Google AdSense introduces behavioral targeting AKA “interest based targeting”

Google AdSense as jumped into the behavioural targeting ad game with the launch of their new “interest based targeting” in an email publishers received last night, and which was also posted on the Inside AdSense blog.

Interest-based advertising will allow advertisers to show ads based on a user’s previous interactions with them, such as visits to advertiser website and also to reach users based on their interests (e.g. “sports enthusiast”).  To develop interest categories, we will recognize the types of web pages users visit throughout the Google content network.  As an example, if they visit a number of sports pages, we will add them to the “sports enthusiast” interest category.

The new advertising will start with only a limited number of beta testers, before rolling out with a wider release later this year.

Individuals can also click on the “Ads by Google” link on the AdSense ad units to modify their preferences by adding their preferred categories or to opt-out of the interest based targeting.  There is also information about your specific Google cookie for the computer you are currently on.

The category options are surprisingly extensive (800-900 it appears) and you can completely drill down into multiple levels of the high level categories.

I find it quite interesting that Google is not calling it behavioural targeting.  I must admit, the “interest based targeting” sounds much less “Big Brother-ish” which is the biggest complaint about behavioral advertising.  I have long thought that Google could have amazing results using behavioural targeting, provided it was rolled out correctly.  And changing up the name from something that sounds less intrusive was definitely a good move for Google to make.

It will be interesting to see what the response rate is for surfers opting out and for those who drill down their interests using the category selection.  I suspect unless it hits the mainstream media with a “why you should opt-out”, most surfers would be none the wiser and will continue to remain opted-in. 

I have seen a few people comment that they believe this should be opt-in for surfers, but I would suspect the adoption rate would be so low that it wouldn’t be worth it for Google to do this program. 

This will either be a really good thing or a really bad thing for publishers.  It does have the potential to drive more advertisers into content who want to take advantage of this targeting, since the argument goes that advertisers who see more personalized ads based on their surfing habits are much more likely to see ads that interest them specifically, and are more likely to click on the ads.  However, there is definitely the flip side that while your site might be about something that is in a higher AdSense earnings market area (say, finance for example), it could definitely hurt a publishers bottom line if the surfer sees knitting related ads because that is what their interest based targeting would serve up on the financial site.  There will hopefully be some checks and balances in place where higher paying contextually targeted ads would appear before lower paying interest based targeted ads.  However, since Google is also in it for the bottom line, you would hope they’d show the higher paying ads first, or else they will have a whole slew of cranky publishers complaining about it.

Now, because it is a limited beta group testing this first, it won’t affect your bottom line, either positively or negatively, until later this year.  And I am sure publishers who are asked to participate in the beta will have the choice to opt-out if they wish.  And Google should ideally be giving plenty of warning before they unleash interest based targeting on the masses, so AdSense publishers can really analyze the results and see how the program is affecting their bottom line.

I will also be doing a new privacy policy, because I know many of you use my AdSense privacy policy template.  You do not need to have the new privacy policy in place until April8, 2009, but I will have the new privacy policy template up within the next few days.

So what is everyone thinking about the new interest based targeting?  A good thing?  A bad thing? 

I also can’t wait until next month to pepper the AdSense reps about it who will be at ADSPACE 🙂  So if you are going to be in the San Francisco area on April 22nd, you will definitely want to be there since this is pretty significant news by Google to announce.

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15 comments to Google AdSense introduces behavioral targeting AKA “interest based targeting”

  • Joe

    Hey Jen,
    I got the same e-mail and did a double-triple take on the “Big Brother” aspect of the program.
    Personally, I don’t want to opt in on this, or is it opt out?
    Anyway I wanted to know if EVERYONE who uses AdSense HAS to update their privacy police, even if they intend to opt out?
    I didn’t find any reference to that in the notice.

  • I really appreciate being able to count on you for the privacy policy template. I read the email I got from Google last night and knew I didn’t have to worry about figuring out what changes I needed to make.

    You do a great service for a lot of people 🙂 Thank you!

  • Google AdSense introduces behavioral targeting AKA “interest based …: Date March 13, 2009. Google AdSense as j..

  • Google AdSense introduces behavioral targeting AKA “interest based targeting”

  • Margaret

    Publishers can also direct their users to a universal opt-out wizard, which works for all the ad networks who have opt-out available. For any concerned users, the ability to do this with one click would be reassuring.

  • I’m one of those asked to be in the new Beta – which is opt-out, but yes, there is the option to bow out. Since I’m not in a high ECPM space, for me this looks like it might make me money, instead of cost it.

    It makes sense that if you opt out, you don’t need to update your privacy policy. Personally I’ve already updated it though, since I like this change.

  • @joe, the opting out system regards people that are surfing. They can choose not to have ads served to them using the new system.

    You as a publisher can have visitors from both groups (opted out or not). So everybody should change their privacy policy.

  • Pat

    Well I am concerned about this since I have a pretty tight niche and very decent CTR. I don’t really think people want to see unrelated ads on my site since they’re searching for my site’s topic when they find me in the organic search results. Don’t know…..guess if it looks bad you could always opt out as publisher though…

  • SJ

    I will also be doing a new privacy policy, because I know many of you use my AdSense privacy policy template. You do not need to have the new privacy policy in place until April8, 2009, but I will have the new privacy policy template up within the next few days.

    Jen, when are you going to do that new privacy policy? Just waiting for the new PP template…

  • hey Jennifer,
    As you point out, they are smart to call it, “interest based targeting” instead of “we keep track of everywhere you go online” advertising. Their marketing department is earning it’s pay. It seems very “big brother” to me, but it also seems to be the future… steve booth

  • Sarah

    Glad to hear you are updating the privacy policy. When I got the letter from adsense, your site was the first I thought of because that is where my current policy is from.

    Any thoughts on when it might be available. Also, is it possible to have the new changes highlighted either on the policy or via a blog post itself just so that we can see what has changed.

  • I had to chuckle at Steve’s comment that Google is keeping track of everywhere you go online. Pretty soon, they may track everywhere you go geographically. I have read numerous articles that Google may head in the direction of combining Google Maps with Ads. So, as an advertiser, you could literally draw a circle around a restaurant in San Francisco and anybody venturing into that perimeter defined on the map with say an iPhone/Smartphone, would instantly be presented with an ad (via text or some other mechanism). That both excites me and scares me at the same time, because I begin to have visions of Minority Report where the ads follow you around where ever you go.

  • Jo

    I too immediately thought of your site for help in updating my privacy policy to incorporate the new Adsense policies. I’ve been watching for something more about it, since you said you would post something “in a few days” but I think maybe you got busy with the conference. It’s now April and it’s coming down to the wire, so I hope you will still be posting a new policy soon that we can use. Thanks very much in advance!

  • Great heads up I didn’t catch this one, Thanks tons.

  • To those waiting for the updated privacy policy, it’s posted at

    I had this page bookmarked, but I guess I missed the new post in my feeds, found it just now :).

    (please delete my last post, wrong url)

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