Google AdWords has graduated an experimental feature known as "Interests" to mainstream availability. The feature lets advertisers target users by their broader interests, regardless of the context of the current site.
The What and How of AdWords Interests
Normally, an advertisement in the Google Display Network will only show up if it's directly relevant to the content on the page. However, the "Interests" feature lets advertisers continue to target users on outside sites based on their established behavior and overall interests. The price remains the same for Interest-garnered impressions and clicks, but the mechanism gives you more advertising opportunities.
Over a thousand different categories have been established, ranging from "ecotourism to mobile phones," according to the Google AdWords blog post. Since the Interests beta started in March 2009, more than 500 million users have been categorized into one interest or another.
But how have they been categorized? Google's explanation is that "Our system looks at the types of pages a user visits, taking into account how recently and frequently those pages have been visited, and then associates their browser with relevant interest categories." In other words, users are tagged in a browser-based element – probably site cookies or other stored data – and are advertised to accordingly.
Did you miss the beta on this AdWords feature? Want to learn more about AdWords, including veteran, beta, or nubile features? Good news: Google just launched a dedicated AdWords YouTube channel.
Appealing to users in any portion of the site based, not on the page's current content, but the user's general interests? Why, yes, I am describing the Facebook advertising model. As Facebook takes the lead in display ads, it may just make sense for Google to play copycat on this particular feature.
But with Google's broad reach, the impact of Interests is truly substantial. As with many decisions, there are some clear winners and losers.
The winners? Any display network advertiser who was maxing out their impression and desperately wanted more of an advertising opportunity, any publisher who wanted more advertisers competing for a slot on their page, and (one could argue) users who want ads matching their greatest passions to find them.
The losers? Advertisers who are showcasing on the display network at a smaller scale, advertisers who want to pay the absolute minimum for clicks or impressions, and users who want to see a wider variety of ad types.
But the decision was more than likely made on one winner not mentioned above: Google, who will be stirring more competition for ad slots and thus increasing the price for impressions and clicks while appealing to more publishers around the web.