The advertisements from search engines that we see accompanying search results, or on portal pages, or as part of a content network, are often related to the query used in our searches or the content of the pages that we are viewing.
Would ads which we view that are more targeted towards our interests be more effective?
If so, how would a search engine know what we are interested in seeing, and would they understand what our intent might be in looking at different pages – whether we are just gathering information, or if we are serious about buying something?
Search engines can collect a lot of information from us, as we go about the internet and they follow the trail of information that we leave behind.
It’s possible for them to record our travels, and attempt to analyze our activities to try to determine our behavioral patterns and interests, with the intention of targeting us with advertisements that provide us with a “more meaningful and rich experience.”
If there’s a hint that we might be interested in certain products and services, they may try to show us advertising targeted towards our interests.
A series of patent applications from Yahoo describe a behavior targeting system that attempts to determine user profiles from the online activities of people so that it can get a sense of which ads to show to those folks.
Profiles and Different Marketing Objectives
What makes it interesting is that these user profiles can be aimed at different target marketing objectives, such as:
- Direct response advertising,
- Brand awareness advertising,
- Purchase intention activities, and;
- Intra-company business unit marketing.
The patent applications describe a marketing funnel that identifies marketing objectives in three stages.
1) At the top of the funnel, an advertiser may desire to acquire brand awareness for the advertiser’s brand. Typically, for this type of marketing, the advertiser’s goals are to promote a brand for a product by associating one or more positive images with the brand.
2) In a second stage of the funnel, a user may desire to gather information for product consideration. To address this cycle of purchasers, advertisers may use direct response advertisements. There may be many different objectives associated with direct response advertising:
- Acquisition — to get consumers to become a customer or visitor of the product/service.
- Retention — to maintain existing customers or visitors to the web site.
- Engagement — to elicit more activity in existing customers.
- Monetization — to increase profitability of the customer via active purchase activities, such as cross-selling, as well as passive activities, such as consuming banner ads.
3) The last, and most focused part of that funnel, is where the user is actively shopping, and intends to buy something.
I wrote about a presentation by Yahoo’s Usama Fayyad from this summer where he talked about some of the experiments that they were conducting following users across this sales funnel.
Their case studies showed that people who saw banner ads on one of Yahoo’s portals were more likely to click upon an ad in search results for that brand or product than people who hadn’t see those banner ads.
Yahoo Patent Filings on Behavioral Targeted for Ads
Evidently, Yahoo was doing more than taking notes during those case studies, and they filed a number of patent applications on their attempts to match users to profiles to determine which advertisements to show to them:
- Behavioral targeting system
- Incremental update of long-term and short-term user profile scores in a behavioral targeting system
- Behavioral targeting system that generates user profiles for target objectives
- Model for generating user profiles in a behavioral targeting system
- Generating a degree of interest in user profile scores in a behavioral targeting system
Here’s the abstract from the first of those listed:
A behavioral targeting system determines user profiles from online activity. The system includes a plurality of models that define parameters for determining a user profile score. Event information, which comprises on-line activity of the user, is received at an entity.
To generate a user profile score, a model is selected. The model comprises recency, intensity and frequency dimension parameters.
The behavioral targeting system generates a user profile score for a target objective, such as brand advertising or direct response advertising.
The parameters from the model are applied to generate the user profile score in a category. The behavioral targeting system has application for use in ad serving to on-line users.
Some of how it works:
1) When the system receives a user event or after a predetermined amount of time for accumulating events, the system classifies the event into a category that might match up with advertising categories.
2) A user behavior model may be selected based on the user/marketing objective.
3) The behavioral targeting system processes one or more events to generate a raw user interest score for a category, and may look at how recently events have occurred, and how interested the user may appear to be in the subject category. Frequency may also be looked at to see how frequently that user event happens.
Those events can include advertisement clicks, search queries, search clicks, sponsored listing clicks, page views, and advertisement views, they may also include any type of online navigational interaction or search related events. Here are some examples:
- Page view event — Someone might visit a page on a portal about music, by clicking on a link for the music category page. A page view event is recorded for the user’s view of that music category page.
- Advertisement view event — Someone at a portal may click upon a banner advertisement on the home page of the portal. Vieing the advertising page in response to the click would constitute an advertisement view event. If they look at multiple pages on the advertiser’s site, those could be counted as multiple page from the user.
- Advertisement click event — Similar to a “view” event, this counts the clicks when a banner ad is clicked, and when links on the advertiser’s site are clicked.
- Search query event — occurs when someone submits search terms to a web based search engine. Searching for the query “Deep Sea Fishing”, and receiving a set of results is a search query event that can be recorded with the search terms “Deep Sea Fishing.” If a user clicks on one of the links, a search click event occurs.
- Sponsored listing advertisement — refers to advertisements that are displayed in response to a user’s search criteria. A sponsored listing click event occurs when a user clicks on a sponsored listing advertisement displayed for the user.
These kinds of events may be associated with different categories in a hierarchical taxonomy, so that a profile can be created showing the things that a specific user might be interested in seeing.
That profile can be used to serve banner ads to someone using a portal, but could also be used to “match sponsored listings to user behavioral profiles and to webpage content.”
Deciding Upon Which Ads to Show, Based upon User Profiles
The patent applications listed above focus upon the creation of user profiles, but they don’t go into detail on how advertisments might be chosen based upon those profiles. Another patent application, from early October explores that territory:
A method and apparatus for selecting additional content to display to a user when the user requests base content is provided.
A user profile of the user having user interest scores of categories or keywords is received, each user interest score reflecting the degree of interest the user has in the category or keyword.
Performance scores reflecting the probability that a user having particular user interest scores will select additional content associated with particular categories or keywords is also received. In addition, revenue amounts associated with each category or keyword of the user profile is received.
The user interest scores, performance scores, and revenue amounts are used to produce an expected revenue amount for each category or keyword in the user profile.
Additional content to be sent to the user is then selected using the determined expected revenue amounts.
I’m not completely convinced that I really want to see ads that are “targeted” to my interests, and it will be interesting to see how advertisers and consumers react to a behavioral targeting system like this. Do targeted ads provide a “more meaningful experience” for people who use the Web?