: Our goal is to do both — to offer new features that will drive more leads and improve the user experience. But we also try to focus on things that need improvement and offer the next version of features we already have.

We’re trying to go back and figure out, what are the essential features and how to we streamline and simplify them for advertisers?  I’m trying to give our engineering team visibility into the core issues that advertisers face.

Q: Comment: organic results are being pushed down the page. Are organic results being deemphasized because you’re getting pressure [missed reference to sources of pressure] . . .

Wojcicki: She says that organic results aren’t being deemphasized but says, “We have added features to ads and they are taking up more space” (with sitelinks, etc.). But sometimes ads are the most useful and relevant information if someone is looking to buy something. Our decisions are driven by trying to come up with the right experience for the “whole page,” balancing between search results and the ads.

Q: The individual asks about how ads are presented as a negative to users and what does Google think about that.

Wojcicki: Advertising can be really compelling and useful. The question is making it relevant, showing the right ads at the right time. If we’re successful then users will be less irritated by ads. Ads are just information.

Danny: Will online ads get to the place where we actually like the ads — like Super Bowl ads where we tune in to watch them?

Wojcicki: How do we get to the place where we offer rich experiences in advertising and make those experiences more personal? That’s what we’re trying to do. She cites the yellow pages: “Everything you see in the yellow pages you see is an ad. The bigger ads are generally seen as better.”

Danny: What’s the “next big thing” (major paraphrase)?

Wojcicki: I’ll tell you my most amazing ad experience. She goes on to discuss the experience of trying to find a Chinese (Mandarin) teach for her three year old daughter. She got recommendations from friends in email and Gmail matched the teacher’s actual ad (with contact info) to the Gmail messages. “It was completely serendipitous.”

And we’re done.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Google | Google: Business Issues | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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