Google Lets Users Choose Their Ads

It may be a given that you’ll see ads online, but now you can more directly control what kinds of ads you see – on Google, at least. The search giant started giving users more information as to why they’re seeing the ads they see in search results and on Gmail. They’re also offering a way to opt out of certain ads.

In its AdWords blog, Google reveals that it has started placing a “Why these ads?” link on Google search results and Gmail. With the few experiments I did, I determined that it does not show up all the time, even if you’re logged in; it probably just hasn’t reached my area yet. But when the link does show up, if a user clicks on it, a small message pops up to explain why that particular ad was shown – for example, it might be based on the user’s current search terms.

Within this message, Google links to its Ads Preference Manager, where a user can learn more, block specific advertisers, or opt out of personalized ads. Incidentally, I’d recommend visiting the Ads Preference Manager to anyone using Google. You’ll find out exactly what categories of ads Google shows you, based on websites you’ve recently visited. You can look over this list, choose to add categories, or get rid of categories, all with just a few clicks. You can even opt out of all categories with one click. This does not mean you won’t see ads; it just means they won’t be based on your interests and demographics as tracked by Google’s cookie on your computer.

Pamela Parker, writing for Search Engine Land, spoke with Google business product group manager Gene Yoon on user interest in this new feature. He noted that few users were interested in the data, according to Google’s testing – but those who were interested in it were VERY interested. “This is really a user-targeted feature,” Yoon said. The company expects that with its aggressive roll out schedule, the feature will reach all users in its top 40 languages in the next few weeks.

How does this new feature affect AdWords advertisers? Google notes that they’ll still be able to reach users who opt out of personalized ads, “but the targeting might be a little less precise.” If a user blocks an advertiser’s ads, that user won’t see that advertiser’s ads. “The number of blocks you’ve accumulated does not directly affect calculations of your Quality Score and Ad Rank,” Google helpfully explains. A careful reader will note the use of the word “directly,” however, and consider that it might INDIRECTLY affect these calculations.

On the other hand, there’s a genuine up side to this. Ideally, your ads will not be shown to those who actively don’t want to see them, meaning that the remaining viewers of your ads will be more likely to click through and perhaps convert.

Buried at the end of its blog post, Google mentioned a new website it created: Good To Know. Aimed at users, it explains how to stay safe online and manage your data on the web and on Google. The section titled “Your data on Google” specifically covers how users share data with the search engine when using its products and services. The whole site seems to be worth reading, as it offers a glimpse into Google’s often opaque operations.

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