Google Gets Personal.  Will Advertising Follow

Reproduced from the May 2007 Attacat Newsletter – Estimated time to read: 2 mins 45 secs

Google has been pretty busy in the last couple of weeks. You probably noted the DoubleClick deal but did you spot the quiet addition of “Web History” to Google’s offering?

The acquisition of the internet ad serving company for $3.1 billion is certainly interesting. My feeling though, is that the new Web History service is part of a far more exciting development for advertisers.

This new Google service records the web pages you view much like the history facility you have probably used with your browser. One major difference though is that you can do a Google search of all the pages you have visited (helpful if you know you have seen something but can’t remember where).

What some will be less aware of though is that Google also uses this information to provide “improved” search results as per the blurb on the sign-up page:

“Web History helps deliver more personalized search results based on what you’ve searched for on Google and which sites you’ve visited.”

A technical term to describe this is “behavioural targeting” although it is more usually applied to advertising (of the DoubleClick ilk), rather than search.

Whilst this personalised search is currently only an organic search phenomena, it doesn’t take a major conceptual leap to realise that it is only a matter of time before a behavioural or “personalised” element is likely to creep into sponsored results as well.

Hoteliers in California will surely be getting excited. The prospect of being able to advertise on the phrase “hotel california” but only targeting people who are in “travel mode” as opposed to “music mode” must be very appealing to those who end up paying for Eagles’ fans to visit their site.

Using someone’s recent surfing history would give the advertiser the ability to narrow down prospects to those more likely to convert into customers. It’s a powerful advertising opportunity.

But combine that opportunity with someone actively searching for your product or service and suddenly you have the ability to speak to a pre-qualified audience shouting about their intent to find what you offer. Worth paying for? I think so.

And if all this is not granular enough for you, then how about throwing geographic and/or demographic targeting into the mix?

The ability to request prospects only from a specific geographic area is already widespread within search engine advertising.

The primary unique selling point of Microsoft’s AdCenter (their answer to Google AdWords) is its claim to offer effective targeting by age, sex etc. Clothing retailers present just one example of a group that this is useful for. Imagine a search for “cashmere jumper” – a 25 year old bloke will be looking for a wildly different product to a lady aged 65.

Combine the big four of search, behaviour, demographic and geographic and try to envisage the possibilities.

Say, for example, you were trying to get a meeting with Fred Goodwin, the CEO of the Royal Bank, to sell your latest digital banking solution. Simply adjust your settings to men aged 40-50, located within 1 mile of the Gogarburn HQ , who have visited Hilman Imp-related websites (one of Fred’s declared interests), then sit back and wait for “someone” to type “banking software” into their search engine.

An advertisers’ paradise. Whether Fred and privacy groups will be so happy is less clear .

Whilst laws will be passed, I would be surprised if it is legislation that ultimately decides just what us advertisers can get our hands on. Instead it will come down to how much information individuals are willing to give up in return for better tools.

Web History fits this bill entirely. You let Google know what you have been up to. In return they offer you a nifty little utility and better search results.

The Fred Goodwin scenario I mentioned earlier would likely be a step too far, at least without Fred knowing about it. Google is not unaware and that’s why they call it personalised search rather than behavioural targeting.

Web History is a major milestone due to its reach. Few people with Google accounts will have resisted (or will resist) the invitation. And with Google’s increasing array of free software on offer, the number of Google accounts must be staggering.

So organic listings are getting personalised. How long can it be before the sponsored listings follow suit?

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