Yep, You’ve Been Clicking On Google AdWords For 15 Years

Google’s SVP of ads and commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy talks about AdWords’ shift to mobile, and where it’s headed.

The world of online advertising has become a swirling black hole of a programmatic native 360-video mobile beacon mind explosion. One of the most consistent players on the pathway here has been Google AdWords, which marks its 15th anniversary this week. That’s 87 in tech industry years.


To celebrate, the company created an infographic walk down memory lane. Engineer Ross Koningstein, now Director Emeritus at Google says that, technically speaking, when AdWords launched on October 23, 2000, it was the wild west. “None of us had any experience building anything like AdWords, so like any new invention, there was a lot of trepidation as to whether it would work,” says Koningstein. “We were basing our expectations off of assumptions as to the volume and strength of the system. The day we launched, the company placed a homepage promotion of AdWords on The backend was so new that we weren’t sure it could support so much traffic. There were a bunch of engineers cheering each new customer sign up, and also cautiously watching to make sure we stayed within the capabilities of the system, which we upgraded soon after.”

Google’s SVP of ads and commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy has been at the company for 12 and a half years, says one of the biggest challenges AdWords faced was its shift to mobile as a fundamental part of the business, not just an add-on.

“We used to have a specialist mobile team in the early years of 2007 and 2008, and it kept expanding but it got to a point where I couldn’t expand the team fast enough to keep up with everything that was going on in mobile,” says Ramaswamy. “The right answer was that everyone needed to work on mobile. I, painfully, ended up dismantling the mobile team and putting them across all the teams that worked on ads, then going and telling every team that mobile was now our collective responsibility. That’s how you push large-scale change through. I’d characterize our decision-making as, making a lot of proactive bets, but then being very sharp about which ones will take off in a big way, then really going after them.”

The two biggest challenges the AdWords team is focused on right now are driving local commerce over mobile, and expanding the insights from YouTube video advertising. “The value of a mobile query is more valuable than a desktop one because mobile drives a lot of direct action in local behavior,” says Ramaswamy. “We’ve launched a product called Store Visits in 11 countries now and they tell an advertiser how many people who clicked on the search ads actually visited their stores. It’s done through first-party info, it’s anonymous and aggregated, so we’re always conscious of user privacy, but it’s a prime example of how mobile can drive substantial value.”

Brand advertising on YouTube is the other significant focus, planning the next generation of insights around how to tell if users are influenced by the ads they see. “Our goal is to eventually be able to tell them how much the increase in sales was due to consumers watching their videos so they can adapt and adjust their video as they would a search campaign,” says Ramaswamy.

Advertisers are asking for insights on uplift that comes from search ads, right now we give them metrics about things like store visits, but what they really want to know is how much additional traffic the advertising drives in terms of store visits, and ideally they also want to know how many additional dollars were spent as a result of their online advertising. “It’s similar on brand advertising on YouTube–they want to know which of their campaigns are effective, how it changed consumer behavior, how it affected store sales, as well as changing trends,” says Ramaswamy. “If you make shampoo, and a new kind becomes wildly popular, as evidenced in Google search, they’d like to know that info. And those are all things we’re working on.”


About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.