Google Adds YouTube to Suite of Ad Tools Tracking Retail Sales

  • New attribution tools package search, video and display ads
  • Since 2014, Google has measured over 5 billion store visits

Google is giving advertisers a slew of new ways to measure online spending and tie it to consumers’ offline purchases, including the addition of Google’s huge video service, YouTube, to its feature that tracks retail store visits.

The Alphabet Inc. unit announced the moves to shore up its lead in digital ads on Tuesday at its annual spring marketing event in San Francisco. This year, Google continued to package its channels once kept separate for advertisers. The company is introducing Google Attribution, a tool for marketers to track shoppers as they bounce among devices and Google properties, such as search, websites and video.

“Most people don’t just click on an ad and buy a product,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president for ads. Instead, they may research it on search, watch a video later and then walk into a store. Google’s new tool is designed to let marketers more readily identify consumers that shop this way, cutting out time and middlemen in digital ad tracking.

Additionally, Google is updating store visits, a tool introduced in 2014 that calibrates how many people view online ads -- then step into a brick-and-mortar outlet. Google announced Tuesday that it has measured more than 5 billion store visits globally, and noted that people who click on search ads are 25 percent more likely to buy something inside a physical outlet. To bolster the product, Google will start tracking YouTube, letting marketers measure whether their video ads lead to retail visits.

“We’re able to create products that take advantage of the overall Google experience,” Ramaswamy said.

In the past, Google didn’t always coordinate its information that way. It didn’t loop consumer data from online searches with display advertising, for instance. That started last year, with a feature that let users opt-in to broader online tracking as they are signed into Google accounts, a move Ramaswamy said was driven by marketer demands.

Syncing digital ad dollars with in-store purchases would fill a huge demand for advertisers. It would also help Google stave off challenges from Facebook Inc., which offers similar retail measurement features and has the one critical digital asset -- a social network -- that Google lacks. Google is set to generate about $73.8 billion in ad revenue this year, or a third of total advertising spending, according to eMarketer. Facebook’s share, expected to reach more than 16 percent this year, is rising faster. 

Google’s new tools also are meant to kept ad dollars away from others, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Pinterest Inc., that are trying to funnel marketing dollars to e-commerce purchases.

Total clicks on Google ads have risen steadily in recent years, but the cut the company takes from each continues to slide due to lower rates on mobile devices. Still, Google has, so far, weathered those broader shifts. The company reported $20.1 billion in net sales last quarter, topping analysts’ first-quarter estimates for the first time since 2012. That beat came despite a wide-scale boycott of YouTube ads, starting in March over extremist content. Ramaswamy said that “most” of the marketers that paused spending have returned, but he declined to offer specifics.

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