Keynote with Susan Wojcicki

Good morning SMXers and non-SMXers. Are you ready for another jam-packed day here in San Jose?  We have a LOT more coverage coming up for you so grab some coffee, get comfortable and let’s hang.  If you missed any of Day 1’s coverage, you can get yourself caught up here.  I’m not gonna lie, I’m feeling a little off my game because I got stuck three rows back without power. But I’m gonna do my best for you.  You deserve it.

Ready to hop in?

Chris Sherman is up doing some banter.  He lets us know that it was Susan’s garage that Google was started in.  He then shows us some other famous garages. Like Steve Jobs’ garage. Jeff Bezo’s garage (where Amazon.com was started).  Walt Disney’s garage (where Steamboat Willie was created). Then we see Chris Sherman’s garage when he lived 4 blocks away from Susan. I’m totally serious. This is really happening. I love SMX.

Chris: How the heck did you get Larry and Sergey working in your garage and did you have any idea of what it would become?

Susan says anyone who lives in this area knows the homes in this area are very expensive. She had just graduated with her MBA. Her and her husband bought a house and she convinced him they could afford it if they rented parted of their house.  She allowed Larry and Sergey to rent the house if they did not walk through the front door. They had to come in through the garage. Hee!

She had no idea at the time what Google would become. There were a lot of search engines at the time. The more she used the product the more she realized how important the company was. Being able to provide great search is going to the future. That’s when she decided to work there. She did not work there when they were in her garage she says, unfortunately. That would have been a really great commute.

What an awesome freakin’ story!

Danny: When they come over now do you let them in from the front door?

Susan: Yes.

Danny: How do you think things have shifted from the early days of AdSense/search ads?

In 2003, AdSense was a very simple product. You could opt in or out of it. It didn’t have all the different controls that it has now. Our network now does a lot more targeting, we have more formats, we have more controls, we have tools, etc. We feel like we’ve been able to really grow AdSense by offering a lot more options for advertisers. The power of it ends up being you can be on so many different sites and be able to control it.   In 2003 I never could have anticipated how sophisticated AdSense would be and how many controls advertisers needed.

Chris: You definitely moved away from the classic model of “50 percent of my advertising spend is wasted” and really developed good metrics.  That’s actually created privacy concerns. How are you working with that? It seems like you’re being transparent but you’re getting a lot of flack in the media and in government?

We’ve taken users needs from a privacy standpoint very seriously. We did not have a cookie on the AdSense network until 2008. When we did that, we did it in a way that was very privacy sensitive

They believe in three things:

  1. Personal Control
  2. Notification so people can opt out
  3.  Transparency

We created an Ad Preferences Manager. No one else had that or our notification levels. If we tell users these are the things you’re interested in, you can opt out or you can add more things to it. Once users saw it, they were comfortable with it.  Once people come to it, they’re seeing people actually add things. There’s always going to be a lot of balances but if you give the notification, the control, and the transparency you can have a better experience.

Danny: Did people change things or opt out of them?

People look at it, they see what we see and then they can opt out, they can add things, etc. Once users see it, they’re comfortable with it. And if they’re not, they can opt out. A lot of this is new. Everyone here is a professional. This is what we do. But for most people they don’t really understand this. It’s more complex. The more you can explain it in a really simple way the more informed choices people can make.

Chris: There seems to be a lot of tension among policy makers across the world right now. You’re saying you’re transparent but people are saying you’re being evil. How do you balance that?

We’re at a point where there is change and people want to understand that change. We’re a leader in the marketplace. If you look back at other technologies in the past, people were super concerned about that. People were concerned about caller ID. As you enter in any new technology there are going to be questions and concerns.  We’ve tried to notify people about things as much as possible. She’s gotten the notification about their policy change about 30 times.  They’re trying to be as transparent as possible.

Danny: Irony isn’t the right word but I look at some of the reaction about this and it’s almost like you can’t win. Why is this concern not happening for other companies with the same type of privacy policies? 

