Gmail -- AdSense for your e-mail?

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Here's a thought.

What if Gmail were not just another free e-mail service. What if it were the world's first e-mail service that paid you for using it?

An intriguing idea, no?

Well, it comes back to those text ads they're going to show on Gmail. Now, regardless of what happens, you will be seeing ads whenever you use Gmail. That's for sure. According to Google's recent filing with the SEC, they pulled in close to a billion dollars in ad revenue for 2003. That means 95% of Google's revenues are ad-based. So how can they top that? And what about all these competitors knocking at the door?

Google needs another way to lock folks into their brand of advertising. So Gmail is born. For users, Gmail is an e-mail service. For Google, Gmail is all about connecting relevant ads to eyeballs. And lots of eyeballs.

You see, when you login to Gmail, Google knows who you are. And Google knows what you're interested in, due to your e-mail history. There's a whole privacy thing involved here, which I will completely sidestep. Google can also build a history of your interests based on the ads you do click on.

Over time, Google will show you increasingly relevant ads to you as you read your e-mail. These ads may well be the the most personally targeted ads you've ever seen. Think about the methods of mass advertising available today: TV, radio, print, web-- all of these are predominately weakly-targeted. The ad may be playing during a Seinfeld show, but what does that say about the consumer? Some things yes, but you don't know who they are, what their likes or dislikes are, etc. The click-through rate for these ads will be undoubtedly higher than ads for these other channels. The advertising rate may be higher too. Google makes more money.

What if you were compensated for those ads? Or at least for clicking through to on those ads? Why should Google cut you a slice from their ad revenue pie? Because you are sharing your e-mail with Google and they are making money from it.

Here's what I'd like to see: Google would keep track of your click-throughs for those ads. Google would give you credit for those click-throughs, allowing them to accrue in your Gmail account. For those that want to do so (and are eligible), they may enter their relevant W-9 tax information and convert those credits to hard cash.

If Google decides to, they could share the click-through bonus between parties when an e-mail is sent from a Gmail user, to a Gmail user. Some real incentive for people to communicate with each other. I like it.

So lets weigh the advantages:

  • Gmail gets a ton of free press due to this unique take on ad-based free e-mail. They already have gotten a ton of free press for the 1 GB of free storage, but my guess is this would be even more newsworthy.
  • Gmail users want to use Gmail as their primary e-mail service, since it's the only one that pays.
  • Gmail users that participate in the payback program will be more likely to evangelize others to use the Gmail service.
  • Advertisers are more likely to advertise on Gmail since their ads are highly targeted, not to mention that Google is providing extra incentive to the user to click through.
  • Higher web advertising revenues are boon for web industry. Which leads to strong tech revenues, which leads to a stronger economy. Eventually, world peace.

OK, I may be reaching.

Disadvantages?

  • Advertisers see the benefits of personally targeted ads and push for methods to personally identify everyone they advertise to, across all mediums (cable/satellite TV, digital radio, e-Ink newspapers!). Your private life is over.
  • You spend every waking minute clicking on Gmail ads, hoping to exceed your regular salary. You fail miserably and lose your regular job in the process.

What about abuse? Well, Google could limit one payment per advertisement. That would be pretty effective I think. Or they could place a limit on the maximum you could earn from ads associated with a single e-mail. Or any number of ways. I'm sure they could find a combination that would make the end user and Google accountants happy.

Now, how much money could you make on click-throughs like this? Since this is all very speculative, I don't have any hard figures. But lets say you could make 10 cents on average for each click-through. Granted, not much. But perhaps some incentive, right? What if some paid as much as 1 dollar? Would you be more likely to click on those ads? Would you be more likely to click if the ad revealed how much you get?

Lets say you could make upwards to $1 or $2 a day by clicking on these ads. It's not going help you retire early, but it could pay for a CD or two each month. That sure would beat Hotmail, wouldn't it?

Come on Google, let's do it for world peace.

✉   ✉   ✉

A few more random thoughts...

