YouTube Tests Search Ads for Video

YouTube is running ads based on search terms alongside search results, Ad Age reported today. The ads are similar to Google’s killer AdWords, and like them are sold on a cost-per-click basis, but they link to advertisers’ YouTube accounts rather than their web pages. Not too many advertisers are trying the product yet, so it’s unclear how effective it is at either matching relevant videos or attracting searchers to click through.
Search ads are Google’s tried and true revenue machine, but they might not work in a medium where people are hoping to be entertained, rather than find information. Even YouTube CEO Chad Hurley said publicly a few months ago that brand display ads would be “the primary driver of monetization for video,” not contextual advertising. But YouTube also naysayed pre-rolls for most of its life before rolling them out on Friday. It’s actually a little strange that YouTube and Google didn’t do this earlier.

There’s also the problem of it being hard to figure out exactly what’s going on inside a video; often tags and titles don’t really get to the essence. YouTube has over the past two years focused a good bit of engineering power on video fingerprinting. The short-term application of that has been managing copyright infringement, but it could be extended. Google also has some early products out for speech-to-text analysis of political videos. But contextual ad targeting doesn’t necessarily have to be an exact science; it might be that just matching search terms and video tags will do.
As Ad Age points out, people do an awful lot of searching on YouTube. YouTube and other non-main Google sites accounted for 2.6 billion searches in the U.S. in August, according to comScore. That’s more than Yahoo’s 2.4 billion searches, Microsoft’s 1 billion, and AOL’s 840 million. Everyone else had even fewer. So monetizing those queries is a good idea and a real possibility.
The new search ads are labeled as “promoted videos,” which is the same term YouTube uses on its homepage and on the sidebar next to paid videos. Those other examples don’t appear to be contextually targeted, but they could be.
New YouTube ad products are coming fast and furious these days, following Google CEO Eric Schmidt saying repeatedly that making money from YouTube was a top priority this year. Here are some of the most recent:
– Last week the site debuted pre-, mid- and post-roll ads lasting 15 seconds for its long-form CBS content
– Just prior to that it launched affiliate links to iTunes and Amazon
– And YouTube also recently started playing post-roll ads on partner videos rather than leaving them static until a user clicked on them
– The site has also experimented with full-page HD ads that roll over its homepage
YouTube, by the way, gave us this response when we asked about the search ads:

“We are constantly testing a wide range of options to find the right advertising format, for the right content, for the right video experience on YouTube — whether you’re watching short videos or long videos, uploading videos, or even searching for videos on our site. We do not believe there is one advertising solution for YouTube, but lots of valuable ways for advertisers to engage with our audience.”