Spelling It Out: The Real Reasons Google Will Become Alphabet


From my Forbes blog:

Google CEO Larry Page never fails to surprise. Google just renamed itself Alphabet, creating a holding company that includes the search company (Google) and a bunch of others that no one could figure out why it was doing. Page will be CEO of Alphabet, Google cofounder and executive-in-charge-of-cool-stuff Sergey Brin will be president, and senior VP Sundar Pichai becomes CEO of Google.

It sounds like a big deal, and in a sense it is always a big deal when a company changes its name and corporate structure. But in other ways, not much has changed, because Google has essentially run its far-flung collection of businesses, from its Calico human longevity company to its X lab that’s working on Internet balloons, self-driving cars, and drone product delivery to investment arms Google Ventures and Google Capital, pretty independently already.

Either way, the move raises a few questions:

* What’s the big idea?

Well, it’s probably not just one idea, but let’s start with one: This will keep left-brain investors happy, or at least happier. They’ve always been wary of all the non-search, non-advertising businesses Google has entered, and their inevitably uncertain prospects have no doubt weighed on the shares if only because they’re much more of a cost for years to come rather than significant revenue generators.

So this is a way for the company, which will now report the core Google business results separately in earnings reports, to make the company’s various businesses clearer to investors. It worked, at least for now: Google’s shares rose more than 6% in extended trading after a nearly flat day today. As Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser put it in a note to clients, “Perhaps there will be incremental value assigned to the totality of the new Alphabet because, undoubtedly, real value exists within the company’s emerging ventures.”

But given that Google rarely seems to make big decisions to please investors, it’s probably best to take Page at his word that the main impetus was to make each business able to operate more independently–and thus more likely to succeed or at least to get the chance to succeed without needing to be related to the core ad business. …

* What’s with the name?

With a funny name like Google, you certainly have to come up with something for the holding company that’s at least a bit whimsical (the URL is abc.xyz) or you will look lame. So that’s one. Another interpretation from an esteemed analyst (my wife): “Are they going to control everything from A to Z?” I wouldn’t bet against their trying.

But as Page puts it in his blog post, the name also fits:

We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha-bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!

Yeah, he’s still a nerd at heart. (And can you tell he’s stoked?!) …

Read the complete post.

Why Ad Blockers Won’t Destroy Online Advertising … Yet


From my Forbes blog:

Today’s release of another study on the rising use of ad blockers has sparked a new round of hand-wringing over the software’s blow to the online ad industry. Some $22 billion will be lost worldwide this year, according to the report from Adobe and PageFair, an Irish company that helps advertisers get some of that lost ad revenue back.

Sounds scary! But the concerns are overblown, at least for now. Here’s why:

* It’s still a relatively small percentage of people especially in the U.S., where only 15% of users employ ad blocking, according to the study.

And the U.S. is by far the most lucrative ad market in the world. So in the places where most online companies advertise, they’ll continue to reach the vast majority of users.

* Only desktop ads are getting blocked for now. And we all know we’re rapidly approaching the time when most of the ads we see will be on our mobile devices. So the fastest-growing ad market, on mobile devices, isn’t even affected yet, not least because app stores such as Google’s don’t allow ad blocking apps. …

All this isn’t to say advertisers shouldn’t be concerned. They should be. The ad blocking trend line doesn’t bode well for brands that expect to keep reaching people as easily online as they have everywhere else.

But advertisers that create ads that aren’t intrusive and may even be useful have less to fear. Those that keep trying to shovel pop-ups and annoying mortgage come-ons? They probably deserve to lose business anyway.

Read the complete post.

As Mobile Video Ads Soar At Facebook, Big Brands Pile In

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

From my Forbes blog:

Facebook’s second-quarter results today didn’t thrill investors, who knocked shares down more than 3% in after-hours trading. They don’t like to hear about an 82% jump in expenses to get revenue growth of half that much–even less so when Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of the social network, says that spending won’t slow down much anytime soon.

But advertisers were a different story–in particular, big brand advertisers like Procter & Gamble and Under Armour that are looking to reach people via the mobile devices they carry with them all the time. Mobile ad revenues shot up 74% from a year ago, considerably faster than ads overall, which rose 55% after taking out currency impacts, and it’s now 76% of ad revenue.

In particular, Facebook is starting to become a must-buy for big brands that still spend the most on television, because it has the reach and the impact they want. Now, according to ad agency executives, they think Facebook is finally poised to capture more TV ad dollars that Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has spent years pursuing.

“We see Facebook at a core pivot point,” says David Hewitt, VP and mobile lead at the digital agency SapientNitro. “It’s now a safe bet to put a lot of money into.”

In the last six to eight months, he says, brands have started to understand the reach Facebook has among smartphone users–some 844 million people each day. “It’s hard to get reach on mobile,” he says, but now “Facebook checks that box” in a way that few others online besides Google can. …

Read the rest of the story.

