I’m sure all of you have heard of Google’s AdWords. You know that this product is what fuels the Google empire. To be specific, AdWords is currently 16 years old, and last year alone it generated well over $50B in revenue.
What I’m guessing most of you don’t know, however, is just how this industry-defining product actually came to be.And especially how close this product came to never happening at all.
The year was 2000, and the hardest part about the AdWords project was simply getting agreement that they could work on it.
The core idea had support from Larry Page, but the idea immediately encountered some pretty strong resistance from both the ad sales team, and the engineering team.
Jane Manning was a young engineering manager that was asked to serve as product manager for this effort to try to get it off the dime.
The new sales team, under Omid Kordistani, was off to a strong start selling keywords to large brands and placing the results at the top of the search results, highlighted as an ad, but still very prominent, much in the style that had been done in search results at other companies, including at Netscape where Omid came from.Sales was nervous that this idea of a self-service advertising platform would diminish the value of what the sales team was trying to sell.
And the engineers, which had been working so hard to provide highly relevant search results, were undersandably very worried that users would be confused and frustrated by ads getting in the way of their search results.
Jane sat down with each of these people to get a deeper understanding of their concerns. Some were just plain uncomfortable with advertising.Others were worried about cannibalization.
Once Jane understood the constraints and concerns she was able to advocate for a solution that she believed would address the issues yet enable countless small businesses to get a much more effective advertising solution. Jane also was able to persuade one of Google’s earliest and most respected engineers, Georges Harik, of the idea’s potential, and he helped to bring along other engineers.
The product solution they ended up with placed the AdWords-generated ads to the side of the search results, so they wouldn’t be confused with the salesperson-sold ads which were displayed on the top of the results.
Also, instead of determining placement based solely on the price paid, they would use a formula that multiplied the price paid per impression with the ad’s performance (click-through-rate) to determine placement, so that the best-performing ads – the ones most likely to be most relevant to users – would rise to the top, and the worst ads would be unlikely to be displayed at all, even if they were sold at a higher price.
This solution clearly differentiated for the sales team, and also ensured quality search results, whether paid or organic.
Jane actually wrote the first spec for AdWords, and worked side by side with the engineers to build and launch.
This is yet another example of how there are always so many good reasons for products not to get built.In the products that succeed, there is always someone like Jane behind the scenes working to get over each and every one of the objections, be they technical or business or anything else.
Jane took a break to start a family and is now back at Google once again, this time helping out the YouTube team.