Is Google’s Behavioral Targeting Flawed?

By now it is well know that Google uses in-session Behavioral Targeting. Eric Lander of Search Engine Journal points out some interesting issues with Google’s Behavioral Targeting

I can see how Google’s BT can be concerning for some advertisers and consumers. Google Behavioral Targeting (BT) by no means is an advanced one. They just use the current search words with the last search words in the same session to figure out user’s intent and then serve the relevant sponsored links.

However, it raises two questions in my mind.

  1. How many times a consumer jumps from one city specific search to another?

    If I live in Seattle, most of my searches are in Seattle area. I hardly switch from “Seattle Care Dealer” searches to “Los Angeles (or any other city) lawn care” search. Does anybody have any study that shows how people switch cities in their searches?

    If I do a search for a “Seattle car dealer” and then a search for a “lawn care”, am I not the same person who was in interested in “Car dealers”? Then don’t you think showing a car dealer ad while searching for “lawn care” is relevant to me? If you agree then I don’t see where is the issue with Google’s Behavioral Targeting? The whole promise of Behavioral Targeting is to show the write ad/content/offer/product to the user based on their behavior instead of the context (in this case showing a “car dealer” ad even though user is searching “lawn care”).

  2. Do consumers (searchers) consider the sponsored links as advertisements or a part of the search result? If they consider these as a part of search results, then yes showing the unrelated results definitely will add to the frustrations consumers’ experience with Search. But if consumers consider them as advertisements more than as a part of search results then, IMHO, it is ok to show out of context ads as long as they are relevant to the consumers. Several studies have shown that Click Through Rate (CTR) on the organic results are far more than CTR on Paid (Sponsored) results indicating that users considers these paid listings more of an advertisements than search results.

What do you think? Would you, as an advertiser, want to see your sponsored links show up out of context (content) but relevant to the user? As a consumer, do you consider sponsored links as advertisements or as a part of the search results?

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