YouTube and Google Ads: A How-To on Bidding to Win

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Cover image for  article: YouTube and Google Ads: A How-To on Bidding to Win

YouTube is the world's largest media auction outside of Google Search and Facebook. It's the 800-pound gorilla of digital video. That's been true since the beginning of YouTube but that was another time. Back then, linear TV was still able to deliver on almost any video-dependent media or marketing metric. Now? Not so much. Linear ratings are in free fall while CTV audiences, subscription and ad-supported, are on the rise. It's an inevitable consequence of pervasive broadband and connected devices and it's accelerated by the pandemic. YouTube is now the largest single source of CTV impressions and along with Hulu, Roku and Amazon has become an indispensable part of the mainstream of video advertising.

Of course, YouTube is not a simple story. "Big Brands Fund Terror Through Online Adverts" (The Times, London, 2/9/2017) is not the kind of headline advertisers forget and it's not like the story wasn't followed by others of equal gravity. As a result, buying YouTube became wrapped up with the concept of brand safety -- social safety issue is a related but separate issue -- as advertisers needed to avoid juxtapositions with the worst.

There are three routes to resolving the brand safety problem. You can rely on Google's extraordinary machine learning, which isalmostperfect in a use case where only "actually" perfect will do. Alternatively, you can choose to sail in the safer waters of YouTube Select: the platform's cloudily defined "premium" tier. Lastly, you can deploy a third-party brand safety or brand-suitability tool, the difference between the two being the latter's value in expanding inventory pools to recognize the tolerance of different advertisers and audiences.

Many advertisers and agencies have determined that the path of least resistance for YouTube implementation is to buy YouTube Select on a reserve basis and to use DV360 -- Google DSP -- plus a brand safety tool to buy other inventory. That adds up to a cocktail of integration (with other DV360 buys), safety and predictability. It also might mean loss of opportunity and value. MediaVillage readers who read our previous column about the Facebook auction will know that we prefer to unearth value by buying exclusively in the auction. Almost always the auction creates pricing advantage and it allows us to assemble audiences from the most granular level, in this case one video at a time.

Our perspective is that granular buying strategies are most likely to yield granular analytics and by extension better attribution. So, if you know your KPIs, you want flexibility and you are ready to use CTV as much like the web as TV, then use the auction. Once that's decided you have to choose between DV360 and Google Ads. If your goal is to optimize across multiple inventory sources, then DV360 is a good enough choice.

If your goal is to maximize your outcomes across the entirety of the YouTube auction there are four specific reasons why you might opt for Google Ads:

  1. The reporting is better integrated and quicker, allowing for faster and superior optimization.
  2. All the tools we know and love from building search campaigns are native to Google Ads.
  3. There are planning, buying and optimization APIs not available in DV360.
  4. There is no platform fee for Google Ads, which according to AdExchanger in June 2020 could save 13% vs. DV360. That's a great many impressions and a big savings.

There is a principle involved here. In the linear era, had advertisers been capable of analyzing audience delivery, context and response on a spot-by-spot basis, they would have done so. Some got close, direct response advertisers knew very precisely which spots, when and where, made the call centers light up at the right price. Many advertisers now look closely at search performance and web traffic in relation to TV audience delivery. They only wish they could adjust all of weight, timing and context on the fly in the pursuit of competitive advantage and even achieve the knowledge asymmetry that accrues when the buyer knows something a seller does not. This is what you can get with Google Ads.

If this sounds like hard work -- it is! In the pursuit of competitive edge, the juice has to be worth the squeeze. As YouTube's share of available impressions grows, that seems to be the case here. Google Ads in the auction backed by brand suitability deployment is not the easiest route, but it is the one that offers the greatest potential for success. It's true that Google Ads gives a YouTube-only view but the biggest inventory source with multiple unique characteristics deserves special attention.

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