Posted August 1, 2007 9:52 am by with 5 comments

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While it may seem that every ad network and their mother is jumping into behavioral targeting, Google’s taking a different approach. Concerned that behavioral targeting might upset the AdWords cash cow applecart, Susan Wojcicki, Google’s vice president of product management for advertising, explained to Reuters why the company is testing session-based targeting, not profile-based.

“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.”

Behavioral targeting has always concerned me. No, I’m not a privacy-pansy, but I do worry that a search engine would assume too much about my current search. Just because I spent all last week researching North Carolina’s hurricane season, doesn’t mean that I now want a weather forecast when I really want info on my favorite hockey team’s upcoming opponent.

Google appears to “get” this and is instead focusing their targeting efforts on the search session only.

Google has been testing for several weeks a new advertising feature that delivers ads based not simply on a specific search term, but also on the immediately previous search, she said.

A user who types “Italy vacation” into a Google search box might see ads about Tuscany or cheap flights to Europe. Were the same user to subsequently search for “weather,” Google will assume there is a link between “Italy vacation” and “weather” and deliver ads tied to local weather conditions in Italy.

Has anyone seen this in the wild? Have you seen any searches that include AdWords that appear to anticipate your current search intent?

  • behavioral targeting

    first time to see.

  • I caught this last night and was surprised when I first heard that Google was being cautious with behavioral targeting. It seems like an obvious step with personalization, but it does make sense that searches you performed last week may have nothing to do with what you’re searching for now.

    The idea of only looking back a few searches or maybe a few search sessions is interesting. It’s never going to be perfect, but the Italy vacation example seems logical.

    I wonder about which played more of a role in their decision to be cautious, privacy or a lack of effectiveness in the ads. More likely the lack of effectiveness, but it does give Google more press about protecting privacy at the same time.

  • Glad that Google is recognizing there’s advertising life beyond behavioral targeting, though some of the flaws inherent in behavioral targeting still exist in their new session-based ad targeting. A good analogy would be how most people think mice like cheese, but the truth is – and, oddly enough, studies have shown – that most don’t. So, just because an algorithm is supposed to tell advertisers what consumers are doing online, it doesn’t guarantee what content will be on the page associated with that ad. For brand marketers, behavioral targeting is only a piece of an effective online campaign, because it ultimately lacks the ability to give advertisers ultimate control over where, and in what context, their brand is shown. Advertisers need the ability to more easily associate their brands with high quality content – and reach a corresponding high quality audience – across the entire Web.

    Vertical ad networks allow large premium publishers to aggregate content from smaller, high quality sites and offer brand conscious marketers the ability to reach highly targeted, elusive audiences. But, more importantly, vertical ad networks also give advertisers the ability to control the context in which their brands are offered.

  • seoz87

    Predicted about it much earlier 🙂


  • @seoz87 – you were close. They’re testing personalization across the search session, not all search history.