Sunday, March 25, 2007

Google and Behavioral Targeting

Google, so far, has refrained from behavioral targeting. But I think it is about time and it is the logical next action for Google to start offering Behavioral Targeting to its advertisers and publishers. Yahoo and MSN are both testing their Behavioral Targeting capabilities; their Behavioral targeting depends on the user data generated on their own sites. Tacoda and Revenue Science built the concept of network first and then are recruiting publishers to participate in the networks. Google is taking all together a new route. It is busy putting its footprint all over the web. These footprints will help Google build the largest and the best Behavioral targeting Ad network. Google already has publishers (Google Search, Content Network, You Tube) and advertisers (Adwords and PPC). Visitor behavior will come from various Google applications which are everywhere on the web. Google knows more about the user on the web that any other company knows. Google is every where (almost) on the web.
Let’s start from Google Search. Via user's search keywords and key phrases Google knows what the user searched for, how many times she searched, which sites she visited, how many times and what time of the day she searched. Google might not know the visitors name but knows the visitor via anonymous cookie.
When a visitor arrives at any site from Google search chances are Google will be present there in form of Adsense, Adwords, Google Checkout or Google Analytics.
Even if a visitor by passes the Google search and uses some other way (yahoo search, live search, bookmark, by directly typing in the URL or any other way) chances are she will visit a site which has Google in one or more of above mentioned form.
Google Adsense/Adwords – A visitor who clicks on an Adsense Ad reveals a lot of about her preferences. Just like search Google knows, Google knows which sites (products, offers) the visitor is interested in. How many times the visitors clicks on the ads and what types of ads she clicks on.
Gmail – Google know what emails a user gets, it knows the content of the email, just look at all the ads that show up when you are reading your email. Even if Google does not have the users physical address it knows how to reach her.
Google Checkout – Google knows what a user buys, where she buys from, how often she buys and voila by using Google checkout she just gave Google her name, address etc.
Google Analytics – This is the one of the best tool (as far as behavioral targeting is concerned) Google has put on the web. Not only will it tell Google which sites the user visits, it will also tell Google where she visits them from, what pages she looks at , how long she stays on which site, what she buys, what keeps her engaged and what does not and list goes on.
You Tube, Blogger, New alerts and several other Google products provide will further enhance the data set Google has.
Google Analytics, Google Search and Adsense is where the majority of the data and the power of the network will come from. Aggregated data of all the applications will provide such a rich set of that that within 2 – 3 clicks Google will know weather user is a good prospect for a particular offer, product, service etc. or not.
I think it is a matter of time when Google start connecting the dots and announce it’s entry into Behavioral Targeting. They might call it something else but at the core it will be leveraging the visitors’ behavior all across the web to better target ad on its network.


  1. Interesting idea... Can they handle all that information and turn it into insights though?

    It's similar to what the grocery industry is going through in trying to effectively utilize their loyalty card data to identify who their most profitable shoppers are and create more targeted marketing and merchandising assortments in their stores.

    Google's ability to handle all this information and turn it into actionable insights could potentially have huge repercussions for other industries as well.

  2. I don't think Google's ability to handle data is the particular problem. More it is the issue of trust.

    At the moment most people trust Google with pretty much all their online data, if that trust were to be misused then with a single click of a mouse Google would disappear.

    Actually it was a lady from Google Analytics that reminded me of this only a few weeks ago when I posed a similar question to her.

    Matt Hopkins

  3. Aaron,

    I am pretty sure Google has the ability to handle all that information and turn into actionable insight.


    I am not sure how much people trust Google were their data. Average user does not even know what is being tracked and how it is being used. Both Yahoo and MSN are developing BT capability so why will Google not do it? I know yahoo has been doing similar sort of targeting for years and are rolling out new BT platform. I was surprised to see an ad of an Indian Matrimonial site when I logged out of my yahoo email account (this was about 6 year ago). How did they know I was an Indian? My name? My search (I did very few searches), my email, my other behavior on their site? I still see Y! India on my left hand side menu bar. I am not distrusting them for this, I like their efforts.
    I don’t think getting into BT will wipe out Google. What about if Google give users and option of opting in (which is what they will have to) or say opting out (which is what most BT ad networks do) will that calm the privacy issues? Publishers and advertisers will love it, they will make more money or reach qualified audience. There will be chance for companies using Google Analytics to monetize users who are not even there on their site anymore (more on this in another blog article). Users will get what they are really interested in rather than random ads.

    - Anil

  4. Russell3:54 PM

    Howdy Anil,

    I really like your take on Google's entry(?) into the behavioral targeting market. It's insightful.

    While I really don't like behavioral targeting, it's just my opinion, what is the difference between behavioral targeting and dynamic targeting? It seems to me that they're the same thing with different names. I can't find the difference and thought maybe you could help.

  5. Trust issues? I really don't buy into that. How many people use Google a day? Are individuals really that important? I think the masses become much more important here, and for them to really revolt would be nearly impossible (look at Wal-Mart's reputation, for instance. Yes, they've suffered, but they will be here longer after the people who complain about them)

  6. Russell,

    Sorry for the late response. You are correct there is not much difference between Behavioral Targeting and Dynamic Targeting. Dynamic Targeting is another way of Behavioral Targeting, it basically says that takes in-session behavior and uses that to target message/products. Behavioral Targeting can be considered a generic name for targeting based on users behavior and than other forms are just more specific way by focusing one form of behavior. Email me at batraonline at if you would like to discuss this further.

  7. Jack GB12:31 AM

    Another important perhaps overlooked result is that if "within 2 – 3 clicks Google will know weather user is a good prospect for a particular offer, product, service etc. or not", it may also anticipate user actions (to a degree) withn one of the applications agregating the data. Outlook does not monitor user behaviour the same way Gmail (or Maps, Checkout, Analytics...) does.

    User behaviour may include responses to advertising choices as well as service use (function) options. There is a a relationship between usability and privacy - the more useful the application the more I use it and the more I tell you about me.

    The existance of all this user knolwege may have implications for web (Google) and enterprise (FAST) search technology companies, as they have an interest in making the 'semantic web' and 'knowledge management' possible and profitable.


I would like to hear your comments and questions.