Search Behavioral Targeting

Microsoft and Google both have plans for using users past search behavior to provide tailored search results, practice commonly known as Behavioral Targeting. While companies like Revenue Science and Tacoda (now part of AOL) use users web surfing behavior on the internet to determine what users are interested in and server Relevant Ads, search giants are using the past search queries and click though activity to determine users intent and show them relevant search results (organic and paid ads).

As these practices become more prevalent no two users will see the same results on search engine results page for same queries, some of this is already happening. In future even the same user might see her results change from one day to another based on what he/she searched and clicked on between those two days.

An example of how search behavioral targeting might work

A user looks for hotels in Bahamas and then search for Scuba Diving lessons the next day, she might see the search results (organic and paid) that combine both the queries to show her Scuba Diving Lessons in Bahamas. Yet another day she decides to search for Jamaica. Guess what? Her organic and paid results might show her Hotels, Airfares (though she never searched for it) for Jamaica and maybe Bahamas or even some other Caribbean destination. She might also get results for local Scuba Diving lessons.
So why will the search engine showing all these results when user never explicitly searched for them?
Search engine is trying to determine user’s intent based on what user searched for and then show the customized results based on the intent. In this case the user’s intent is clear; she is looking to go somewhere, most likely in Caribbean. Since she is searching from a geo location other than Caribbean, she might need flight and hence airfare might be shown. She has already indicated she needs Hotel and is looking for Scuba diving lessons so her search results are related to those keywords as well. Once the intent is determined search engine can show can show customized results for a particular user. As the user searches more her intent become even clearer and the possibilities of how search results can be customized for this user are endless.

Last July Google started using immediate search queries to show targeted paid search results. Google is now expanding the time frame that it uses to look for search queries. Here is what reported on Google’s plan:

Nick Fox, a director of product management who looks after ads on Google’s search site, said the company was now testing the use of more search queries in its ad targeting. He did not describe how it was doing that. But Internet experts said that it was most likely using its cookies.
Mr. Fox said that Google’s approach was different from what Yahoo, AOL and others call behavioral targeting. Those companies look at what a user did a few days earlier to show them ads about the same topic today. Google says it believes that search engine advertising is most effective if it relates to what the user has most recently searched for.
“We are trying to understand what the user is trying to do right now,” Mr. Fox said. “In some cases, those queries are ambiguous, so you need a little more context.”
Google’s previous system of looking at a user’s immediate past query was not useful enough, he said. “It is probably not just the previous query that matters,” Mr. Fox said. “You want to know if the user is still doing the same thing. You wouldn’t want to go back a month. You wouldn’t want to go back a day. But you may want to go back two or three queries.”

Microsoft plans to take it one step further and expand the “behavioral targeting” to the organic search results. Here what is what CNET reported:

Specifically, the company believes examining a full sequence of user queries can lead to more useful results. Today, the company only keeps track of the immediately prior search, but often users use search engines to explore subject areas broadly, said Satya Nadella, senior vice president of Microsoft’s search, portal and advertising platform group, at the Search Engine Strategies conference.
“I believe this notion of understanding user intent–being able to analyze (search queries) and come up with search patterns and use them to shape the search experience–is one of the most important areas for us,” Nadella said.

Recently Behavioral Targeting has been under a lot of fire from privacy advocates and lawmakers. It will be interesting to see how privacy police reacts to search behavioral targeting. Though Behavioral Targeting from Revenue Science is anonymous, Search Behavioral Targeting is based on user provided information (search keyword), which can easily be tied to PII information.

I have always advocated an opt-in model for Behavioral Targeting, a system where users give their consent to be tracked and have an easy option to turn the tracking on or off. I believe that Search behavioral targeting makes it even more desirable to have an opt-in model.

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3 Replies to “Search Behavioral Targeting”

  1. Making behavorial targeting opt-in will also focus minds among the companies providing the targeting. They will have to show that the targeting adds real value to users.

  2. Hi Anil,

    Since I am new in the field of web analytics, could you please recommend me someone who is involved in web analytics and is stationed in delhi?

    also, if you could let me know how to get the book web analytics: an hour a day in delhi? as amazon does not deliver in india.

    would this book be good enough for a beginner? assuming i do not have any experience in the technical field.
    Actually i have been a reader of Avinash’s blog and hence, have narrowed down on this book.In case you feel some other book should precede this one, please do let me know.

    Looking forward to your suggestions.


  3. What I thinks, It’s actually many things that are making a website on ranking or not is internal links it have, external links it have & how many people actually coming to sites , then there is thing that how much rich content the site have to get listing in any keywords searched by Google.

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