Google Consumer Surveys - Inquiring Minds Want to Know

By Peter Bernstein April 02, 2012

It is time for a bit of Q&A. This will not take long.

Q: How does Google make money?

A: Through advertising — getting more and raising their rate sheet.

Q: What do advertisers want?
A: Your money without spending more of theirs than necessary.

Q: What do advertisers want from Google?
A: More eyeballs, more clicks and better audience targeting.

Q: How does Google keep advertisers happy?
A: More eyeballs, more clicks and better audience targeting.

Q: How does Google get better audience targeting so it can raise its rates?
A: By giving publishers tools for gathering ever more information about us and selling marketers the analytics of the information generated.

Q: Why am I asking all of these questions?
A: To make you aware, in case you missed it, of Google Consumer Surveys.

Q: Google Consumer Surveys! What’s that?
A: Read on

Pre-April Fool’s but no joke

Now that I have your attention, here is the deal. Take a visit to Google Small Business Blog. In fact, to an item titled, “A fast, accurate, and affordable way to do online market research.” It was posted by Brett Slatkin, software engineer. Mr. Slatkin introduces the latest addition to Google’s money-making arsenal, Google Consumer Surveys.

I won’t spoil all the fun of you taking a test drive. However, here is the gist of it. 

The new feature is the official version of the "surveywall," according to a recent item on the Atlantic by Megan Garber.  She quotes Consumer Surveys product manager Paul McDonald as saying: “It's "basically a substitute for a paywall." It is experienced as single question quick pop-ups. She goes on to describe the capability as: 

“Google pays publishers for hosting the surveys (the equivalent of a $15 CPM); marketers, in turn, pay Google for the demographic-targetable data the publisher-hosted surveys provide; and users, in turn -- provided they don't find the pop-up microsurveys too annoying to complete -- get an alternate way of accessing publisher content that they might otherwise be made to pay for.

(All responses are anonymous, Google says, so they're not tied to a user's identity or used for future ad targeting.)”

With me so far, including the “Google says” part just cited about anonymity?

Google touts the attributes for publishers and marketers as:

  • Fast: Create surveys in minutes and access near instant Google-powered reports, charts, and insights.
  • Affordable: Starting at $0.10 per response—1/10th of the cost of similar quality research.
  • Accurate: Get statistically significant, valid results at scale from real people, not biased panels.

It then invites you to “see how it works.”

Not convinced?  How about some deep background? Thanks to Mr. McDonald and Slatkin and the efforts of colleague Matt Mohebbi, you can read a detailed document, “Comparing Google Consumer Surveys to Existing Probability and Non-Probability Based Internet Surveys.”  

Too much information?   Maybe for us mere mortals but not for the authors. Their point is these types of surveys, because they run directly within publisher sites, mean respondents may be more representative than respondents of more traditional surveys. They also contend that response rates are higher than for telephone surveys and standard Internet ones with a higher degree of accuracy on three separate measures:

  1. Average absolute error (distance from the benchmark)
  2. Largest absolute error
  3. Percent of responses within 3.5 percent of the benchmarks

The limitations are that Google Consumer Surveys only allows one-question or screening two-question surveys making comparisons between survey question a challenge. Plus, since only 78 percent of U.S. households have Internet access results can be skewed for making generalizations. However, this may not be viewed by publishers who rely almost exclusively on the Internet for lead generation and sales. The authors also admit that other bias may occur as the capability becomes popular. 

Ms. Garber makes the observation that is a natural reaction to this: 

“Google's latest pay-the-publishers tool is trying to trade personal information provided by you, the consumer, for information provided to you, the consumer... Google is essentially proposing an alternative economic structure for the transactions that take place on the web. Instead of (or, well, in addition to) tracking your product preferences, semi-surreptitiously, as you move about the interwebs ... Google is now also proposing to track your preferences explicitly. And to treat those preferences as what they are: valuable data. And data that can act, being valuable, as their own kind of currency.”

In previous columns on the subject of privacy, and the value of our identities, I have voiced the notion articulated by Ms. Garber, e.g., that our data is valuable. In fact, I believe it is so valuable that instead of getting something in return from publishers in the form of more information, what we should expect and demand is payment. The form of such payment is not that relevant. It could be a credit to one of our accounts (PayPal, credit or debit card), discounts, extended warranties, free delivery, etc. The options are limitless. 

The point is that we have been lured/suckered/cajoled/enticed into devaluing our identities and opinions so others can prosper. With the appearance of Google Consumer Surveys now could be an opportune time to literally turn the tables. Google may have the appearance of an “honest broker” by sitting between publishers and marketers, however they are not innocent bystanders which is surely not going to go unnoticed. 

In closing, it seems appropriate to end with a final Q&A. Inquiring minds want to know:

Q: Why should Google and publishers have all the fun and profits?
A: They should not.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin
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