Unhappy With Google’s Mobilegeddon, Advertisers Spend More On Facebook

ADI_Global Display Ad CTR Growth

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

When Google changed its formula for showing search results in April to favor websites it deems mobile-friendly, some businesses worried their sites would disappear from results. Mobilegeddon, as the algorithm change came to be called, was intended at least in part to spur publishers to quit sending people to sites that looked terrible or were downright unreadable on the smartphones where people spend more and more of their time online.

Perhaps that will happen eventually, but for now, according to a new report out today from Adobe, the change has indeed hurt brands that weren’t prepared. The Adobe Digital Index‘s second-quarter report on digital ads and social intelligence, which measures nearly a billion online ad impressions and 21 billion referred social visits from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social sites, shows that unprepared websites have lost 10% of their traffic compared with a year ago. And that decline is continuing to grow, says Adobe Digital Index principal analyst Tamara Gaffney.

Google has benefited, at least in the short term. Many marketers and ad agencies believe one clear goal was to boost mobile ad prices, which have continually lagged those of desktop computer ads. Indeed, prices measured as cost per click rose 16% from a year ago, according to Adobe.

But for marketers, the benefit is far less clear. Click-through rates on ads have fallen 9% from a year ago. “The bottom line is Google’s mobile business got better and marketers’ mobile business is getting worse,” says Gaffney. “They’re not getting the traffic they’re paying for.”

That situation obviously can’t last. …

Read the rest of the story.

Google Wants To Own Your Mobile Moments


From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

For a few months now, Google has been pushing a new vision of advertising in the mobile age: Advertisers, it says, must capture the “micro-moments” when peripatetic consumers land on an app, a video, a website or anywhere else.

That’s increasingly important because despite today’s mobile first” mantra among tech companies and publishers alike, the fact remains that people use all kinds of devices throughout the day to find what they’re looking for online–their phone, their tablet, a laptop, a desktop computer, even an Internet-connected TV. What’s more, these people are often open to commercial messages for only short periods of time in just the right context: the age-old right-place, right-time, right-message but faster and more fleeting than ever.

And so Internet publishers and their advertisers need to reach not just faceless audiences but actual people, or at least detailed profiles attached semi-anonymously to real people. This “people-based marketing” is something Facebook has made huge coin on, and even companies such as Google are playing catch-up.

So today, Google is aiming to close some gaps in its powerful but (in the mobile age) rather less dominant advertising system. …

Read the rest of the story and interview with Google display and video ads VP Neal Mohan.

With Android Pay, Google Closes Gap With Apple In Mobile Payments

From my Forbes.com blog:

Apple vaulted ahead of Google in mobile payments last September when it announced Apple Pay, its long-awaited entry into mobile payments. By comparison, the three-year-old Google Wallet looked tired and limited.

Now, Apple’s head start has nearly vanished. Today at its I/O conference in San Francisco for software developers, Google introduced Android Pay, a successor to Google Wallet that, when it launches this summer, will come close to matching Apple Pay for making payments via smartphones easy in stores and inside apps.

They won’t quite be identical. Apple Pay’s security system is somewhat different, and Android phones won’t have fingerprint identification like Apple’s until the new version of Android comes out this summer, and even then only on phones that have fingerprint I.D. capability. But they’ll be close enough that consumers should be comfortable using either one in largely the same way–and at the very same 700,000 store locations that have the right checkout terminals.

That’s a big step forward for Google’s mobile payment ambitions. A competitive mobile wallet is key for the search giant because the ability to pay with a couple taps on a smartphone will grease the e-commerce skids for app developers and marketers alike.

If you’re tuning into the mobile payments business recently, you might wonder if Google is simply copying Apple. Actually, it’s more the other way around. …

Read the entire post.

Google Glass May Not Be Dead, But It Sure Needs A Complete Overhaul

Google cofounder Sergey Brin wears Google Glass.

Google cofounder Sergey Brin wears Google Glass.

From my Forbes blog:

Google Glass is dead. Long live Google Glass.

That’s what Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt essentially insisted today in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Actually, he specifically said it was still very much alive following January’s announcement that the Glass Explorer program was ending and Glass work moving from secret lab Google X to Google itself, under Tony Fadell, who heads Google’s Nest connected home division. Schmidt added that Glass will be the basis of “a big and very fundamental platform.”

But given how much it’s likely to be changed, Schmidt might have been better off pronouncing it dead. If new versions of Google Glass are to succeed, they need to change in a whole host of ways that literally will make it unrecognizable compared with the $1,500 version it sold to bleeding-edge people like me. After using it only intermittently for a year now, I think Schmidt is right that Glass could become a compelling product, but only if:

1) Google hides Glass behind actual glasses. No matter how elegant Google made Glass, that little block of plastic that serves as the screen is simply too weird-looking. In its current form, the device screams, “I’m a Glasshole.” Instead, as rumors indicate, Google will have to incorporate that screen into existing eyewear.

Read the rest of what Glass will need to be successful.