Leila Potgieter

Google "Interest Based" Advertising - Privacy vs. Cash

by Leila Potgieter


It’s a pleasure to be writing my first post as a QuirkStar and even more of a pleasure to be writing about such a smoothie of Google controversy - so I’m going to dive right in.

The blogosphere is currently awash with information about the latest Google release – “interest based advertising”.

Instead of being shown ads that relate to just the keywords used in your search query, these interest based ads are now shown according to your browsing history as well.

How it works:

  • the ads are associated with categories of interest
  • these categories are derived from previous sites or pages you have visited and shown an interest in
  • you can edit these categories using the Ads Preference Manager Tool from the big G
  • the categories are used by Google to make sure that the ads displayed are relevant to your browsing history

Do I hear any other small gasps of indignation?

This may work out better for you as you'll be seeing text or banner ads that you ARE actually interested in clicking on as they are more relevant. On the other hand, this also means that Google, and their advertisers, are now trying to infiltrate your personal browsing habits to make money.

There are quite a few people in the online world who are up in arms about their privacy being invaded in this way.


Google's new interests based advertising is arguably invading user privacy (image by pong under cc)

Some say they have no more trust in Google; that Google doesn’t respect their users and even that this new form of advertising is a mockery of human rights. This is all because the search giant is now tracking your every move online, without you really knowing about it (unless you read Google’s blog).

Personally (this view is by no means shared by the Quirk-iverse) my brain is amuck with conspiracy theories of Google's world domination.

Luckily for us, at the moment these “interest based ads” are in beta mode and are only being shared on Google partner sites and YouTube. There is also an opt-out option. Do I hear some sighs of relief and maybe see some shrugs of indifference?

Another upside is that advertisers are now able to target their ads more specifically, making their money spend more worthwhile – conversions and traffic off these behavior targeted ads should increase. Advertisers, say yeah!

Another problem may occur if you have browsed a lot of sites about cows and then go to a site that is unrelated to cows, but hosts this interests based advertising. If you visit a site about motorbikes you may still get shown ads for farming products or milk. These ads would be completely irrelevant to what you are currently looking for and a waste of advertisers’ time.

One of my questions is this: is online privacy becoming more and more extinct?

All in all, while I do have a few ruffled feathers I’m not too bothered. I’m more interested in these questions:

  • Will this come out of beta testing?
  • How much better will it actually be for advertisers?
  • Is the negative publicity going to win in the end?

I think that it’s good for online advertisers working on the content network, but the public may have a lot to say about their confidential browsing being invaded.

My popcorn is ready, anyone care to join me in watching this play out?

Leila is the newest addition to our SEM team. She comes to us with extensive experience in PPC (having worked with IncuBeta), a background in programming and an interest in all things Goth.


About The Author


I have a negative reaction to this.

Personally I have switched off personalised ads, so I don't care too much in scenario 1, but in scenario 2 and 3 I think it stinks, I have also posed the question elsewhere.

I can see no purpose to this change.

Scenario 1

I am an avid sports results reader.

I decide in the morning, under instruction from my partner, I want to look for a 'hot tub cover' and I conduct my search, coming up with a google search that finds me a blog about 'hot tub cover'

I head over to the site, but can't see anything of much interest, but they use google adsense on the site and I see lots of ads about sports news, I am not interested, so I click back to google search and try again.

Once again the site is of no real help and once again the site uses adsense and displays lots of ads about sports news.

Does google now think I now want to get the sports news. No I don't, as my partner has told me to find a hot tub cover.

I try a few more searches that give me the information I want and now have a hot tub cover.

Google now decides I am a hot tub cover fan, so the following day, I head off to another site on the sports section and find all the adsense adverts are about hot tubs, which I am no longer interested in, because I have found one, but the sports ads have all gone.

Having spoken to people via other forums, who run websites on specific niche markets (not hot tub cover) they can't get anything to show on adsense ads on unrelated sites, apart from their specialist subject (those who have chosen to not opt out)

Scenario 2

I run a site and am working on 'out door hot tub cover' as my keyword and have set up adsense on my site. I have optimised my site, I have followed all the seo rules, and tips and appear at no2 for 'hot tub cover'.

I make a decent income from 'outdoor hot tub cover' clicks, but suddenly I can no longer identify why adsense is or is not generating me income. I try all the different display options, nothing works.

I can't control my visitors historical behaviour, so now my site shows ads about whatever they have as a key interest according to google

Scenario 3

I am an advertiser, I spend days and money on finding the optimised terms for my ppc ads for hot tub covers, which is my product. It isn't searched too often (1300 a month on google adwords as I type) and my cost per click I have reduced to US$0.10 per click.

Self evidently at a search rate of 1300 a month, this is not likely to figure on too many peoples 'optimised ad eyeball'

I notice my clicks are falling, but I don't know why.

As far as I can see, no one wins, not even google, as teh scenario 1 person is not looking for their 'normal page' when they head to an 'abnormal search'.

In scenario 1 I am not interested, because I am looking for a hot tub cover and if I were on my normal sports pages, assuming they have adsense ads, the ads would be there already.

Scenario 2, my revenue is falling as the ads are not relevant to my site.

Scenario 3 I run a niche advertising campaign, for which almost no one is 'targeted', so my click throughs fall, affecting me and google.

Google currently have a sensible algorithm which in very simple terms says, 'relevancy is key', but are turning their advertising model on its proverbial and are saying web history matters most.

Does this lead to google deciding whatever search term I put into google, the 'sponsored links' should show what I am 'really intesreted in' despite what I type or, leading to its logical conclusion, regardless that I am looking for a 'hot tub cover', I really meant to search for 'sports headlines', so that is what google search will show me.

Google is trying to take on facebook with targeted ads, but in this instance has lost the plot.

The only reason I use google is because they take my relevancy seriously. If they now decide I didn't really mean it, welcome XYZ search engine.

Posted by anarchyintheuk on 2009/03/13

Thanks for your comment @anarchyintheuk, your point of view is well explained. Was very interesting for me to read and will hopefully give people more of an idea about why it is exactly that people are so unimpressed with Google at the moment.

Some very good examples in there!

Thanks again

Posted by Leila on 2009/03/16

the changes to the google search page is really crap. All my regular search terms that are no longer there and I get this crap of google suggesting what I must search for.
How do I disable this new search nonsense that google has put on?
I used to love google search but now I am browsing around for an alternative.

Posted by Morne on 2009/04/03

Head over here morne


Posted by anarchyintheuk on 2009/04/05

sorry meant to add this url also, to permanently opt out. You need to apply the plugin to each browser you use


Posted by anarchyintheuk on 2009/04/05

Thanks for the info :)
I did find it at the preferences eventually.
Just annoying when they change things without proper education first, or giving us the choice before making changes.
Almost like the SA government :(

Posted by Morne on 2009/04/05

Thanks for the help there @anarchyintheuk

@ Morne there are a lot of people who agree with your comments at the moment. I for one agree that Google should at least give people the chance to voice their opinions about changes they want to make. Maybe you can try Yahoo! and see how it goes :)

Posted by Leila on 2009/04/06

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