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Brands interested in doing market research and publishers trying to make money on content have a new friend in Google, as the search giant is acting as go-between with a new tool that gives both audiences exactly what they want.

On Thursday, Google launched Google Consumer Surveys, a new product businesses can use to survey online audiences and publishers can host in place of paywalls or ads to generate revenue from site visitors.

The quid-pro-quo system works as follows: Brands, small businesses, and marketers use Google consumer surveys to conduct online market research. Google then places the questions in front of targeted web denizens when they land on a premium content page in Google’s publisher network. The brand pays per response ($0.10 to $0.50 each, depending on targeting preferences), and Google and participating publishers pocket the money made from each response. Even the would-be content viewer benefits, as she doesn’t have to pay or sign in to access news articles or videos that might otherwise be locked behind a paywall.

Here’s why this strikes us as a crafty idea: Google isn’t selling a full-service market research service, but instead a hybrid of the cheap, do-it-yourself online survey products and the expensive, hands-on approach offered by a traditional firm.

On the do-it-yourself side of things, the brand or marketer is responsible for creating the microsurvey questionnaire, determining the type of audience (U.S. only) it wants to target, and identifying the total number of responses it’s seeking. Then, the customer takes a backseat as Google drives the sampling, weighting, and analysis pieces of the process.

In so doing, Google is offering the best of both worlds — convenience, affordability, sample balancing, and analysis — and monetizing publisher content in a way that doesn’t discourage readership and traffic.

Of course, one has to wonder if Google’s controversial new privacy policies are allowing the company to pull from cross-product data to better identify folks to complete microsurveys. Google said this is not the case. The product allows for specific targeting by gender, age group, and geographic regions based on inferred demographics, and custom audience targeting through screening questions. All responses are anonymous, Google said, so they’re not tied to a user’s identity or used for future ad targeting.

At launch, publisher partners include Pandora, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Daily News. Initial brand testers include Lucky Brand Jeans, Tumbk2, and King Arthur (baking products). A Google spokesperson told VentureBeat that it’s too soon to speculate on the long-term status of the product. “Right now, our focus is on rolling this out and seeing how it can help companies and publishers meet their business objectives,” the spokesperson said.

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