AdWords is Google’s flagship advertising product and main source of revenue. Google’s total advertising revenues were USD$23 billion in 2009. AdWords offers pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and site-targeted advertising for text, banner, and rich-media ads. The AdWords program includes local, national, and international distribution. Google’s text advertisements are short, consisting of one headline and two additional text lines. Image ads can be one of several different Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) standard sizes.
Sales and Support for Google’s AdWords division is based in Mountain View, California, with major secondary offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the company’s third-largest US facility behind its Mountain View, California, headquarters and New York City office. Engineering for AdWords is based in Mountain View, California.
Advertisers select the words that should trigger their ads and the maximum amount they will pay per click. When a user searches on Google, ads (also known as creatives by Google) for relevant words are shown as “sponsored links” on the right side of the screen, and sometimes above the main search results. Clickthrough rates (CTR) for the ads are about 8% for the first ad, 5% for the second one, and 2.5% for the third one. Search results can return from 0 to 12 ads.
The ordering of the paid-for listings depends on other advertisers’ bids (PPC) and the “quality score” of all ads shown for a given search. The quality score is calculated by historical click-through rates, relevance of an advertiser’s ad text and keywords, an advertiser’s account history, and other relevance factors as determined by Google. The quality score is also used by Google to set the minimum bids for an advertiser’s keywords. The minimum bid takes into consideration the quality of the landing page as well, which includes the relevancy and originality of content, navigability, and transparency into the nature of the business. Though Google has released a list of full guidelines for sites, the precise formula and meaning of relevance and its definition is in part secret to Google and the parameters used can change dynamically.
The auction mechanism that determines the order of the ads is a generalized second-price auction. This is claimed to have the property that the participants do not necessarily fare best when they truthfully reveal any private information asked for by the auction mechanism (in this case, the value of the keyword to them, in the form of a “truthful” bid).
The original idea was invented by Bill Gross from Idealab who, in turn borrowed the idea from Yellow Pages. Google wanted to buy the idea but a deal could not be reached. Not wanting to give up on this form of advertisement, the company launched its own solution, AdWords in 2000. AdWords followed a model that was significantly similar to Bill Gross’ creation which led to legal action between the two parties. Eventually the dispute was settled out of court.
At first AdWords advertisers would pay a monthly amount, and Google would then set up and manage their campaign. To accommodate small businesses and those who wanted to manage their own campaigns, Google soon introduced the AdWords self-service portal. Starting in 2005 Google provided a campaign management service called Jumpstart to assist advertisers in setting up their campaigns. However, this service is no longer available, so companies needing assistance must hire a third-party service provider.
In 2005, Google launched the Google Advertising Professional (GAP) Program to certify individuals and companies who completed AdWords training and passed an exam. Due to the complexity of AdWords and the amount of money at stake, some advertisers hire a consultant to manage their campaigns.
In 2008, Google launched the Google Online Marketing Challenge (http://www.google.com/onlinechallenge/), an in-class academic exercise for tertiary students. Over 8,000 students from 47 countries participated in the 2008 Challenge and over 10,000 students from 58 countries took part in 2009. The Challenge runs annually, roughly from January to June. Registration is at the instructor rather than student level.
In 2009, Google revised the AdWords interface, introduced Local Business Ads for Google Maps and Video Ads.
The AdWords system was initially implemented on top of the MySQL database engine. After the system had been launched, management decided to use Oracle instead. The system became much slower, so eventually it was returned to MySQL. The interface has also been revamped to offer better work flow with additional new features, such as Spreadsheet Editing, Search Query Reports, and better conversion metrics.