Advertisers and publishers are always looking for ways to improve targeting accuracy. You know yourself when your ads closely match your audience your click through rate goes up, you are happy because you are getting lots of lovely cheques and your advertisers are happy because they get results. You might have read that Yahoo! are testing behavioural targeting, this has got to mean Google are too – could this be just the news we needed to hear?
What is behavioural targeting
While you are clicking and surfing around blogs and websites you are building up a pattern of behaviour. Anyone following your path through the web will be able to pick up on clues as to your interests and more importantly your intentions.
How does it work?
Previously this sniffing of your activity has been the domain of dodgy outfits such as Gator, the famously controversial company that was often bundled onto your machine without you specifically asking for it. And we all love software being installed without asking don’t we? Uh hum. Apparently now though with a name change and a bit of spin the technique is now quite ok thankyouverymuch. Many toolbars also follow your browsing and send information back home. This is exactly how Alexa gets the information it collates on how popular sites are.
While it is more efficient to use spyware or at least a toolbar, it is not entirely necessary. With a big enough advertising network you can get a very good idea of an individuals surfing habits. Look how pervasive Google Adsense and the Yahoo!/Overture network are. Just by piecing together your search queries with the links you decide to click (or discard) gives an indication of what you are about.
Why is this important?
If they get this right then you will get better ads displayed on your blog and you will earn more money. Only if they get it right of course, we will have to wait and see on that one. In theory rather than depending on the content matching algorithm we see now, which is frankly hit and miss depending on your niche, we ought to see also ads targeting the reader not the topic.
How it might work is this. Robbie reader searches for [China] and clicks through to Billy Bloggers Tourism Adventures Blog. Now ordinarily Billy Blogger is constantly fighting a losing battle against Google Adsense ads appearing trying to sell cups and plates but with his new shiny Yahoo! behavioural ads Robbie Reader sees advertising selling China the country products for tourists.
Great! What is the problem?
Well the first problem is already alluded to above. The companies who made this technique “popular” were the spyware people. This taints the field somewhat and has privacy advocates quite concerned to say the least. People are not aware they are being tracked, there is no opt-in that I can see. Also, who else has access to this information?
The second problem is the effectiveness of the targeting. As the system will need to rely on two dodgy assumptions, one the person currently using the system is the one who built up all the behaviour information, and two that the person is still on the same mission as they were before. There is no way to know if they still want to see the same ads even if they were previously looking to buy an IPod, they might have happily bought one and now would like to see ads for something else.
We all know how flaky the suggestions on Amazon can be, especially mine. I buy presents for my six year old daughter, my mum and dad, my goth brother. Amazon thinks I am a sixty-year-old Disney princess who likes Marylin Manson.
What do you think?
Google and MSN are bound to be working on the same thing so do you see this as a good thing, indifferent, bad thing? Let us know …