Privacy is a primary concern for many web users, and is a subject that continues to play out widely across the media.
This on-going concern has prompted Google to introduce a number of initiatives to allay user privacy fears as ads become more and more targeted to consumers based on their online behaviour. The most recent of these is the new search engine results page drop down icon which gives users detailed information on how each ad appearing in the search engine results page was matched to their search query.
Following the introduction of this latest privacy update, we thought we would explore the evolution of Google’s privacy initiatives to understand why the latest development has been introduced and what this means for advertisers.
Going back to 2011
The goal to make ad targeting more transparent in the Google search results pages began in late 2011 when Google launched the “Why this ad” links on the Google results page, see these links highlighted in the screenshot below:
When users clicked on the “Why this ad?” link, a short explanation of the reason for the appearance of the ad would show with a link to the Ads Preferences Manager, the screenshot below shows this pop-up box:
Google’s Ads Preferences Manager (now called Google Ads Settings) was introduced to show users, who are signed into their Google account, the interests that Google has recorded about them based on their search history, websites visited etc. Users can then choose to add or remove interests and adjust their settings for personalised ad delivery as well as selectively block specific advertisers. You can see who Google thinks you are and what you are interested in by visiting: https://www.google.com/settings/u/0/ads.
The image below shows the information Google has recorded about us!
The latest changes from Google on this topic appear to have come into effect at the end of July 2013. The “Why this ad” link has now been replaced with a simple information icon which expands to give similar information as before. The screenshot below shows this new icon and the information box that pops up when you hover over it:
In addition, a drop down arrow has been added next to the display URL of all PPC and SEO Ads. Clicking on this will display the “Why this ad” link, the screenshot below shows this arrow in a green colour. When hovering over the arrow icon, a new white box appears with further options for the user, which is shown in the screenshot below:
Clicking on the “Why this ad?” link now takes the user to a brand new page which gives more detailed information on how each individual ad appearing in the search engine results page was matched to their search query. The screenshot below shows what appears when we ran a search on the term ‘insurance’ and clicked on the “Why this ad?” button:
What this means for advertisers
This update may appear to be just one of many by Google in its quest to allay privacy fears and take the ‘creepy’ factor out of targeted ads. Though interestingly, this latest update has also now made it possible for advertisers to see what keyword match type each advertiser has used to trigger the search query that the user entered, as indicated by ‘This ad matches terms similar to the ones that you have entered’ label on the page.
As a result, advertisers can use this information to gain insight into competitor strategies and assess the quality of their Paid Search activity. For example, advertisers who are triggering search terms on exact match keywords are likely to be running a more efficient PPC account than those who are triggering keywords via phrase/broad match.
Whether Google’s evolving privacy features allay web users’ fears is yet to be seen. However, clearly Google’s changing approach over the years demonstrates effort on their part, and with it an added opportunity for brands to gain insight into competitor activity. We would recommend that you test this on your own keywords and explore how your competitors are operating in your space.