Google's ad boss Susan Wojcicki: "We’re creating the future"

Elisabeth Braw · 20 Nov 2013
Uppdaterad 20 Nov 2013

The Google ad boss and world’s most powerful advertising executive describes to Metro how to make adverts work in a digital, user-generated age.


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Without her,  you’d have to pay to be online. Susan  Wojcicki, the  Google executive in charge of advertising, is the  woman behind AdWords, the  ads that accompany every Google search. Every year Wojcicki rakes  tens  of billions in ad business for Google and was recently named ‘the world’s  most important person in advertising. Metro met  her  in the sunny garden outside her  of- fice at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.►Svensk version: ”Du kan alltid välja ett annat företag”

How much money does advertising generate for Google, and is it enough? The vast majority of Google’s revenue is advertising-based. Google keeps  growing because  more and more of our lives is moving online. Users are doing  more searches, there’s obviously mobile, and there’s video. Advertisers go where users  go.

How much revenue does your  team bring in? Tens of billions of dollars.

How do you ensure you’re on top of these trends? – [My team and I] try to predict what the internet and our dig- ital lives are going to look like in two-three years, and we build  for that future. In a lot of ways, we’re thinking, living and creating that future. Your team studies users to figure out  what makes them click on a link. Do you have psychologists on staff? Based on whether or not  us- ers are clicking on different ads, we can figure  out what’s working and not  working. But yes, we also have people who study  user  interaction who talk  to our users  and do focus groups.

Whart are som of the things you’ve changed based on this  information?

We’ve come  up with  ideas – for example TrueView,  which is something we have on YouTube that allows  the  user to choose to see an ad. That’s something we’ve learned from speaking to users:  if they’re choosing to see an ad, it’s a product or company they’re more interested in, so the  advertiser creates some- thing the  user  wants to see.

In 2009, Google launched interest-based advertising, which allows advertisers to target consumers based on their browsing history. What do you know about me,  and how does it benefit Google? – We always try to serve ads that are really  useful  and relevant. Advertising is what makes the  internet free. Whatever we know, we expose. If you go to the  ads preference manager, you can see what Google knows. Right before you came,  I went to the  Ads Preference Manager [webpage] to see what it knows about myself. It said that I’m female and listed  several  of my interests, including technology and computers, and schools.  If an advertiser knows that I’m interested in technology, the ads I get are more relevant and useful  to me. You can also choose to opt out of the system, but then the  ads will be less relevant. But many people say this means that Google knows far too much about them... We always allow our users  to opt out of any part  that they don’t  want to participate in. And you always have the option of using  a different company. There are also products where you directly benefit from  having Google know something about you. For example, we just introduced Google Now, a service  that acts as your personal assistant. It will know  information from  my Google calendar and make recommendations to me based  on that, so it can tell me, “you have to leave right now because you have an appointment and there’s a lot of traffic”.

Google is trying to get more mom-and-pop operations to advertise using AdWords. How will you convince them?– Small businesses understand that being  online is really helpful in finding new cus- tomers. And a lot of the  new things we’re doing  with  ad- vertising helps  them see how it gets them new customers. For example, we recently introduced a ‘click-to-call’. So, if you see that button on your mobile, you click it to call the  business. They then know  that it got the  call based  on a Google ad. People want their mobiles to be quick  and efficient; they don’t have time or the patience to view  or click on ads.  How can you square that circle? We’re changing the  ads on mobile phones so that they’re relevant to you. For example, if you get an ad on your phone you can click on it to call the  company, get directions, or download their app. Also, often people aren’t using  their phones in isola- tion.  Advertisers understand that, so they  want to be on mobile and desktop. The other thing is that we want to make it easy for usersto purchase on their phone. Right now it’s really  hard. You have to type in all the tiny letters that you can’t see. So we’re working to make it possible to purchase with  just one click. You see something, click, and all the  information is entered for you.

What do you do to come up with new ideas or think in a longer perspective?– I go home and my kids tell me what they think about their lives and their future. And I interact a lot with  people who are not in the tech  industry, and they’ll tell me what they’re using,  what works  for them and what doesn’t. Sometimes I just step away and think about what the  future will change and what’s  the  one thing I’m missing. Because in technol- ogy things are changing so fast, I’m open  to hearing from new companies, new people, from  people who can tell me that I’m wrong.

Is there a case  when someone made you change your plan?– There  are many  examples. When we decided to buy You- Tube, it was not  a traditional decision. But we looked around and we saw that a lot of young  people were  using it, and we saw that there would  be huge  value  in hav- ing user-generated content and that it would  become a really  important platform. There  was a lot of debate about whether to purchase YouTube, but it was the  users who made us decide  to do it.


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Elisabeth Braw
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