Google expands ad targeting methods

Google will now use hours of search history to target ads that users see when they search keywords on the site, the company announced in a blog post.

Previously, Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) targeted on a query-by-query basis; the site used only current search terms to match ads from third-party Web sites. For example, a user searching for “baseball glove” might see ads for baseball lessons appear on the top and sides of the page.

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Now, Google says its ad server, AdSense, has “recently started to expand the use of the query words … to a few hours so we can so we can continue to deliver more relevant ads.”

That means if a user searches a term, Google will store that query and may show targeted ads related to that keyword hours later — either on the search engine page itself or another site that uses Google ads.

After “a few hours,” Google wrote, the query words are no longer used. Users can opt out of the search history targeting by clearing the advertising “cookies,” or tracking files, stored on their Web browsers.

“In reality, users don’t work on a query-by-query basis,” said Karsten Weide, media analyst at IDC. “They research something using several different terms, and if you take all those queries into account you get a much better idea of what that person is looking for.”

But Weide said consumers don’t need to be concerned, as Google doesn’t know anything about the user behind the machine.

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“It only identifies your computer — they don’t know your name or address, and frankly, they don’t care,” Weide said. “All they need to know is this person at this machine for a few hours has this certain interest at the moment.”

Google’s move will likely benefit advertisers more in the short term, but over time consumers may change how they view ad targeting, Weide said.

“In 20 years, we’ll see this targeted content fit seamlessly with what we’re interested in,” Weide said. “It will be so well-matched that we won’t even think of it as marketing.”

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