How Google Might Advertise on Social Networks

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If you were an advertising network, interested in presenting ads on a social network, what kind of advertising model might you come up with to offer the owners of that network, that might encourage people to advertise upon that site?

A recent patent application from Google explores using social profile information from members of a social network, and from their friends or contacts, to determine which advertisements to show viewers when they visit pages of that social network.

two tables - one showing social network members, their friends, their interests, and associated groups, and the other showing groups and associated keywords.

The patent filing describes a process that would look at information submitted by members about their interests as well as what kinds of groups they might be a member of, to determine what ads to show on their profile pages.

Since some people don’t provide much information about themselves or their interests on their social profiles, advertisements on those members’ profile pages might be inferred based upon profile or group membership information from others whom they might be related to in some manner on the social network.

We are told that:

The systems and techniques described here may provide one or more of the following advantages.

First, social network users can be targeted (e.g., for advertising purposes) regardless of whether the users have generated an adequate user profile.

Second, user interests can be inferred based on the interests of the users’ friends that are also members of the social network.

Third, users’ interests can be inferred based on group membership and information about the group.

Fourth, the influence of a friend’s interests can be adjusted based on the type and degree of relationship between the user and the friend.

The patent filing is:

Inferring User Interests
Invented by Shumeet Baluja, Yushi Jing, Dandapani Sivakumar, and Jay Yagnik
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20080275861
Published November 6, 2008
Filed May 1, 2007

Profiles might also include interests that don’t easily correspond to keywords that advertisers might choose to use when targeted their campaigns. The patent filing refers to those terms as “non-advertising keywords,” and describes a way that those terms might be mapped to keywords that are used by advertisers:

In some implementations, the inferred associations between the non-advertising keywords and the advertising keywords are based on social relationships specified in user profiles.

For example, Jacob may include terms in his profile, such as “hax0r” (i.e., hacker) and “btcn” (i.e., better than Chuck Norris) that do not correspond to advertising keywords. Jacob’s profile specifies that Leah and Rachel are friends. Both Leah and Rachel include terms in their profile, such as “Ajax” (i.e., asynchronous JavaScript and XML) and Perl (Practical Extraction and Reporting Language) that do correspond to advertising keywords.

An advertising system, such as the server system 104, can be used to generate associations between Leah and Rachel’s terms and Jacob’s terms so that advertisements targeted for Leah and Rachel based on the keywords in their profile can also be used to target ads for Jacob because an association is inferred between Jacob’s profile and terms in Leah and Rachel’s profiles.

The profile information used for this method might include more than just interests listed by a member in their profile, such as:

  • User blogs,
  • Postings by the user on her or other users’ profiles (e.g., comments in a commentary section of a web page),
  • A user’s selection of hosted audio, images, and other files, and;
  • Demographic information about the user, such as age, gender, address, etc.

Both broad categories and specific keywords could be associated with specific members based upon the content that they’ve generated on the site or could be associated to them based upon their relationships with others on that network.

The patent filing goes into considerably more detail on topics such as how much weight might be given to the interests of others, and how clickthroughs of ads might influence which advertisements are shown.

Another patent application published by Google this summer, Network Node Ad Targeting, took a different approach, attempting to target ads to the “influencers” of communities, by looking at members who might have the most links to their profiles (or connections to other members), and showing ads on their pages as well as community areas which those “influential” members participate.


I’m not sure how unique or nonobvious the process described in the Inferring User Interests patent filing might be, but it does provide some insights and details into an advertising model that Google might use to show ads on a social network.

There are many different reasons and motivations behind friending someone on a social network, and people who have thousands of “friends” may not have a lot of interests in common with those they have befriended.

Might inferring interests from “friends” be a mistake, or basing ads on the interests of people who are considered influencers by the number of connections that they have to others?

Something to think about – what kinds of ads would Google show on your profile page at different social networks based upon the interests you’ve listed, the blogging and other activities you’ve performed there, and the “friends” that you’ve made?

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34 thoughts on “How Google Might Advertise on Social Networks”

  1. Pingback: » 5 Jahre Florida Update | seoFM - der erste deutsche PodCast für SEOs und Online-Marketer
  2. Yes, since many people don’t provide much information (or provide incorrect information) about themselves, how can you publish a targeted advertisement?

  3. Interesting. This may someday make social networks with large numbers of people very profitable, as advertising would become more targeted. Google may also be able to use all of its search engine query information to better target social network users.

