Google Ad Planner Review

If you’ve ever wanted some serious help with planning your online display ads, cheer up; it’s a complicated process, so you’re not alone. In fact, Google anticipated your needs when it introduced its Ad Planner in late June 2008. This article thoroughly reviews the tool so you can decide whether it will fit your requirements.

On Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 5:52 AM, Google introduced Google Ad Planner.

If you’re a media planner at an ad agency, you know that planning an online display buy can be challenging, particularly in scaling your campaign’s reach while keeping it relevant for your target audience. Plus, how do you keep track of the millions of sites out there that might be just right for your campaign? - Google Adwords Blog

This is a detailed review of this new ad marketing tool from Google.

Google Ad Planner at Glance

What is Ad Planning? Let’s explain with an example.

Bob is a marketing manager at COCO Corporation that sells teenage clothes. He has a marketing initiative on his hands with a $2,000,000 budget. Part of the budget is going online. Bob’s target market are teenagers, females and males, 14 to 21 years old. His task is to brand COCO clothing as cool, hip teenage wear, and to link young minds with the COCO brand when they think of clothes.

To achieve this, Bob is launching commercials on MTV and other TV stations with a strong teenage audience. He is also buying ad space in movie theaters, computer clubs and other places where teenagers hang out. The goal is to reach his target market at all possible locations.

One of those locations is on the Internet. Teenagers spend a lot of time on the net and Bob has to reach them there as well. How does he know at which web sites teenagers hang out?

This is where Google Ad Planner comes in. It provides marketers with a demographics breakdown for selected web sites that includes valuable information, such as gender, age, education, income and language. Ad Planner helps marketers identify web sites their audience views, and buy advertisements on those web sites.

Google is not the first company to come up with this. Its most notable rivals for providing this service are Nielsen Online and ComScore.

Behind Google Ad Planner

At the time of this writing, Ad Planner is still in beta. You can apply for an account here.

The Ad Planner help center does a wonderful job of explaining things, so let’s summarize the most interesting points.

  • Data comes from Google Search, Google Analytics, "opt-in external consumer panel data" and "other third-party market research." To make it more clear, let’s summarize the services Google can potentially use to get data: Search, Reader, Feedburner, Adwords, Adsense, Checkout, Desktop, Earth, iGoogle, Maps, Toolbar, Blogger, Calendar, Docs, Gmail, Orkut and many vertical search features Google has. That’s quite a load of information if you ask me. Google’s contenders, on the other hand, buy information from Internet service providers, so their data may be even more accurate.

  • Ad Planner is only available in English (at the moment).

  • Ad Planner is integrated with Adwords.

  • You can export your media plan in .csv format.

  • Google Ad Planner and Google Trends for Websites are related.

  • Google Ad Planner data is estimated, based on an automated analysis of millions of search queries and site visits.

  • Data covers a 30-day period. You cannot see metrics past 30 days.

  • Not all websites are included in Ad Planner. Sites must meet minimum traffic criteria and certain quality guidelines.

  • Ad Planner includes sites from Google content network and independent websites that use other advertising platforms.

To make this review more fun, let’s imagine that we’re targeting male businessmen, 35 – 64, with household incomes between $50,000 and $149,000.

On the "Research" page we’re met with the following options:

The right side pane has web site information which includes:

Site Name and Address

Category – consumer electronics, credit cards, newspapers, business news, software, radio, hotels and more.

Comp index (Composition index) – shows audience concentration relative to a country. This is what Google has to say: "if you’ve defined your audience as ‘males,’ a site with a composition index of 212 means that you’re approximately twice as likely to find a male user on this site relative to finding males across the Internet within the country you’ve specified."

Reach – estimated percent of total users within the defined audience you’ll reach on that web site.

Unique Visitors – estimated number of defined visitors per month on a selected web site.

Page Views – number of times pages are accessed by a defined audience, in a specified country per month.

Formats - ad formats supported by each website. Formats include text ads, image ads, video ads, content ads and resolution for each ad type.

Impressions Per Day – This is a Google Content network exclusive measurement. It refers to Google Adsense.

