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Google Shies Away From Behavioral Ad Targeting

 12:14 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

Google Inc. is looking to find more links between the searches its users do in order to better target advertising, but the company is reluctant to go much further than that in tracking their behavior.

Susan Wojcicki, Google vice president of product management for advertising, said on Tuesday Google was shying away from the industry race to deliver tools for advertisers that stitch together a user's various online actions into one profile.

Google Shies Away From Behavioral Ad Targeting [uk.reuters.com]

[edited by: tedster at 5:36 pm (utc) on Aug. 1, 2007]



 1:05 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

I believe this is wise on the part of Google. They can't be all things to all marketers. Google is contextual marketing. Let others attempt to deliver demographics. You want to build your brand among men, age 30 to 50? Talk to the NFL, not Google.

One of the things we learned from the AOL search data leak was different people look for different things for different reasons. Behavioral ad targeting is more of an art than a science and always will be. Google is more science than art and they are wise enough to know it.


 1:13 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

Excellent news!

Behavioral Marketing = BM.

In seeking patterns, Google's plans involve tracking the various words typed in a given search session, as opposed to building a deeper user profile over time. The latter is known broadly as behavioral targeting, which has long been seen by many as the Holy Grail of the online ad business, but inevitably raises issues about personal privacy.

"We believe that task-based information at the time (of a user's search) is the most relevant information to what they are looking at," she said. "We always want to be very careful about what information would or would not be used."

At issue is not only users' sense of privacy, but the success of Google's existing business tying Web searches to related ad links, she said. Plus, the intentions of users can be elusive based on any given set of actions.

Google's getting this right, in my opinion. The idea that you can profile the activity on a computer into better marketing has so many flaws, it's ridiculous (not to mention the privacy concerns). Treating human beings like data repositories and assuming you can forecast their thoughts and desires is not only dehumanizing, it's just flat wrong. When I shop for something for my wife and when my son uses my computer for a few minutes, not only is the targeting wrong, but my profile is then mucked up too.

I'm not an alarmist about security, I'm a realist about the wonderful variety of the interests in each individual human mind. The best you can do is to offer people what they've specifically expressed an interest in - that is the holy grail of marketing.

Marketers all want to believe everyone wants their stuff. With that bias in hand, BM will lead to other people making decisions about what you think you want in a self-serving way.


 1:32 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

Behavioral never worked for our sites. Contextual is the best.

People may have searched for tooth brush 3 days ago, but that does not mean they want to buy tooth brush today. They may want to lose some weight or buy a car today.

I do't see point in behavioral marketing.


 1:41 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

Okay I like the sound of it (even though they say "sense of privacy" instead of "privacy"), but what is it called when Google shows me the same ads from company X all day long, no matter what site I'm on?

It's definitely based on some aspect of my profile. The company from the instance I'm thinking of is a big Canadian telco and I saw their ads on every adsense-running site, related to the content or not, including my own until I blocked them.

I think "shying away from" is not the same as "not doing."


 1:58 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

Metaphorically, that is probably coming from your location, which is not behavioral. But, in any case, I think you're right--G will likely do a little behavioral targeting in the areas where it does make good cents. They're just not going to offer it to those selling bird diapers.


 2:19 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

Interesting, ehm...

I wonder why I started seeing ads targeted to my previous Google search phrases that day on our main earner site....site that has NO information on these KWs whatsoever...doesn't even mention words. Happened 2 or 3 days ago.

Repeat that mantra to you:
This is not BM...this is not BM...this is not BM

I guess everyone should understand by now that Google is a big company, and whatever comes out from marketing/PR department is targeted toward increasing PR points, and has NOTHING to do with what is actually going on in the company.

Mark that for any big company's marketing department

[edited by: aleksl at 2:27 pm (utc) on Aug. 1, 2007]


 2:24 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

This hardly seems like a flat statement that Google will never do behavioral targeting. I think it's a logical evolution of the ad targeting process, and Google is no doubt willing to let other firms take the heat while they develop better tools.

Ultimately, anything that delivers better targeted ads is a benefit to the consumer. If Google knows I frequent sites about fishing and I'm now browsing a Florida travel site, why not hit me with an ad for Florida fishing charters instead of just more hotels or cheap flights? The probability of a click goes up (good for them) and my special interest is being accommodated (good for me). Google has shown discretion in the past (e.g., figuring out that you don't show Samsonite ads next to a story titled "Murder Victim Found in Suitcase.") They would have to be careful about ads related to health conditions, sexual preference, etc.

Google has enough privacy concerns on their plate right now without adding behavioral targeting to the mix. At the moment, any incremental revenue from better ad performance might be offset by bad press.


 3:33 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

Behavioral never worked for our sites. Contextual is the best.....I do't see point in behavioral marketing.

You're looking at advertising from an extremely narrow perspective (presumably that of the e-commerce or affiliate marketer). Advertising is about more than direct marketing. For that matter, direct marketing isn't always about immediate transactions.

Also, there are different flavors of "behavioral ad targeting." Google may be reluctant to show you an ad for racy underwear just because you were ogling the Victoria's Secret site a few days ago, but it's hard to believe that Google isn't interested in reaching targeted audiences. That can be done without violating (or appearing to violate) the privacy of users.


 6:05 pm on Aug 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

>>The idea that you can profile the activity on a computer into better marketing has so many flaws, it's ridiculous...

Marketing is all about numbers and probabilities. Sure, maybe some other user was the one looking up cruise ship info, and subsequent cruise ads are wasted on you (who doesn't go near the water). Looking at the big picture, though, if thousand PCs were looking up cruise info yesterday and the day before, it's likely that today a large percentage of those PCs will be in use by someone interested in cruises. Another fraction may have booked a cruise already, or given up on the idea, but the remaining hundreds of users are much, much better prospects than a random selection of users.

Compare the flaws of behavioral targeting to the scattershot approach of TV, newspaper, or magazine ads... As a marketer, I'd take the history-based ads every time.


 4:33 am on Aug 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

Google's plans involve tracking the various words typed in a given search session

I think the most important thing will be how they determine the length of a session, and what control as an advertiser we will have.

There have been some interesting changes over at AdWords, that few people actually have noticed or talked about [webmasterworld.com].

Depending on what I am selling it could be a great or a terrible thing. As an advertiser, it would be nice to have to opt into this kind of behavioral (search history) matching, or at the least have the option of opting out outside of going strictly phrase or exact. People are complaining that broad match has gone crazy [webmasterworld.com].


 3:01 pm on Aug 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

In response to werty, I've had times when ads show up that are not related to the current query at all, but still relate to the prior query I entered 30 seconds before.

Google is definitely testing various things.


 12:50 am on Aug 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

This appears to me to be a complete lie. I don't believe this for one second.


 5:18 am on Aug 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

"We believe that task-based information at the time (of a user's search) is the most relevant information to what they are looking at."

That, of course, implies snooping on what the user is doing. I've seen a patent which suggests looking at what other applications are running to get a hint of what the user is doing. The idea seems to be that if you're searching for "gold", you get different results depending on whether you're running Excel, Photoshop, or Everquest. This is probably not a good idea.

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