Think With Google: How the Search Giant’s Online Mag Is Schooling Marketers

As someone who writes about content marketing, I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to pick Google’s brain. The data piling up from all all of our searches reveals so much about who we are and what we care about that most marketers would seriously consider giving up their champagne iPhones for good if it meant being able to peek behind the curtain.

Thankfully, none of us will have to make such sacrifices.

Google is very secretive about some details—its search algorithm is locked up tighter than Fort Knox—but for marketers, the company has been surprisingly forthcoming. Key to this outreach has been its publication Think with Google, launched in 2013, which covers some (keyword: some) of the most pressing content trends on the Internet.

Since then, Google has built up a stockpile of data-driven content on the site and paired it with a very clean design. You won’t find any think pieces or hot takes. What you will find, however, is a mixture of articles, infographics, and data visualizations that break down emerging marketing trends across industries. For example, you can read about how evolving user behavior has affected NCAA tournament search traffic over time in “More Fans, More Moments: Basketball Madness Begins” and then scroll down to check out “The Changing Face of B2B Marketing,” which goes over myths and realities for today’s B2B marketer.

As Allison Mooney, Think with Google’s editor-in-chief and the head of trends and insights for Google Marketing, told me over email: “We spoke with a lot of our partners about how we could best help them access the same data, analysis, and insights that inform our own strategies, and Think With Google was a result of those conversations.”

To package that data for an audience of agency and brand decision makers, Mooney works with marketing, sales, data, and research teams at Google to come up with story ideas. Every idea needs a content brief that synthesizes the most important information—like who an article is specifically targeting and what metrics are most important for this particular piece—and makes it easy for the editorial team to evaluate. According to Mooney, once an idea gets approved, it takes about seven weeks to go through the editorial and legal approval processes before it can run on the site.

What makes Think with Google so interesting is how proactive the search giant has been in terms of helping out advertisers. Historically, Google has been much more of a gatherer than a sharer. It can easily just sit back, take its cut from brands, and keep user data to itself. Its total ad revenue for 2014 topped $59 billion, which buys a lot of piña coladas.

Nonetheless, publishing an editorial site full of marketing insights makes a lot sense for Google. If the company can arm content marketers with insider information that helps them create better content, that will ultimately boost its bottom line since it will be able to charge more for high-quality ad products (and ideally have more people click on those ads).

A prime example of the data Google uses to guide advertisers is the site’s hallmark series, a YouTube ads leaderboard, published monthly. The leaderboard details the 10 most popular ads for a given month, how many views they racked up, and the creative agencies that produced them.

With video content set to dominate the coming years, the leaderboard offers a useful snapshot of which brands and ad styles are making the most impact on consumers. If you look at the list every month, certain trends start to get clearer. For example, even though one might expect shorter clips to appeal to the most viewers, the videos that make the most impact have actually gotten longer. Mooney said that the 10 most popular ads on Youtube in 2014 lasted an average of three minutes each, which was almost a 50 percent increase from the year before. The most effective ads on Youtube are hardly ads at all. They’re more like short films—a supremely valuable piece of information for those tasked with content creation and ad buys.

Mooney also points out the importance of creator know-how for video content, referencing the successful partnership between Purina Friskies and BuzzFeed that led to the “Dear Kitten” cat videos—the first of which now has over 20 million hits on YouTube.

In 2015, understanding what consumers want from their advertisements is all about data. At this point, basing marketing off of intuition is little more than an outdated stereotype. That’s why a site like Think with Google has so much value.

“Our users are generally in two ‘modes’ when they interact with our content: active and passive,” Mooney explained. “During planning periods, they’re actively searching our site for data, research, and insights. That’s when a research report, slide deck, or tool might be the most useful. But most of the time, they’re just skimming their inboxes and social feeds. That’s when a shorter article or an infographic might catch their attention.”

Now that marketers can see these trends on Think with Google, it takes some of the guesswork out of creating content and makes it easier for everyone to do their jobs more efficiently. The site even contains a Databoard section with a “Build Your Infographic” tab that lets marketers mix and match Google’s studies to create custom data reports for their own publishing efforts.

“We’re constantly improving the site experience for our users,” Mooney said. “We recently debuted a brand new home page and a ‘Marketer’s Almanac’ section that makes it easy to find trends by time of year. We’re also rolling out new article templates that are really well suited to the data-driven content we’ve been focusing on. There’s lots of other exciting things on our roadmap.”

Wherever that roadmap goes, expect content marketers to be right behind, ready to do whatever it takes to get inside Google’s head.

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