We’ve already seen demographic targeting for some time on Google’s content network but now they are taking a step further and offering behaviour-based advertising. By tracking your surfing habits, they will be able to display adverts based on your interests rather than the content of the page that you are reading. This area of advertising has been getting a fair amount of press recently due to Phorm, who have had trouble launching their service due to questions of legality. Opponents have claimed that the analysis of web users’ browsing habits is an invasion of privacy and the Information Commissioner’s Office has backed this up to an extent by declaring that “Phorm would only be legal under UK law if it were an opt-in service”.
Google is offering users the opportunity to opt out and so avoids this problem but there will still be many people unhappy with the move. Privacy online is a problematic area and Google already has vast quantities of data about our browsing habits. However let’s ignore the legal and ethical questions and talk about this new toy we have to play with and what its benefits are to us, the advertiser.
One of the problems that contextual advertisers have is that people can tend to become ‘snow blind’ to adverts that mirror the content that is being read. If you are reading about socks and then a sock advert comes up then, to an extent, this will not stand out and you will blank it out. With behavioural advertising you would be able to counter this by providing out-of-context adverts that are still relevant to the specific user’s interests. This should then jar with the reading of the page, catching the eye and, because the advert is relevant to their interests, should mean that the user is more likely to click and crucially convert. Potentially this is a powerful tool and could be a big boost to the effectiveness of the content network if used correctly. However it should be noted that this out-of-context effect does not work across all areas equally so there would still need to be a lot of analysis to get the most out of it.
Personally I look forward to testing this out. I think that for certain clients this will prove to be a really useful and productive avenue for advertising with the potential to raise clickthrough and conversion rates significantly. Although it seems like a big step forward in advertising, I think that, with the speed that the space is developing, this will quickly seem mundane and normal as newer and better tools and services create new debates over privacy and the power of the internet giants. For the moment though this is the ‘next big thing’ and it will be fascinating to see how it develops.