It’s hard to comment on why a regulator would focus on us instead of another provider. The other thing that’s important to point out is that when we talk about the privacy policy and the changes a lot of people don’t understand that the only thing we’re changing is the privacy policy. We’re not changing the data or how we notify people. Nothing is changing tomorrow. As we make changes we’ll notify people. We’ll make the explanations. We’ll explain the features. There’s some misunderstanding about the notification and the action.

Chris: You’ve been very influential about building. What’s your take on acquisitions that you’ve been involved with vs internal growth of products. 

The biggest acquisitions she’s been involved in have been YouTube and DoubleClick. For the most part, Google’s a technical company. They like to build things. They make an acquisition when they think they can’t build it. They don’t have the momentum or the know-how.  They were working on Google Video and they weren’t getting the usage. YouTube was because they made a lot of smart decisions. In the market, time matters. If we can acquire a company and put together a solution that’s better (Like AdMob).  She thinks DoubleClick has been a wonderful acquisition, so has YouTube.

There are a lot of people dynamics when you acquire a company. You have to make sure they fit in.

Danny: One of the big things you’ve been doing internally is Google+.  You had trouble making it work in Safari so you did a workaround. Should you have done that?

We’ve acknowledged the mistakes that we made there. As soon as we were aware of it, our company was on full alert to fix it and to understand everything about it. These things are complicated.  We try to acknowledge mistakes and fix them. We ask users on Google+ if they want to opt into things. And if they say yes, there is that question of how does that work with Safari where you have an opt out.

Chris: You’re moving into social in a big way. That has implications for users and advertisers. I’d be curious to know your take on the advertisers. What’s the uptake? Are they responding positively?

The first step for any marketers on Google+ is to have a Google+ page.   How do we make those really relevant? How do we include those over time? It’s been pretty important for marketers to make those pages fresh, to get more followers, etc. She has seen marketers doing really interesting things, esp with the Hangouts.  She’s seen a stuttering group use Hangouts to help them work through their issues.  Suddenly I feel like everyone in the room is staring at me. I was not involved in that Hangout. I swear.

Yes, Google+ is a social network and it’s a great way to connect with your friends, but it’s also an opportunity for us to be able to work across our products and to say based on what we know about you, these are the things we think are relevant and good for you. How will search change in 10 years? Do you think everyone should be getting the same search results. If she types in [best vacation] should she get the same best vacation as someone else?  If she looks for information about search, she knows a lot about search. Should she get the same results as someone who doesn’t? Google+ is about moving to that next generation of search. Because Google’s early people don’t really understand that as well.

Chris: Every year we say “this is the year of mobile”. It feels like mobile is finally here. Do you agree? How is Google embracing that?

Mobile has been such a huge and interesting and important change. When there’s a big change in information we don’t even notice because it instantly becomes something we can’t live without. As soon as we got our smartphones it was seen as something we couldn’t live without. For advertisers, we’re still really early on. A lot of marketers do not have mobile landing pages.  That would be the first step. Make sure your pages are mobile-friendly. How do you make the creatives be really interactive. Can you shake them? Can you touch them? Can you interact with them?

Mobile is here.

Chris: Your personal background is very interesting. With your father being a physics professor at Stanford and your mother a school teacher, how did you combine your family life into what you’re doing now? How did you become who you are?

She grew up on the Stanford campus.  When you’re little you look up to firemen and policemen. Growing up on the campus gave her a big appreciation fr knowledge and the academic integrity of just wanting to know. Most professors feel like they could get paid more but they have a real passion for being a professor. She grew up with that passion. And that’s very consistent with Google where there’s a real desire to help people find the right information. Her grandmother was a librarian at the Library of Congress for 40 years.  Susan feels like this is the modern version of that.

I think I just fell in love.

Read the rest of our SMX West 2012 liveblogging coverage for more insight.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

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