Google's Latest Power Grab (Hint: It's Not DoubleClick)

Danny Sullivan on Search Marketing

By Published on .

I'm sure you're still reeling from the recent Google acquisition that will transform the company into an even more powerful online-advertising force. No, not DoubleClick. I'm talking about Google's acquisition of your web-surfing history -- and the histories of millions of others.

Missed that news? Google's Web History feature launched last week but hasn't received nearly as much attention as the DoubleClick deal. It should. It may matter much more to the future of online-ad delivery, as well as the tailoring of search results.
Danny Sullivan
Photo: Jason Meyer
Danny Sullivan has been covering the search-marketing industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of

Millions have installed the Google Toolbar, which includes a PageRank meter that rates sites' popularity on a scale of zero to 10. To work, that meter has to report to Google which page is being viewed. That means Google sees every site some toolbar users are visiting.

Until last week, the meter was switched off by default. Now Google pushes a version with the meter enabled and encourages surfers who already have the toolbar to flip the switch. The enticement? Doing so allows those surfers to view a log of all their web visits. In addition, that web history will influence how pages rank in the search results they see.

As a result, a car enthusiast searching for "saturn" may get more results about the car, while an amateur astronomer may get more results about the planet. Search marketers will no longer be going after a top ranking in search results that will be the same for most everyone. Instead, they will wage battles on multiple fronts -- millions of fronts, really -- where each person might get a slightly different set of results.

The good news is that quality content should continue to thrive. Good content attracts visits. And visits, especially return ones, will register in people's web histories and pay off with better rankings.

The move also means Google is building surfing profiles for individuals. Knowing where people go will allow Google to better target them with ads, behaviorally and post-search, with ads related to recent searches. To do this, Google simply needs them to visit pages where it controls the delivery of ads. Through AdSense, it has plenty of pages in its control.

The question of whether DoubleClick will make Google too powerful and give it too much data will play out legally in the coming weeks. But even without DoubleClick, Google's Web History has already expanded the company's power.
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