Mobile Ads vs. Adapted Ads: Google's Mobile End Run
You can imagine that I have lots to say on Google's low key announcement that they're going to be using their regular AdWord advertising in their mobile web pages by transcoding the landing pages of the advertiser's websites. I've been talking about this exact thing literally for years, and is part of the reason I viewed content adaption as an area to build a company. Obviously, I think it's a no brainer for Google to go this route, but the problem is that Google is just as obviously going this way for reasons other than just the technical advantages.
Unlike in the PC web space, in the mobile market Google is in the position of having to catch up to the other companies out there like AdMob who've built up a huge publisher network with tons of mobile-specific advertising. My sites are running at 100% inventory fulfillment using AdMob, there's never one page that's served to anyone in the world that does not have an appropriate ad associated with it. This is going to take a lot of work from Google to match - not that they can't but they have real competition here. (Check out Omar's thoughts on the matter here.)
So instead of trying to figure out where to get equivalent mobile inventory, Google simply flipped the switch and are now using regular AdWords advertising. I'm sure an AdSense equivalent is in the works as well. Poof: lots of mobile inventory. That was easy, wasn't it? And when a mobile users clicks through, the landing pages are transcoded to display on the user's phone, and Google takes some cash to the bank. It's good for Google, definitely... but is it good for the advertisers and the users?
As someone that's promoting content adaption as a solution to the disparity between the content available on the web vs. what's available for mobile phones, I think this is a great idea in general. That said, Google is overreaching. Their transcoder technology - and philosophy - just isn't up to the job they've laid out for it. The problem with their way of adapting pages is very simple, and something I've talked about before: Publishers have little to no control over what the end result looks like. For example, unlike Mowser (plug, plug), Google's content adaption doesn't pass through the handheld stylesheet if there is one, and is geared in general towards the lowest common denominator of displays - cutting up web pages needlessly which causes endless paging, and adding unnecessary menu options and branding to the top and bottom of every page. I can't imagine any advertisers out there being happy to pay Google for the privilege of having a munged up version of their website delivered to mobile users.
You may not know this, but Google isn't the first big portal to serve regular web ads to mobile devices. When AOL relaunched their mobile site a year or so ago using Infogin's transcoding tech, everything on their regular web search pages were adapted for the mobile, *including* the advertisements. Now, the question to me was whether AOL actually charged their advertisers for those clicks or not, and I heard that they didn't, though I'm not sure. So Google may be breaking new ground here in that they've got the cheek to actually charge advertisers for mobile clicks as well.
But like I said, I think in general it's a solid idea. The vast majority of businesses out there still don't have mobile sites, and may benefit tremendously from having their sites adapted for those users who are interested in their ads while on a mobile. The problem comes from whether the advertiser is going to be able to convert the mobile users to customers and get a return on their advertising investment. For many, many advertisers there's little way this could happen. Imagine filling out a mortgage application on your RAZR or buying a car with your iPhone as examples of where an adveriser probably isn't going to be able to convert a mobile user. (As an aside, for other more simpler transactions, this is where I assume Google is going to be pushing their Checkout service, which will of course work on mobile where other services will fail... I can imagine that's the grand plan at least).
I think it'll be interesting to see what sort of blow-back Google ends up getting from this change, if any. The decision to have advertisers opt-out rather than opting-in is a seriously arrogant move, with all the hallmarks of a monopolist entering another market by force rather than competing fairly. But with so many companies relying on Google for their bread and butter, will they bother pushing back, or will they simply just opt-out and let those who aren't paying attention pay the "goog mobile tax"? I wonder if Google will even be noting clicks via mobile differently? My guess is they'll do as little as possible to call attention to those clicks, given the fact that they're not promoting this new change in the first place (no big press release, etc.).
Anyways, it's quite an end-run - and if Google makes it, it's going to change a lot of things in the mobile web, that's for sure...