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April 1, 2009

An SEM’s Take on Interest-Based Ads – SEM Synergy Extras

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James Kim
James Kim, SEM Analyst

Today on SEM Synergy we discuss Google’s recently announced interest-based ads with guest David Szetela. David’s got lots of knowledge on the topic of PPC, which he shares on the Clix Marketing PPC Blog, on WebmasterRadio’s PPC Rockstars and on his Profitable PPC column at Search Engine Watch. Thank you, David, for coming on the show and sharing your insights into behavioral ad targeting.

For this week’s SEM Synergy Extras I’d like to welcome guest blogger James Kim. James has been an SEM analyst at Bruce Clay, Inc. since 2007 and was kind enough to give us his perspective of interest-based ads and how the program will affect advertisers, users and search engines alike. Take it away, James!

There has been a lot of buzz and concern over Google’s interest-based advertising that is being tested in beta. It seems to me that the majority of commenters are screaming about privacy issues and the violation of their Web surfing habits. I personally like the idea and am looking forward to its full release. As an advertiser, I can target ads to people more likely to show an interest in my product or service, and as a Internet user, I will see ads that relate to topics I am interested in instead of those annoying image ads of before-and-after stomachs that appear on every site I visit. (I have my share of blubber; I don’t need to see someone else’s.)

Here’s how interest-based ads work. When you visit a site that displays ads by Google, Google gives you a cookie that stores information on your browser to remember your visit. Then Google will place your cookie number in specific categories based on sites that you visit or YouTube videos you watch. Finally, when you visit a site with interest-based ads by Google, you will see more ads that correspond to the categories your cookie number has been associated with. Your name or personal information is never stored with this cookie.

chocolate chip cookies
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography
via Creative Commons

One flaw of the cookie-based system is how to differentiate between multiple users. A family computer, computers shared by friends or even publicly accessible computers may complicate the interest-based ad experience. Imagine a father looking through financial sites and seeing ads for cartoon memorabilia, or someone in a public library researching the latest Paris fashions seeing ads about construction equipment. It will be interesting to see how Google addresses this issue.

However, when it comes to privacy, Google seems to have taken measures to ensure that interest-based ads provide the least invasive experience possible. You can select your interests and see ads on topics you choose or you can opt out of the interest-based experience completely. This goes beyond the FTC’s recommendations and guidelines for online behavioral advertising.

While privacy concerns are justifiable, I feel that Google has gone the extra mile in their efforts to introduce this tool and still allow for user privacy. There is an official Google video on YouTube that explains how it all works and how users can set preferences or opt out. I don’t think that any other company has gone to so much trouble. Other search engines have already been doing behavior-based data collection and advertising targeting. The majority of Internet users are probably unaware of what is going on and probably don’t care.

paranoid girl
Photo by brewedfreshdaily via Creative Commons

If you are still paranoid about the data Google is collecting, think of all the other data collected in your life away from the Internet? How about your travel preferences with airlines when you use their travel miles rewards program? What are you going to do about the grocery stores capturing your purchasing data when you use their club cards? And credit card purchases? (Is your paranoia growing yet?) It’s out there. It’s everywhere. It’s the basis of marketing, demographics and selling to the audience that matters to you.

Please, take a deep breath and relax. Google is just providing a tool to allow advertisers to make their ads more relevant. This might be the best marketing tool to come out of Google yet.

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