Google has a reputation as an innovator, but in personalization, they’ve been anything but. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, Google is deathly afraid of the only thing that can derail their plans—a privacy backlash. So, after yet another beta test for adding demographics to their paid placement offering, Google yesterday announced that “demographic bidding” is live.
Demographic bidding was pioneered by Microsoft in what is now Live Search. Increasing your bid for a keyword allows you to target searchers by age or gender, for example. Microsoft suffered no privacy backlash from this feature, but Google has taken quite a while in adding demographics to its own program.
In 2006, Google launched a test for demographics, using data culled from comScore. You can pick your preferences in three demographic categories and Google decides which sites that are popular with that audience. It wasn’t the same kind of paid placement bidding on demographics that Microsoft offers.
In January, Google finally started beta testing demographic bidding. Rather than using comScore data, Google is relying on self-reported data from social networking sites, such as MySpace and Friendster. So, if a MySpace member says she is 19 years old, then the ads that Google serves on MySpace for that member could include ones that advertisers have targeted for that demographic.
This is still short of what Microsoft offers, but you can see that Google is being careful to use the demographic information known about the searcher in a very limited way. My suspicion is that Google knows far more about searchers than it is using today. Perhaps Google is careful with personalized search because it is struggling to improve its search results using the personalized information, but I suspect a more practical reason.
I think Google wants others to blaze the trail. It wants others to be the innovators who take the privacy risks and suffer the inevitable backlash as they sometimes go too far. Then as public opinion, country by country, catalyzes around what is acceptable, Google will move into those areas.
As a search marketer, are you ready for the new personalized search world? Do you know which demographics you’d pay more for? If you don’t, you’ll have a lot of learning to catch up on when Google finally pulls the trigger.