Google Adds Demographic Targeting to its Contextual Ad Network

    March 13, 2006

Many marketers will likely find Google’s new demographic features interesting and useful. The big question is: when will Google add such capabilities to Search campaigns?

Just a week after MSN adCenter introduced demographic targeting to the masses through its open enrollment program, Google has upped the ante by introducing demographic targeting to its Adwords platform. Unlike MSN’s demographic targeting, Google’s applies not to ads destined to rotate on search pages, but to its contextual AdSense network.

Setting up a demographically-targeted campaign is an easy matter of choosing “Select Demographics” after setting up a site-targeted campaign (remember, however, that site-targeted ads are sold on a CPM basis, not CPC). Basic demographic segments include Gender, Age and Annual Household Income. By selecting “Advanced,” you’ll get access to data on Ethnicity (White/Caucasian, Black/African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic), and data indicating whether children are present in the household. All of Google’s data is supplied by comScore MediaMetrix, and only applies to Web users in the United States. This differs from the demographic targeting at MSN which is done at the user cookie level based on self-reported data.

After selecting your desired demographic segment, Google attempts to match sites in its Partner Network to the criteria you specify. I chose females, over the age of 65, with an annual household income over $25,000, without children, to market imaginary pet products to. Up popped a list of 59 sites in the Google Partner Network, which I could easily sort by site name, estimated site impressions per day, and whether the sites support text and/or image ads. You can select these sites individually, or add them all at once.

How good is the targeting? Well, it’s hard to say. Several sites which popped up in my test did seem to cater to my targeted audience, but others selections seemed completely mistargeted, including sites filled with raw, Howard Stern-style humor aimed at young bachelors, not females over 40. Unless my assumptions about what women over 40 are interested in are completely off-base, these sites didn’t belong on my list. Fortunately, Google makes it easy to hand-pick obviously relevant sites and discard the irrelevant ones.

I tried several other tests selecting different audience segments (African American males under 35, White Males over 65). In each case, some of the sites that Google selected seemed highly relevant, but others seemed to have no likely connection to the likely interests of my selected segment. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to drill down into the comScore MediaMetrix data to see detailed information on each site, a feature which might have restored my confidence in some of Google’s site selections.

Until more detailed source data becomes available, many marketers will likely find Google’s “List URLs” and “Describe Topics” features more powerful than demographic selection. “List URLs” lets you enter a specific URL to obtain a site you wish to run ads on, and see if it’s in Google’s Partner network. “Describe Topics” lets you enter specific keywords to obtain lists of sites in the Partner Network which might be good candidates for ad rotation. Both of these features are very easy to use: after selecting a site from the description list, the home page of the actual site pops up in a window, letting you check your selection to see if it’s a good fit.

Adding demographic targeting to its contextual network is definitely a milestone for Google, and many marketers will likely find this new capability adds precision to their site-targeted campaigns. The big question is: when will Google add such capabilities to Search campaigns?

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Mr. Frog is a leading Search industry visionary. Mr. Frog is a member of the Did-it Search Marketing team which accompanies him to most major
marketing conferences.