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Search begins to add behavioral targeting

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Search companies are racing to introduce sophisticated behavioral targeting tools, a trend that continues to personalize the search experience for users and has vast potential benefits for advertisers.

Google has been quietly testing a feature that delivers ads to users based not only on the words on which they are searching but also is influenced by their previous search.

“Google aims to understand a user’s intent through task-based search patterns and thereby boost the relevance of the ads shown,” said Nick Fox, group business product manager for ads quality at Google.

“We are testing targeted ads based on multiple search queries performed in a single session,” Fox said. “We look at a user’s previous query and see how well it intersects with the current query. If it’s significant, we’ll use it to help targeting on the current query.”

Steve Jacoby, president of SendTraffic, a search engine marketing agency and a division of Traffix Inc., an online lead generation company, isn’t that impressed. “The idea of linking a previous search with the next search makes sense to me but I don’t think it’s groundbreaking,” Jacoby said.

But Kevin Lee, executive chairman at Didit Search Marketing, said Google’s move is good for the industry and for users.

“Any kind of behavioral targeting in the search environment potentially allows search engines to understand that person’s intention because they have two pieces of information,” Lee said. “I think this is good for b-to-b marketers. The biggest challenge b-to-b marketers face is that some of the keywords they are buying are ambiguous, and behavioral targeting provides the engine additional clarity regarding the searcher’s intent.”

In July, rival Yahoo announced the launch of Yahoo SmartAds, a new advertising platform that gives marketers a way to deliver tailored display ads to targeted audiences. The portal is starting out slowly, initially making the program available to travel industry advertisers with plans to expand into additional vertical industries in the next several months.

The platform uses rich media capabilities with new ad-serving technology that automatically converts marketers’ creative campaign elements and targeted offerings into customized display ads.

With Yahoo’s product, advertisers and agencies can design a single set of creative components as well as provide Yahoo with the artwork and a feed to their database of offers. Yahoo’s technology can then generate hundreds of unique ad combinations based on those components.

Emily Riley, an online advertising analyst at JupiterResearch, recently discussed the Yahoo product in her blog.

“The idea is a step towards personalization, especially because they can take search behavior and use it to serve pinpoint targeted ads in Yahoo Mail, for example,” she wrote. Yahoo, Riley added, in some cases claims “a two-to-three-times increase in conversion rates” for advertisers using SmartAds.

Not to be left out, AOL last month announced its plan to acquire behavioral targeting network Tacoda in order to extend its own targeting capabilities to advertisers and publishers using Tacoda’s technology.

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