    Members and visitors to social networks who also use Google’s search engine could have their search queries matched up to their profiles on social network and group membership on these networks to further target ads.

    Say social network user X has a profile on Facebook and is a member of a Gaming Group, an American Idol group, a Porsche Drivers group and an Extreme Sports group.

    Say also that X’s Google searches ( based on an ip address and or Google logon ) on a specific date include searches on numerous things, unrelated to their group membership on Facebook, but also include searches for pricing or specs on 2009 Porsche 911.

    Then advertising for 2009 Porsche 911 would be the most relevant ad to show social network member and Google user X, if they also visit Facebook that day.

    Ads of secondary importance to show X on that particular date would be based on their other group membership as well as other Google searches performed that day.

    This type of targeted advertising would use both social network group membership, friend lists, Google queries as well as timely date of Google searches information to target ads to X on social networks.

  4. Hi Jessica,

    Yes, and that’s the point behind the process described in this patent filing – seeing if there’s a way to glean information from the interests of others who are “related” to someone in a social network when that person hasn’t shared much about themselves. It’s hard to tell how effective the process described might be, but it seems like a plan that might be worth exploring.

    Hi People Finder,

    Interesting points. We don’t know how much sharing of information across different user activities Google might engage in, but we do know that they collect the kind of information that you describe, and that they possibly could put it all together. When we look at those possibilities, we do see the framework for an advertising approach that could incorporate all kinds of information and interactions with search, browsing activities, and interests explicitly indicated on a social network.

    While Google possibly could do something like that, would they? I can image that many people might be concerned about how much information Google is collecting about them if ads were targeted too well…

  5. Hi Diseño,


    While the focus of the patent application is on paid search, it does tell us that Google could mine data from social networks, and the interests of members of those networks, and make some inferences about words used in the profiles of individuals who are related in some manner. Could that information be used in organic search results, as you suggest? Maybe. Would Google use that kind of information for personalized search? That might be a possibility, too.

    People Finder raised the point that someone who is a member of a social network might have his or her interests combined with other data, such as information about searches they conduct and other data about them to influence what advertisements they are shown. Or have the interests of people they are related to on a social network influence those ads, too. It’s possible that those inferences might be used to influence search results, too.

    The patent filing focuses upon advertising, but that doesn’t mean that ideas from it couldn’t be used in other ways as well, such as influencing search results.

  6. Very interesting. Filing for patent on this type process may meet some resistance from those people eveluating this as some search engine websites and many social network sites may have their own advertising. The other thing about this is it would interfere with those people who are viewing their accounts.
    But then this is very pin ponted advertising that may will make loads of money for people who knows how to… I mean the techie guys and smart guys who take take advantage of this.

  7. this for the Admin,

    I am sorry but i need to ask if i can put my name as the website name but it is not a keyword or leyword phrase. Please guide me on thisn and let me know if i cannot use this name so i can change it.

    Thanks in advance,

  8. Hi AseanFace,

    Thanks. I agree that this might meet some resistance from people who view advertisements on a social network.

    I know that some social networks have been working on developing their own advertising. This method from Google could possibly be used on their own social networks, or by a social network working with Google.

    I’m also wondering if people who visit their own profiles, or those of their friends, and see ads that are very targeted to their listed interests might feel put off, by being targeted so closely.

    Using AseanFace as your name here is fine. Thanks for asking.

  9. Hi William,
    I actually come across some friends and people I know that are put off with any advertisement when they are viewing their profiles. They argued with me about… something within the lines of private stuffs of something like that. Personally it does but it’s no big deal to me.
    Can you imagine everytime you view the profile page and something would just pop up just the same as who you practically are?

    Or, say you have ads (adwords from Google) and it pops up when you view your profile? Would you be upset or just laugh? Cause like i would be the last one who woudl like to see my own ads and if it keeps in showing up your CTR would go down.

    Just a thought


  10. Hi,

    Thank you for your thought – it’s very interesting, and something that I’ve thought about too.

    Here’s a scenerio that I’ve come up with that illustrates how I feel on advertising that might be too targeted:

    If someone followed you around all day, took notes about the things that you looked at, listened to, mapped where you drove and where you walked, copied what you wrote or photographed or recorded, and then showed you advertisements for what they believed you were interested in, would that bother you? 🙂

    It would bother me.

    Targeting advertisements to people who might be interested in what is being advertised is one thing. I expect to see ads about investing when I go to a page about the stock market, or about personal finances. I expect advertising about canoes and tents and backpacks when I go to a site about camping.

