MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Like it or not, Google Maps on mobile devices will have advertising pins stuck all over them. Google announced it will start seeding maps with "promoted pins" marking locations where Google thinks people might want to shop, dine or gas up along their way.
"A promoted pin for McDonald's might make them want to stop for a bite to eat," said Jerry Dischler Google vice president of product management for AdWords. Pins may have associated text offering discounts and special promotions, he said.
"We try to come up with the most relevant advertising opportunities for our users and advertisers," he said. "Many of our ad formats lead to better user experiences than those pages without ads."
Google has no plans to let users opt out of seeing promoted pins, Dischler said.
Currently, Google places any ads below the map in search results on mobile devices; on desktop computers, ads can be found on the maps in the form of business names beside a small purple icon. The firm also sells "pin" ads on Waze, its crowdsourced traffic and route app.
For the Mountain View-based search giant, the new ads fit with the trend in searches done on mobile devices. Almost a third of all mobile-based searches have to do with location, with people seeking goods and services near where they are or plan to be, Dischler said. "Our smartphones now play a critical role in guiding us through the world," Dischler said.
Dischler was reluctant to detail what user data would be used to match particular advertising pins with particular users, but when pressed, he said the information would include users' "interests and behaviors that we would collect ... using personal features in a privacy-sensitive way."
"I wouldn't show you Starbucks ads if you don't go to Starbucks often," Dischler said.
Gartner digital marketing analyst Andrew Frank said the announcement left him wondering what took Google so long to monetize the actual maps in Maps. "It's clearly one of the strongest footholds they have in the mobile space," Frank said. "Google in the larger picture is seeking new frontiers on which to continue its growth now that its traditional search business is starting to plateau. It's not surprising to see ideas to monetize things that maybe in the past had been free services."
Dischler, when asked how many ad pins might appear on a map, said Google was "very sensitive to quality."
The number of pins will be important to users and advertisers, Frank said. "I expect that they're going to be very sensitive to that and not make the same mistake that other map providers have made and clutter up the page with unnecessary ads," Frank said. For advertisers, he said, "it's going to be hard to convince them that they're going to stand out if there are a dozen or more pins on a map page."
Users will want ads relevant to them, and advertisers will want to reach users likely to buy what they're selling. Google has become "quite good" at using data to predict consumer behavior, and not solely through gathering information on personal preferences and behaviors, Frank said.
"The art of targeting pins on maps is probably not just based on an assessment of personal preferences," he said. "Context has a lot to do with it as well. If it's lunchtime, it might make more sense to highlight places that serve lunch regardless of what type of person you're advertising to."
Even data concerning whether a user is in motion or still can make up one of the "subtle contextual features (that) are at least as important as someone's history in predicting what's going to be relevant," Frank said.
Should the new pin ads degrade the Google Maps user experience, Apple, with its own Maps app, would be the likely beneficiary, Frank said.
Google is working to "optimize" the pin ads so they don't distract drivers, Dischler said.
A Google representative said the pins would start to appear by year's end.