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Will the Discover feed be Google’s next cash cow? What advertisers are saying about Discovery campaigns

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If you wanted to see a Google ad exec’s eyes light up last spring, you just had to bring up the Discover feed, the personalized news feed perched right on the Google mobile home page. The company announced ads were coming to this whole new surface that reaches some 800,000 monthly mobile users.

It’s still too early to know if the company, which watched Facebook’s News Feed ads skyrocket as Google+ fizzled in the last decade, has a mobile feed winner this time around, but advertisers who have been testing ads in the feed with new Discovery campaigns tell us they’re impressed with the initial results. The level to which the feed is actually driving that satisfaction is not entirely clear, however.

You may not have even seen ads in your own Discover feed yet, much less run Discovery campaigns, which remain in closed beta. The ads are still elusive more than a year after initial testing (since at least October 2018) and the official introduction of Discovery campaigns at Google Marketing Live (GML) in May.

Discovery ads on YouTube home feed, Google Discover feed and Gmail promotions tab.
Discovery ads on YouTube home feed, Google Discover feed and Gmail promotions tab.

Discover is personalized to show topics, stories and news items based on a user’s search, browsing and app behaviors, as well as their location history and location settings and stated topic interests. The native Discovery ads are image-heavy and closely resemble social creatives.

Few qualms about lack of controls, visibility

The hitch is there is no way for advertisers to distinctly target ads to the feed alone. Discovery campaigns are among the slate of Google’s machine-powered campaign types that run ads across multiple properties automatically. In addition to the Discover feed, Discovery ads serve in Gmail and on YouTube’s homepage. With that combined slate, Google says Discovery ads can reach a universe of “hundreds of millions” of people.  

Advertisers said Discovery campaign results compensate for control and visibility limitations. “We are OK with the lack of channel reporting right now since the benefits outweigh the lack of transparency,” said Moses Chang, group media director at MMI Agency.

“Right now we look at performance at the campaign and ad group level and decide what we will and will not keep running,” said Duane Brown, founder and head of strategy at the digital agency Take Some Risk, who will be speaking on Discovery ads at SMX West next month.

Who should test Discovery campaigns?

Advertisers have tested Discovery campaigns for clients with a range of goals, from awareness to acquisition and sales. “We are heavily focused on our e-commerce clients for Discovery Ads,” said Brown, “but I think there is an opportunity for tech and SaaS brands to use the channel.”

At Seer Interactive, PPC Associate Molly Quinn, tested a Discovery campaign for a client looking to raise brand awareness and increase site traffic. “For this particular situation, we chose to leverage Discovery because our client was seeing a drop in sessions to their homepage year over year,” said Quinn. For this effort, the lack of visibility and targeting control were not a concern due to the clients’ goals and the performance of the campaign, she added.

“Discovery is a high volume, low CPC channel that has the added benefit of generating awareness for the brands,” said Chang, “and as long as the CPAs are in-line with client goals, we are OK running the campaigns knowing channel breakout/negation functions are not there.”

Audience targeting

Brown has run Discovery campaigns for remarketing as well as top of funnel initiatives but said his agency starts with remarketing. “Then we look at targeting affinity and in-market audiences for a top of funnel campaign,” said Brown. “We run pretty focused ad groups with one audience (or targeting) in each ad group. That way we can understand how that targeting does for each piece of creative. We will try different pieces of creative for each ad group.”

Quinn used in-market and similar audiences targeting in her client’s brand awareness and traffic campaign and says she saw the greatest success with in-market audiences related to the client’s vertical.

Chang, too, has seen strong volume and efficient cost-per-acquisition with in-market audiences, and has also tested affinity, Google Analytics tag-based audiences and customer match audiences. Not surprising, “Tag-based audiences tend to be more targeted and thus [have a] lower CPA — the volume is much lower than the general audiences, though,” said Chang.

Creative repurposing

Discovery campaigns support carousel and single image ads like the ones advertisers may already be running on Facebook. That makes it easy to repurpose existing ad creatives, as Quinn did with her client’s Discovery campaign.

“We typically re-purpose best-performing Facebook creatives and then create new ones based on learnings,” said Chang. Sometimes some slight sizing adjustments are needed. He suggests using multiple images in both landscape (1.91:1: Minimum size: 600×314. Recommended: 1200×628. 5MB max file size) and square (1:1: Minimum size: 300×300. Recommended: 1200×1200. 5MB maximum file size).

“We’ll make new creative when we can,” said Brown. “Otherwise, we reuse creative from other social channels. We adjust the creative format as the Discovery Ad format can be small image-wise. In either case, our goal is to maintain a consistent brand for the client across channels. Try to make your ad look native to the platform, especially for the Discovery Feed.”

Measuring success

Advertisers say they focus on the key performance indicators (KPIs) tied to their client’s goals and evaluate effectiveness at the campaign level while also looking at the impact of Discovery campaigns on the broader customer journey.

“If we’re doing remarketing then we look at CPA and ROAS. If we’re doing top of funnel, we look at impression vs. sales and customer path in Google Analytics,” said Brown. “We try to understand if we are adding new people to the journey to becoming a customer. This ad format can lead itself to high first touch and the first time someone is seeing your brand.”

Chang uses maximize for conversions bidding and waits to set a Target CPA that’s in line with the client’s goals until enough data has been collected.

What’s next?

For now, you still have to get into the beta, which can be tricky if you don’t have a Google account manager. But once in, Brown says you can start small — think $50 a day — and scale from there. There are still some kinks in the setup process (this is still in beta, after all) and “the fact that your assets don’t get saved somewhere for you to use in the future means you’re re-uploading some assets months later,” he warned.

The verdict is out on whether Discover will prove to be yet another vein in the Google goldmine. The company is treading slowly with this initial effort, as indicated by the rare ad sighting and little chatter in the industry since Discovery ads launched. (Google pulled the other splashy format announced at GML, Gallery Ads, back out of beta within months.)

How much weight the Discover feed is pulling in these campaigns overall isn’t known, and at the individual campaign level, it can vary widely. Advertisers can see channel data in Google Analytics source/medium reporting, and Chang, for example, has seen instances in which half of a campaign’s traffic shifted to YouTube — where there is both volume and proven success. “Google, I’m sure, is constantly testing on their end,” he said.


About The Author

Will the Discover feed be Google's next cash cow? What advertisers are saying about Discovery campaigns 1

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day to day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin writes about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.





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