Search Goes Behavioral

A headline caught my eye last week as I scrolled through an article list from Search Engine Journal: “Google Advertising Patents for Behavioral Targeting, Personalization and Profiling.”

Why would Google’s portfolio of intellectual property assets matter to me, as an advertising media person?

This news is of special interest to me, and to behavioral marketers in general, for a few reasons:

  • Google seems as if it’s adding a behavioral capability to one of the best contextual targeting approaches in all digital media.
  • This could bring a lot of value and volume to advertisers.
  • Initially, Google would appear to be years late to the behavioral-targeting party.

Contextual Plus Behavioral

Google wants to become more than a Web search engine. The company’s mission is to organize the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful.

The path to this goal can be seen in the company’s various extensions beyond the search engine, such as Gmail, Google Earth, Google Desktop Search, Google Talk, the Google Toolbar, and who knows what else will emerge from the Sun Microsystems alliance.

Moving toward monetizing this constellation of products and services, as well as broadening the focus from CPC (define) ads on search results pages and adjacent to contextually relevant articles on a network, is understandable and expected.

Behavioral targeting by way of matching advertising to anonymous user-interest profiles is a great way to do this.

For example, behavioral clues about an Internet user’s interests beyond her current search can be seen in her search history without impinging on her reasonable expectations to individual privacy:

  • The use’s location, shown in her search for takeout pizza restaurants in Princeton, NJ
  • The user’s gender, shown in her searches for sports scores several times per weekend
  • What purchases she’s considering, shown in her search for cheap Web hosting services

Yahoo already does this type of data collection at some level through Yahoo Impulse, an extension of ordinary paid search advertising, and other Yahoo-developed behavioral marketing tools.

MSN announced a few weeks back it would roll out behavioral targeting capabilities via MSN adCenter once it’s successfully through initial market tests.

The words of Dave Morgan, CEO of TACODA, seem prescient now. In April 2004, at the launch of AudienceMatch Network, he said, “It’s much more intuitive for a marketer to buy a person than to buy a keyword…. Over time, we think we’re going to see these types of advertising [contextual and behavioral] complementing each other.”

Value for Advertisers?

With potentially more sources informing user interest profiles beyond an individual search, such as search histories and usage of various Web and desktop applications, behavioral profiles will only get richer. Richer profiles could equate better targeting.

With more places to deliver ads in addition to search results pages and network sites, reach potential increases. Better reach means more unique opportunities to see, learn, and respond.

In the case of text-based creatives, user preference profiles could be used to personalize ad creatives to some degree, making advertising messages more relevant.

As John Battelle, search blogger and founder of FM Publishing says, search advertising is more about matching a message to a user’s intent rather than any content he may eventually view.

To put a twist on this, using search histories and other such behavioral information to inform targeting is about matching ads to a user’s movements rather than only the content they view.

Late to the Party?

It seems kind of late for Google to try to own the idea of matching an ad to a user-preference based on user behavior.

Behavioral targeting specialists such as Revenue Science and TACODA have been developing this space for several years via technologies offered through publishers and behavioral ad networks offered directly to advertisers. And, they’re very good at it.

Certainly the “ads on site and network pages” approach to behaviorally targeted advertising isn’t a new idea. But the idea of running ads across a platform of search engines, a network of sites, and various Web- and desktop-based applications is new.

It’s not for everyone.

Major brand advertisers are still interested in rich media placements in high-quality editorial environments, planned for high-composition or high-reach branded content sites.

The present model works for now. But I can envision a day in the not-too-distant future when the 80 percent banners approach to Internet marketing seems a quaint memory.

That’s why Google filing for a behavioral targeting patent is worth Internet marketers’ attention. It makes them think about the direction things are moving toward.

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