As you can see, this is very useful information for business planning purposes. For example, the "category" can help select web sites that resonate with the offer, while "reach" helps identify the number of people you’ll be able to target with selected filters.

The left side is where all the fun is. Here we can filter by:

  • Language

  • Gender

  • Age: 0-17, 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65 or more. I personally do not like this breakdown. For example, 0-17 can be separated into at least 2 sections. 0-5 year olds are not likely to be big Internet users so I’d leave them out. Children aged 6 – 13 are interested in different things from youths aged 14 – 19, since those are two distinctly different growth periods. It seems the Google guys just broke it down by decades without too much thought. That’s bad for media planning.

  • Education: less than high school, high school, college, bachelors, graduate.

  • Household income: $0-$24,000, $25,000 – $49,999, $50,000 – $74,999, $75,000 – $99,999, $100,000 – $149,999, $150,000 or more.

Let’s apply the filters and see what Google gives us for our fictional target audience, which is male businessmen, 35 – 64, with household incomes between $50,000 and $149,000.

The country is set to the United States. In the language section I select English. The gender is set to "male." The age brackets checked include "35 – 44," "45 – 54" and "55 – 64." The income brackets checked include "$50,000 – $74,999," "$75,000 – $99,999" and "$100,000 – $149,999."

As you click on the boxes, the left side, which contains web sites, refreshes on the go (AJAX).

Here are some of the sites Ad Planner returned for the criteria:

  • yahoo.com

  • go.com

  • facebook.com

  • cnn.com

  • craigslist.org

  • weather.com

  • nytimes.com

  • casalemedia.com

  • mapquest.com

  • wordpress.com

  • nfl.com

  • zedo.com

  • huffingtonpost.com

  • wired.com

  • bizrate.com

  • monster.com

  • wachovia.com


There are several hundred websites available in the Ad Planner. Do you think the example list above is a good way to reach our audience? Leave your comments.

I personally think it’s not detailed enough. Everyone goes to Craigslist and Monster. We need something more refined, so let’s nag Google a bit more.

On the bottom we can add more filters. One of the filters is "keywords."

Enter any keywords you want and Google will do more filtering. In our example website list shrank a little, but I was very surprised to find this name on the list: thepiratebay.org.

I added a few more keywords, but Google didn’t change the results that much. Let’s try adding a three-word key phrase to find out if using the long tail yields better results. With "business management software," Google still gave a few, in my humble opinion, irrelevant websites: photobucket.com, digg.com, sportsline.com, walmart.com.

There is one more filter called "audience matching." You can enter any website you want and Google will try to find relevant sites in its Ad Planner network. Since we’re going after "business management software" I decided to put in this address: http://www.microsoft.com/canada/dynamics/

I Think it’s a pretty good representation of our target.

A few seconds later Ad Planner gave us a brand new list, and there are still some questionable results: craigslist.org, imdb.com, photobucket.com, digg.com. Hmmm… I have a feeling our three latest filters, two keywords and a web site example had no effect on the results.

On the bright side there are many relevant sites, such as nytimes.com, casalemedia.com, washingtonpost.com and linkedin.com.

I selected 30 websites and added them to the media plan. Here’s how it looks statistically:

  • Even after specifying "male," the Ad Planner ratio is pretty big.

  • The age is on target with only few points in 0 – 34 category.

  • The education and income levels are somewhat on target.

On the bright side this service is very fast and has a lot of web sites, with detailed filters.

On the bad side it does a poor job of filtering results and giving targeted websites. There were many sites that should not have been there. Those would have been potential money wasters if I were to launch a branding campaign.

I personally expected more, and after taking Ad Planner for a test run, would not put much trust in its data.

Ad Planner is still in the beta stage. It’s very raw, but will improve with time, as all Google products do. Online media planning veterans Neilsen Online and Comscore stand their ground, but as Google gets more influential they might have to face a tough battle against a scary gorilla (or be bought by Google).

Marketers usually shoot in the dark. Though demographics data is useful, it doesn’t answer the most important question: "Why?", which is what psychographics addresses. Why does the person do what he or she does?

Media buying tools take us closer to answering that question, but we’re still far away from precision marketing.

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