Thinking Out Loud: Content Personalization – Context Aware Ads and the Social Web

In continuation from the first Thinking Out Loud post titled “Content Personalization – Tell Me Who Your Friends Are” the second – yet more important – use of this type of personalized content is targeted advertisement. Google has owned this area with their AdSense and AdWords products to deliver ‘personalized’ advertisements to you. Delivering ads based on content and context are very precise methods to target advertisements, but can it be done better? and where can the Social Web have a role?

I’m logged in to my GMail right now reading a message from Rogers regarding my TV cable service and guess what? All the ads on the right are about TV, whether it is watching it online for free, switching to another cable company or getting satellite TV. Those are very precise advertisements, but they are just guesses based on the text around it. If I just signed up for Rogers last week, odds are I am not looking to switch my provider today – what a waste of precious ad space. Is there a better way to target ads?

Here is another example that will better illustrate the business case for this type of advertisement. I just bought a Mac Mini this week and I just Googled “Mac Mini”. Based on my  search criteria, the content present on the page and some complex weighting algorithm the ads Google will serve up will be related to purchasing a Mac Mini or a computer in general, but I already bought one  - again very precise but what a waste of ad space.

One might say “but Nael, your search term was vague, Google did the best it can”. Unfortunately the average user does not know how to build a proper search engine query to reach to the results they are looking for with as a little searching as possible. The first thing that will come to mind is to search the product name, and then if that did not give them what they want they’ll add another term and so on until eventually they will find what they need or they give up and try later.

Now imagine you can create a profile on these search engines that deliver these targeted advertisements, not just a profile with the usual information on it; i.e. name, location, picture, interests, etc. but one you can point to the different windows into your online identity; blog, Twitter, Picasa Web, and LinkedIn. Now the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In this manner, advertisements can become even more personalized – not just by the search terms you provide – but by using the aggregate of all the content you freely publicize on the social web.

So what is very interesting is that it seems Google picked up the ball in this field by allowing you to create your own Google Profile like the one I just created. What is this for I wonder? It is not so hard to imagine that it can be used for the next generation of personalized advertisements, or it can also be Google’s Facebook killer, either way we can agree on at least one thing, there is no better place to have such a profile page than on Google.

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