Geo-Targeted RSS Ads Surprise Advertisers

Google has quietly been running geo-targeted contextual ads in RSS feeds for several months, but many advertisers, agencies, and analysts contacted by ClickZ were surprised to learn about the placements.

“I don’t think most advertisers know it’s going on,” said Kevin Amos, director of product management at search marketing firm Impaqt. “There’s a lot of confusion in contextual advertising in general, and adding in RSS feeds makes it more confusing.”

AdWords documentation online doesn’t specifically mention ads being distributed to feeds, other than a reference to ads showing up on content sites and “products.”

“AdSense for feeds is part of the Google content network, so if an advertiser’s campaign is opted into the content network, their ads are eligible to show in feeds,” Shuman Ghosemajumder, business product manager at Google, told ClickZ News. Ghosemajumder notes that the geo-targeting has been part of the AdSense for feeds distribution since its launch.

Geo-targeting has been an option for ads that run on Google’s content network for the past two years, when regional targeting was introduced. Later, city-level and customized targeting became available in April 2004. AdSense for feeds, launched in May 2005, includes a site’s feeds along with the site in the content network, so ads that would appear on a given site could also appear in the site’s RSS feeds.

The targeting came to the attention of a New York City-based ClickZ editor when an ad for a nearby single-location spa showed up on an RSS feed for a blog about Apple Computers. The same ad was targeted to other editors in New York, but not to others outside the city. The ad did not seem to be contextually targeted, but entirely targeted by location.

Advertisers cannot specifically target RSS ads locally, but regionally or locally targeted ads within Google’s content network could potentially be shown in feeds as well as on Web sites. Both the location of the user and content of the feed are contributing factors to targeting the ads, with the content of the feed being the primary factor in targeting, Ghosemajumder said.

Many advertisers may not care whether their ads show up on Web sites or in Web feeds, as long as the ads perform as expected. In some cases, location-based targeting in RSS feeds could be a perfect fit for some advertisers, according to Mike Marshall, VP of technology at SEM and blog advertising firm Fortune Interactive.

“I think there’s a lot of potential in geo-targeting RSS feeds, given that the sky’s the limit in the number of mobile devices it has the ability to show up on,” Marshall said. “Even advertisers that may not understand it at first, I think when you explain it to them, they’d be excited.”

Jennifer Slegg, author of the contextual advertising blog and moderator of the contextual advertising forum on Search Engine Watch, notes that advertisers are likely to get RSS feed distribution, whether they want it or not. “Because it is part of the content network,” she said, “one would have to opt out of the entire content network in order for their ads not to appear on RSS.”

According to Slegg, ROI will determine whether they approve or disapprove of their ads being shown on RSS feeds. “From a publisher perspective, CTR is extremely low with RSS ads, so I would be surprised if any advertiser is receiving a significant amount of traffic from RSS, except for cases of high traffic blogs that have been site targeted by an advertiser,” she said. “From an advertiser perspective, there hasn’t been much buzz about RSS ads at all, either geo-targeted or otherwise. RSS ads are easily trackable in logs, so advertisers can track any clicks coming through RSS ads to determine ROI.”

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