    But, when I list a number of my interests on a personal profile page for a social network, and I start seeing ads targeting the things I’ve listed, it starts feeling like I have that person I mentioned above following me around, taking careful notes to try to sell me something.

  11. Hi William,

    You nail to the bones! that exactly what I was trying to say. It does bother me if someone is following my footsteps.

    But on the last paragraph, that is the interesting part which i did not mention for some obviuos reasons. But since you brought it up, I think it would open up some huge avenues for whatever type of merketing you trying to accomplish.

    It is very good or maybe great for advertising as it is very targeted. For instance, say I am promoting some funny stuffs from ebooks to games, I would be a huge beneficiary of a well targeted audience. Bescause if it says on your profile that you are fun of games and funny stuffs, then I would like to let that person know that i have the stuffs he or she is interested in.

    What do you think?


  12. Hi,

    I think you are going to see a mix of opinions on how much targeting of advertising might be too much. At what point is that line crossed?

    You mentioned that some of your friends and other people that you’ve talked to are put off by any advertising at all on their profiles. I think if advertising becomes too invasive, it may keep people from joining a site and becoming a member.

  13. This is really interesting and a pretty obivous play for Google. Adversting on Social Networks has been less then great since most have launched.

    I want to know how Google can patent the idea of targeted advertising. This idea have been around for a long time, they are just tyring to put their own spin on it. I would like to see them try to inforce this social network ad patent on anyone.

  14. Hi Guys,
    What I mentioned last time was that some of the people I know and on my site voice that opinion thru my messeage inbox. There wew not too many of them but I know for a fact that some people do get offended by the intrusion of an ad. That is only for a few people I guess or… I hope.

    The other point to this is are they only creating a spin of an old news or are they trying to scare other website owners that soon you cannot use a well targeted ads without paying Royalty to Big G.

  15. BTW, the last line by Zooloo gets my attention. Yes how can they implement this patent and what is really covered by the patent? Are they targetting the bigger social network sites so they cannot generate more money from Google Adsense by getting a piece of what they make through royalty?
    For instance, myspace is apparently generating someting in the vicinity of 30 million a month in adsense alone and if they turn around and say you have to pay some royalty to me cause I have patent ownership of the system of puttting those very targeted ads to your site… What is going to happen?
    Or is this only for the little guys trying to make some extra money of the internet and Big G is just trying to grab candy from poor little me.
    Just a thought. And please correct if my figures if they are correct regarding the myspace adsense income. I stand corrected on that.


  16. Hi guys,

    It just occur to me. Do nayone recall the problem sometime ago with police having to do with profiling? This may have some remifications as to how we do buiness down the road. Because this basically is profiling and it would be extremely easy for anyone or someone within these huge sites that have so much database of personal profiles that can be used both by scrupolous and unscroplous people. The internet is good but somehow it can be exploited by some genius but can sometimes be bought or crazy people and all hell broke loose. kindly edit if i cannot use the word “hell”. It is just a common phrase use to describe bad eventualities.


  17. Hi ZooLoo and AseanFace,

    Some very good questions and concerns.

    Keep in mind at this point, that this is a patent application rather than a granted patent. It might not ever be granted if the patent office doesn’t believe that it should be. The patent examiner will look at a number of things, including whether the process described is new, useful, and non-obvious.

    Let’s say that it is granted. In that case, it won’t keep others from advertising on social networks, but it might keep them from soing something much more narrow – looking at the interests of someone’s friends or contacts on a social network to try to infer what that person might be interested in when they haven’t provided much information about their own interests.

    It’s not meant as a replacement for the use of adsense on a social network, but rather as a potentially different approach to determining what ads to show on a profile page. As I wrote above:

    Since some people don’t provide much information about themselves or their interests on their social profiles, advertisements on those members profile pages might be inferred based upon profile or group membership information from others whom they might be related to in some manner on the social network.

    So, it’s not a patent application that would keep social networks from using targeted advertising.

  18. Good point, AseanFace,

    Profiling by the police or government is a problem, especially when someone’s civil liberties or due process of law is violated.

    Profiling by an advertiser is somewhat different, but it could be pretty invasive, especially when information collected by one party for one purpose is shared with another party for another purpose.