  • It is possible, though not likely considering the privacy backlash Google has had over Gmail, that Google could target external users for personalized ads. Imagine you've never used Gmail yourself. Your e-mail is provided through your ISP. But you communicate frequently with a friend that uses Gmail. Google could gather information, building a profile on you based on the conversations you have with your Gmail friend(s). Gmail could then attach targeted ads to the e-mails that are sent to you from any Gmail user. I really doubt Google would ever do this. Many would never e-mail any Gmail user if they did.
  • Personally, I think Google should not alter the content of the e-mails that are sent out. This would be the non-evil thing to do. Most free e-mail services (Yahoo, Hotmail and the like) add an advertisement to the bottom of the e-mail. I think Google should leave Gmail ads on the Gmail site. Otherwise, every Gmail user is basically a spammer whether they like it or not. So far, they are not adding anything to outbound e-mails, but that may change once the beta phase is over.
  • Google's love for advertising is all-consuming. They now have ads on: web search, Google Groups, Froogle, Google Answers, Google Directory and Blogger (via Blogspot). And thanks to AdSense, every other web site out there (including this one!). I expect once Orkut officially launches, it will display targeted ads for all of those users. Remember when Google didn't have ads?

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7 Comments

It's about time that someone target ads for me since they know all about me anyways. I personally would like them to ask me more questions to target the ads better.

  • I just had my my mortgage redone, so don't try to sell me one.
  • I don't run Windows so don't market windows software to me.
  • I don't need viagra so sell me sometime else more useful!
  • Sell me books that fit with my interests!
  • Sell me music I'm interested in
  • Advertise movies, resturants, etc. that I'm Interested in!

Thanks!

Mark J said:

I'm not sure the potential extra number of subscribers they'd get would be worth the pennies they'd pay, especially considering the potential for abuse when millions are given access to their own PPC system like that and the subsequent devaluation of Google Ads.

Regarding Gary's comment about advertising Windows software... why DON'T they do a little $_SERVER["HTTP_USER_AGENT"] magic to ensure that people don't get ads targeted to other operating systems?

Peter Caputa said:

Brad,
Excellent thoughts. I think the next evolution of applications will be tools so that the average content creator/web user can get paid. Maybe not an income, but something.

Remember how fast ALLADVANTAGE.com spread?

For your scheme to work with adsense, however, google needs to track and pay out based on cost-per-conversion, not per clicks. Everyone would be gaming the system. Or if you had to limit the number of clicks, it wouldn't be that big of an incentive.

For some of their customers/advertisers, I believe they already know whether the click is resulting in a sale. So, they could start this immediately.

So, using gmail or google would be like using a coupon.

This would be the killer app. Advertisers are happy because they pay only for sales. Consumers are happy because you are saving them money.

This is a HUGE IDEA!

Google should be buying or partnering with an affiliate advertising network to test this concept.

ceejayoz said:
Regarding Gary’s comment about advertising Windows software… why DON’T they do a little $_SERVER[“HTTP_USER_AGENT”] magic to ensure that people don’t get ads targeted to other operating systems?

Why bother?

They're already correctly targeted for 95% of users, and the remaining 5% aren't likely to click the links (thusly costing the advertiser nothing) anyways.

Adra said:

Brad,

You have a good idea here, but are forgetting one main thing: Google's way of repaying us for putting up with the (happily unobtrusive) advertising is to NOT charge us to use Gmail or the gig of storage that we get with it. Even if you were able to sell them on the idea that they owed users some money for clicks on links, that amount would be so small that it would cease to be an incentive to click (probably in the vicinity of a penny). Our real incentive is the relevance of the ad, which is why I like Google: everyone wins. We find out more about things that actually matter to us, and advertisers reach their target market in one of the most effective and efficient methods yet devised. (I'm a marketing student, can you tell?)

Sharbel said:

Good thoughts, very informative and thought provoking.

Google is getting very clever with bringing more applications to the cloud... letting them advertise is alright imo.

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This article was published on May 2, 2004 2:15 PM.

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