Vinod Ramachandran, senior product manager for Google’s app install advertising business, reveals the ways games advertising has evolved and breaks down the tech giant’s options for creators looking to get their title noticed
Could you quickly summarise the advertising platforms Google offers to developers?
For a very long period of time we have been helping advertisers harness the power and ability of Google to match user, context and intent with the advertiser's products. We've been trying to create similar opportunities for app developers also.
We have noticed a couple of trends. First, app discoverability continues to remain a huge challenge for developers. If you look at a recent Google study, you will notice that about 80 per cent of the time spent by users on a smartphone are spent in mobile apps and 75 per cent of that time is spent on just four apps. This points to the fact that a majority of app developers are finding it extremely hard to get users to discover their apps. The second thing that we noticed is developers don't just care about installs. They want higher quality, highly engaged users. As you can imagine, that happens a lot when users are searching explicitly for apps.
For the last couple of years or so we have been very laser-focused on building better products and tools for developers to aid in app discovery. In particular, I would highlight the launch of search ads on Google Play last year. Search ads on Google Play is almost a perfect marriage of users showing app download intent with the advertiser's goal of getting their apps discovered. What this enabled was that marketers were able to tap into strong user intent on Google Play and a unique set of inventories that is not accessible elsewhere. That was a huge product launch for us.
Then we started building on top of that to combine user intent as well as context along with Google automation and machine-running capabilities to help developers reach and acquire users across all Google properties with just a single ad campaign. This ad campaign is called the universal ad campaign. It was an incredible simple advertiser experience, but very powerful. All the advertiser needs to do is tell us which app they want to promote. They give us a bid, budget and a creative, and that's it. We go and find users across all of our Google properties including search, Play, YouTube and the display network. It's a single easy way for developers to advertise across all of our properties. We make use of a ton of signals to automatically either decide which ad to serve on which context by looking at things like whether the user is on a mobile phone or a tablet, searching for something or watching a video. There are millions of those signals to automatically decide which ad to serve.
Our clients have found it very simple to use and it also gives them the scale that they always wanted. Our goal is to make this more and more powerful as we go on, make it even simpler so that we can help halt their problem of app discovery and get them highly qualified and highly engaged users.
"Developers are not just counting the number of installs they are getting, but rather how engaged users are."
Vinod Ramachandran, Google
Could you speak about the use of your advertising products by games developers specifically?
Games are obviously a huge part of our app promotion business. We made a recent announcement about the trial run ads that we're experimenting with on Google search. Trial run ads have been available on the display network since late last year. What that allows users to do is be able to play the apps before downloading them. It's a great experience because for the developer they get more qualified and more engaged users, whereas for users they don't have to invest the time in downloading the app and then finding out about the game. They have the opportunity to try it before downloading.
The universal ad campaign has really found success with app developers across a variety of verticals, games included, and in all countries. It's extremely simple and powerful, so many app developers across the spectrum have been successful using it.
Has the way that developers approach advertising their games changed over the last few years for any reason?
Certainly, we have seen a marked shift. Many developers are not as sophisticated as the traditional Google search advertisers. They want something easier, more powerful and their goals are slightly different to what our traditional Google advertisers have been in the past. That's why we have been focused on getting the universal ad campaign as simple as possible.
What we've also noticed is that over the last couple of years, developers are no longer focusing on installs only. Developers are focused on better quality users, they're not just counting the number of installs they are getting, but rather how engaged they are – are they coming back to the app more often? – and things like that. That's a shift that has been happening, continuing to happen and will happen, and we want to make our products even more powerful to get them those engaged users.
You mentioned the trial run ads and the statistic that users spend 80 per cent of their time in apps and games. Have you seen consumers' perception of game app advertising change – do methods such as trial run ads mark a departure from traditional advertising techniques?
I would not call it a departure from the old ways of advertising, but it's definitely an experience that is useful, particularly in the context of app downloads. Because if you think about clicking on an ad and going to a website, it's just an instantaneous experience.
Whereas today, before the trial run ads, people had to check out how good an app is, they had to spend time, spend data and download the app before learning about it. We're making that experience simpler. We hope that our new formats and migrations we are doing across our formats on all of our properties will improve the consumer experience as well.
What advice would you offer to developers looking to advertise their game for the first time?
Absolutely start with the universal ad campaign. It hardly takes a few minutes to set up the campaign. It's a beautiful, simple experience and it gets the scale because it runs across all of the inventory that we have that is eligible to show app ads. Therefore with very little investment developers will start seeing a lot more volume, a lot more engaged users. That would be my strong recommendation if they are just starting.
In terms of advertising rivals, Google obviously faces off against Apple's iOS App Store, but in the wider market it also battles with Facebook. What are your feelings on the competition from those advertising platforms?
That's a great question, but as a general rule we don't comment on what other companies are doing specifically. I will say that I think it's great to see the industry innovating in this.
App discovery continues to be a challenge for a lot of developers, and anything that happens in the industry to make that easier is something that we welcome. Our focus is exactly that and our teams are heads-down on making that happen.
"App discovery continues to be a challenge for a lot of developers."
Vinod Ramachandran, Google
What is the relationship like between browser and smartphone advertising? How does your approach to the platforms differ?
We see users coming to Google across all properties looking for apps, whether it's search or Play, users respond very well to app discovery opportunities on YouTube and across our display network.
As far as possible, we try to make all of these experiences as close to the underlying medium as possible. For example, we obviously have text search ads on Google search, a native-looking ad format on Google Play, a video ad format on YouTube. So it's very natural to the products that the users are looking for.
While our goal is to increase app discovery for developers and introduce new app store users, we also want to make sure the format and experience they see is very native to the platform that they are in.
The other thing I would say is we want to reduce friction and provide users with painless integration to apps. App streaming is one example, through trial run ads, where essentially we are trying to give users the experience of what's inside the app without actually downloading the app.
The other area that we've been investing in is deep linking where you could move directly from the browser to inside of an app, for example from Google search results and directly open an app.
All of these directly enhance user experience on Google. Both app and the web are important to us, and it's incredibly important that they work together well. We are doing everything we can to make the transition as easy as possible for our users.
What are the game app advertising trends you're expecting to come to prominence over the next couple of years?
The advertisers and developers don't have a lot of time, we want them to be able to reach and acquire users as easily as possible. That is going to continue. They are going to seek more and more simple ad formats from platforms like Google, they are going to seek more and more engaged, higher quality users from us.
What we want to focus on is to enhance our machine-learning capabilities, improve our automation and keep up and lead the way so developers can acquire users in as easy as possible a way.