Google Ads Based upon Toolbar Collected User Behavior Data

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Google’s Content Network provides a way for advertisers to present ads on content pages of sites whose owners have signed up for the service. Hundreds of thousands of site owners show ads on their sites from Google.

The advertisements displayed are based upon the content shown on the pages of the participating sites, using a method that attempts to understand the content upon those pages, and present ads relevant to that content.

But what ads might the search engine show when there is more than one topic on a content page?

How might Google decide to show certain ads based upon user information collected through a viewer’s Google Toolbar? (And what kinds of privacy implications might that have?)

A new patent application from Google explores how the search giant might incorporate user behavior monitoring and the segmentation of pages by topics, to present ads on ad content pages that contain more than one topic, to viewers who might be interested only in some of the content on those pages

Rendering Advertisements with Documents Having One or More Topics Using User Topic Interest Information
Invented by Krishna Bharat
US Patent Application 20080097833
Published April 24, 2008
Filed: December 21, 2007


Ambiguities concerning a user topic interest may be resolved so that useful topic-relevant ads can be presented.

Such ambiguities may be resolved by monitoring user behavior, determining a user topic interest (e.g., from a plurality of different candidate topics) based on the monitored behavior, and serving ads relevant to the determined user topic interest.

Deciding Which Ads to Present

When someone visits a web page that shows Google ads, a request is made to Google’s ad server for some ads to show to that visitor.

The request may include:

  • The number of ads to show,
  • Information about the document that the ad will appear upon such as a category or topic related to the content on the page (e.g., arts, business, computers, arts-movies, arts-music, etc.),
  • The age of that content, and the type of content (e.g., text, graphics, video, audio, mixed media, etc.),
  • Geographic information that might have been included in a query leading to the page, and;
  • Other information.

Ads may be shown on that content page, and information may be sent back to that ad server about how the ads where displayed, and how the viewer interacted with the ads and the content on those pages.

This might include the positions of the ads, whether or not someone clicked-through, if they hovered over the ads and page content, how long the ads displayed, which links might have been clicked upon, whether or not there was a conversion made, and more.

Similar information might be related to ads shown in search results when ads are displayed after a query is entered into the search engine and a viewer is presented with ads alongside those search results.

The kind of information collected might include what queries where used, what links and snippets to pages were presented in the results and PageRank and information retrieval scores for those pages, the text of those documents that were listed, and other data.

Again, information about how someone interacted with the search results and the ads displayed with those results might be collected.

Google also shows advertisements with Gmail messages, and information about the topics of emails, and how someone interacts with the emails and the ads shown may also be saved for future use.

The patent application tells us that it might look at the following kinds of user behavior in relation to content and ads displayed:

  1. Cursor positioning,
  2. Cursor dwell time,
  3. Document item (e.g., link, control button, etc.) selection,
  4. User eye direction relative to the document,
  5. User facial expressions,
  6. User expressions, and/or,
  7. Express user input (e.g., increasing the volume of an audio segment),
  8. Etc.

If someone clicks on a link and returns very quickly, that may be a sign that they aren’t interested in what they saw. The order or sequence that they look at things might also provide some information about a viewer’s interests.

User Behavior Monitoring and User Interest Determination.

Initially, a document might have some ads associated with it based upon what Google decides that page might be about, without attempting to determine what a viewer’s interests might be upon the page. The ads to be shown might change after monitoring a visitor’s behaviors and adjusting ad interest scores.

Since this patent application can be used to associate different topics with different sections of pages, Google needs to be able to break pages down into different regions, and then analyze those regions to understand what they are about.

Breaking a page into segments — Different regions of a document may be defined by links, section tags, etc. I wrote about how Google might segment pages into different sections based upon topics in Google and Document Segmentation Indexing for Local Search.

Determining topics for segments — Topics for different sections of a page might be determined using a statistical text analysis like those described in Statistical Models for Text Segmentation – pdf, or Text Segmentation by Topic.

Many Google patent filings also explore associating topics with the content of pages based upon analyzing the text upon those pages.

Creating a document region map — A document region map might be created for pages that display ads, which show which topics might be associated with different regions of the pages. As someone interacts with those different parts of pages, the search engine might get a sense of their interests.
Ad interest scores for a viewer might be collected by a user’s Google toolbar, or by a cookie saved on the viewer’s computer. The patent application also tells us that:

In another variant all user behavior tracking and ad insertion can be done by software residing on the client device (e.g., the Google Toolbar).

Ad scores might be used instead of ad interest scores. The difference is that ad scores would not only reflect a user topic interest but may also include other information, such as

  1. Ad price information,
  2. Ad performance information,
  3. Targeting criteria match information, and
  4. Advertiser quality information.