    For example, if you search at Google for the [San Francisco Giants], and you receive a catalog in the mail a few days later attempting to sell you San Francisco Giants hats and jerseys, you might feel like your privacy has been invaded – and it has. All hell might break loose. 🙂

  19. Hi William

    I guess I was a little bit ahead of myself in my previous thread but I was just tryin to explore the possibilities hyphothically. Your case in point is well understood. I probably sound like I was implying that the patent is already approved. Sorry If I made that impression.

    Your example in your last thread can really make things bad and truly believe that shouldn’t happen.


  20. Hi AseanFace,

    No problem. I often write about patent applications rather than granted patents, and sometimes people do get concerned that the patent has already been granted. 🙂

    Exploring the possibilities if one a patent application is granted is a good thing to do – it’s one of the reasons why I look at patent filings to begin with.

    I have seen at least one patent application from one of the major commercial search engines (I don’t believe it was Google or Yahoo), which mentioned the sharing of information between search engines and merchants in the manner I described in my last example. I wouldn’t want to see that happen either.

  21. The problem is that google doesn’t own a social network, at least not yet anyway. FYI, Youtube doesn’t count … it isn’t a social net, it’s a video sharing platform. I don’t log in there to BS with friends. I think this means that google is going to be building or buying a big social platform soon. BTW, ad words-like programs on myspace and FB basically suck because of low CTR. Conclusion = Ppl ignore the ads. But, if someone you your friends was a covert sales affiliate then the SN becomes a W.O.M. engine which usually converts at much higher CTR.

  22. Hi Vishnu,

    Thanks. Some interesting points, especially about the possibility of affiliate ads on a social network.

    Google does have Orkut, which I understand if you purposefully didn’t want to count as a social network, but it is fairly popular in some parts of the world.

    I’m not sure if this patent filing is an indication that Google will be building or acquiring a social network, but it’s not the only patent filing that they have published that involves social networks.

    The process described here might provide an alternative approach to determining the relevance of advertising for adsense/adwords ads on sites like myspace. If ads were more relevant for the pages that they appeared upon on a myspace, would they get higher clickthrough rates?

  23. Hi guys,
    I really got lost with some of your abbreviated acronyms Vishnu Seesahai. Sorry for my ignorance but cannot make what are Sn and WOM. sorry guys. But I believe your piont William about making it a pin pointed ads to the actual likes and dislike of social sites members can really have an impact on how those ads will perform. And you very right Vushnu that even the biggest social networks have very bad CTR but they still make huge amount of money. And that begs me the question, does it really matter (CTR) if you are making those lots of dough?

  24. Hi Aseanface,

    I believe sn is short for social networking, and WOM is short for word of mouth.

    I would guess that people are concerned about click through rates because they want to measure how effective their ads might be, and try to improve the effectiveness of those ads. Clickthrough rate would be one measure that could be used…

  25. Thanks William for those acronyms…

    People like me or us who would be doing this internet extra income thing would be concern about CTR. I mean especially me who would like my CTR to be higher to get more exposure from Big G.


  26. Yeah, CTR is important to SEO’s/SEM’s. I find video has a higher CTR so I emphasize it. I wish that more successful bloggers had this skill as well, it would make my affiliate work much simpler.

  27. Hasn’t this already been going on on sites like Myspace? When I’m on my Myspace profile all I see are ads for smutty sites. But when my wife is on her profile all she sees is ads for moms (we have kids).

  28. Hi Justin,

    Advertising on sites like MySpace may be targeted based upon some of the information that may be contained on profile pages. For instance, if your profile shows that you are a male between certain ages, it might show one type of advertisement. If you’re female between certain ages and indicate that you have children, it might show other advertisements.

    Where the process described in this patent application differs is that it not only looks at the profile information that you’ve provided, but also the profile information of people whom you’ve networked with, to determine which ads they might show to you.

    If you haven’t filled in much in the way of interests or other information about yourself on your profile, but most of the people you’ve indicated are friends all have jobs and interests in the construction industry, then the advertising system might infer that your profile would be an appropriate place to show construction related advertisements based upon your friends’ profiles and interests.

  29. Interesting post. Looks like this is now happening in Gmail (if you’ve set up your Google profile), and Facebook is an example of a company that has successfully implemented this.

  30. Hi Clayton,

    Thanks for bringing this up. I don’t use Gmail very much, so I haven’t seen many of the ads that accompany emails lately. It would be interesting to see if those ads are starting to be more “relevant” to interests that appear on Google profiles. I should probably spend some time revisiting how Google might be using profiles in conjunction with ads. Hmmmmm.

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