Google keeping focus on search

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Google yesterday sought to pour cold water on rumors that the company is looking to get into the healthcare or advertising and media services businesses.

In a New York meeting with business-to-business reporters, Google president of advertising and commerce Tim Armstrong said that in order to break into advertising services, Google would have to hire tens of thousands of agency execs, and that's not going to happen. The rumors were fanned by Google's recent hiring of Ogilvy & Mather New York co-president Andy Berndt, but Armstrong said Berndt had just been brought on “to think about how we market our products and services.”

Similarly, the recent departure of health information chief Adam Bosworth had Google watchers examining the tea leaves. “Google is not a healthcare company, nor do we aspire to be one,” product marketing manager Missy Krasner said during a panel discussion at the Health 2.0 User Generated Healthcare conference in San Francisco. “We are taking this kind of slowly and have a very modest approach. Right now, our business model is to put out a product that is valuable to users that will help drive search.”

The firm is, however, working on a number of new tools designed to help agencies and advertisers better target their buys, both online and off, and sharpening its healthcare offering with new data.

“The two questions I always get from brand managers are ‘What are doctors doing online?' and ‘What should the marketing mix be?” said Khee Lee, vertical market manager for health at Google, at the New York presser. Doctors, he said, are doing a lot online, and pharma companies aren't doing nearly enough.

“Doctors are high adopters of technology,” he said. “Look at PDAs.” Even older physicians are tech-savvy, said Lee, and many are gravitating toward online video and blogging. “They're going online to help their practice – it's kind of their value add to their patients.” But even the elementals of online marketing are under-leveraged in the healthcare space, said Lee. “There are a lot of brands out there that aren't even using search optimization.” Also under-utilized by pharma is the company's Trends feature, which plots the popularity of searches over time, potentially revealing seasonal swells and troughs in consumer interest in a given drug category or condition.

Google is partnering with some medical societies to help it rank sites for health information on conditions through its Co-op platform, Lee said. The company is also surveying physicians on their online behavior and working on “much more fine data points” on consumer behavior. Those data may be made publicly available, he said. Also in the works, according to Armstrong, is a program that would allow advertisers to build “microsegments” or “fragments” of ads that would be pieced together based on keyword searches, “so that every household or computer or phone gets an individual ad” tailored to their interests.
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