An example of how this might work, from the patent application:

Referring to FIG. 16, when the optimized Web page 1520′ is loaded into the client device, an initial ad or arrangement of ads 1610 is presented based on ad interest scores.

Then, client device user activity is monitored and interest in regions that suggest a certain topic, and therefore a certain set of one or more ads, is recorded.

In the example illustrated in FIG. 16, the user selects (e.g., clicks on) search result eight 1525h and is taken to that page 1620 by a browser for example. Since the eighth search result 1525h is associated with a Web page that has a topic concerning the NFL football team, 1540c, the interest scores of one or more ads of a third set are incremented.

If the user then returns to the search results Web page 1520”, one or more ads 1630 from the third set 1630 have replaced the initial set of one or more ads 1610 (assuming that their incremented scores are greater than those of the ads originally presented).

Conclusion and Privacy

This patent application pulls together a lot of ideas that have been described in previous Google patent applications to provide a way of targeting which ads are shown to people searching Google and browsing sites that display Google advertisements.

It shows how the content on pages can be segmented into different topics, and user behavior information can be collected by the Google Toolbar to show which topics of those pages a viewer might be interested in the most.

It describes how the content of pages can be analyzed and associated with different advertisements from Google, as well as how ads shown with search results can be changed based upon user interests.

The ability to break pages down into parts and to understand the topics and categories of those parts may have implications for web search as well as advertising.

As with any of Google’s patent about collecting user behavior data, what kinds of privacy implications are involved?

How comfortable do you feel about Google monitoring your every mouse movement, your every click, your buying habits, and “user interests?”

How might this information be shared with advertisers?

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13 thoughts on “Google Ads Based upon Toolbar Collected User Behavior Data”

  1. Great post Bill! Not sure how I feel about the big G watching my every mouse click. Although I think it will truly help advertisers (note: only if they use the data wisely) as myself I think there is a point when it is too much.

  2. Thanks, Garrett.

    I agree on the privacy implications. I think they are pretty startling.

    There really wasn’t much in the patent application on how Google would go about capturing user facial expressions and similar information real time, so it was odd seeing that kind of user data included within the patent application.

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  4. The Big G is scary these days. The other day I brushed my teeth and then went to check my Gmail, and sure enough I saw ads for toothpaste and mouthwash.

  5. Thanks for the comprehensive article. However, I am more positive about it since as an Adwordtiser ;) I can make use of thia data. Mwahaha!

    Phil :-)

  6. Hi Wicca,

    Google may be getting better at this than even the patent filings show. :)

    Hi Phil,

    You may be an advertiser, but chances are that you are a consumer, too. There is a lot of concern over the use and misuse of data collection amongst advocacy and government groups – and many of those are active and vocal. Regardless of how you might feel about practices like those described, there’s bound to be some friction in the future over how user data is collected by search engines, and used to identify audiences and sell products or services.

  7. The G sure does have a lot of power these days, both online and in the financial world.

    Other than that, Great Post Bill!

  8. “how Google might segment pages into different sections” – wauw that sounds complicated … do you really think Google can do that?

  9. Hi Morten,

    I do think that Google can break a page into different sections or segments, through a combination of looking at the underlying code behind a page, and by looking at how a page may be visually broken into parts.

    Microsoft started publishing papers on a visual segmentation process in 2003, and Google and Yahoo have published a few patents that describe how they might segment pages in a somewhat similar manner.

    The approaches by all three of those search engines are all feasible, and do make doing things like presenting ads based upon content in main content sections of pages (or giving more weight to that content or links in that section when indexing) something that it makes sense for the search engines to do.

  10. Bill,

    To be totally honest, I am really not comfortable with Google scanning my every move. The other day we were sitting at work and one of my workmates was reading the news online from a news source overseas. Interestingly enough, there was an ad on the foreign newspaper extremely relevant to one of his previous searches. The ad really looked out of place. In fact, it looked so out of place that he waived me over and asked about it. I am slightly familiar with this SE technique, so I explained to him that search engines can remember your searches and place relevant ads on the page of subsequent searches. Needless to say, he cringed at the idea and frankly, I am really not that comfortable with it. If I want something, I will search for it. That does not mean I want to see what I search for all over the web. In my opinion, that is a little like spamming. Nice and informative article as always, Bill.


  11. Thanks, Mark.

    Targeted advertising can be unnerving, especially when you don’t expect it.

    One of the assumptions behind showing ads that are related to your interests is that they provide “more value” to you by letting you see advertising that you are interested in. Personally, I find it intrusive myself.

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