The big news on the pay-per-click front this week was the introduction of demographic targeting for Google AdWords advertisers. Actually dubbed "demographic site selection" by Google, because the feature is limited to the content syndication network, the program offers many of the same demographic categories that MSN's adCenter does, but serves up the offerings in a completely different way.

AdWords' demographic option is designed to let advertisers select specific sites to advertise on based on the demographics of that site. Advertisers will be able to specify a preference in up to three categories. Google will then examine it's database of content partners and will return a list of sites that it feels are most likely to deliver the types of visitors that the advertiser is looking for.

This option is only available when users that geo-target their campaigns to the United States and that set up a new "site targeted campaign" or while managing an existing site targeted campaign. It's also important to note that advertisers will still have the option of making their selections manually, either from a keyword generated list or by selecting sites that pop up in response to the demographic criteria.

The demographic breakdown options are as follows:


  • male
  • female


  • 18-24
  • 25-34
  • 35-44
  • 45-54
  • 55-64
  • 65+

Annual Household Income (USD)

  • 0-14,999
  • 15,000-24,999
  • 25,000-39,999
  • 40,000-59,999
  • 60,000-74,999
  • 75,000-99,999
  • 100,000+

AdWords will also be offering more advanced targeting options that break things down by ethnicity as well as by whether readers have children or not.

While the option for more targeting, especially targeting of a demographic variety is going to be very attractive to small business owners that rely on pay per click as a part of their marketing strategy, there's still the question of how accurate the data compiled by Google is going to be. Google states that their data comes from comScore Media Metrix, one of the largest companies around when it comes to providing information about web sites.

The problem here is that a large portion of Google's content syndication network is made up of sites that never even create a blip on the comScore Media Metrix map. In fact, one could argue that many of the smaller sites that are capable of returning an excellent level of qualified click-thrus are likely to fall through the cracks in this type of system. I can almost guarantee that most of my own content sites are not going to be large enough for Google to have any sense of the demographics they attract.

Google is aware of this issue and states on their site:

Please remember that demographic site selection cannot guarantee that your ad will reach only the exact audience you select.

They also point out that because most web sites get a variety of visitors, the demographic targeting should simply be viewed as being a best estimate, not as promised reality.

The interesting thing that I'm noting is that most of the press and blog coverage I've read of this launch are lauding it as a direct frontal assault on MSN's adCenter and claiming that it will once again give Google the lead in terms of advertiser experience.

This puzzles me a bit, for several reasons.

First, MSN's adCenter offers up demographic targeting options for the search related pay-per-click ads. Google's demographic targeting applies only to content syndication. Any advertiser that has run pay-per-click campaigns knows that search related PPC advertising tends to outperform content related PPC by quite a bit.

Second, MSN's adCenter relies on their own internal data and on users being logged in during a search to match the ads up with the preferred demographics. Google will be relying on a third party's estimate of the types of traffic that a web site likely receives. In fact, they won't have ANY data for a large portion of the sites in their content syndication network because those sites will simply be too small to even show up on comScore's map.

While I think Google's latest move represents an important step forward in regards to improving pay per click advertising options, I also have to admit to being a little bit skeptical when I read the glowing praises that talk about what an impact this offering will have on the ROI of AdWords advertisers.

Only time will tell...but my brain just keeps thinking about the Emperors's New Clothes...

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 10, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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