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Google is at it again. On June 24, the search giant unveiled
its new Ad Planner service via a post on its AdWords Blog. Its latest foray into the analytics category, Ad Planner is currently
in pilot form, being offered by invitation only and free for a limited time.
Aimed specifically at media planners, the new service is coming directly off
the heels of last week's introduction of Google Web Trends—though Web Trends
is targeted toward all Internet users.
Ad Planner allows media professionals to find the Websites
an advertiser's target audience is likely to visit based on metrics such as
demographics and site traffic. Ad Planner users can drill down using more
specific filters such as age, gender, education and household income. The service
can also give planners and advertisers information on a site's international
reach and unique visitors, as well as a list of keywords that visitors used in
Google, already the leader in search, is now
looking to strengthen its analytics services in an effort to capture more
display advertising revenues. Ad Planner
will make highly coveted Web tracking data available to advertising
professionals for free, essentially opening up the ivory tower to smaller
advertisers and agencies. Some industry experts believe it could be a boon for
small agencies, as media planners at these firms do not always have the budget for
more expensive Web tracking resources.
"Google's deep pockets allow the company to create free
offerings, such as Ad Planner, as a useful come-on to marketers to gain their
ad business," said David Hallerman,
senior analyst at eMarketer. "However, continued uncertainty about which
company's Web measurements are most accurate could get exacerbated—or
clarified—by another analytics service."
The introduction of Ad Planner appears to position Google as
a direct competitor to firms such as comScore, Nielsen Online and Hitwise. Though each service analyzes sites based on similar
metrics, such as traffic and demographics, their methodologies and business models
differ. comScore, Nielsen and Hitwise charge subscription fees to access their
data, while Ad Planner currently does not.
comScore and Nielsen also use panels and surveys of
volunteer Web users to collect data. Hitwise takes a network-centric approach,
collecting its usage data directly from ISP networks. Ad Planner data is
gathered, in part, via the Google Toolbar.
Google can also leverage data from other sources, such as its search
results, third-party networks and other partner market research firms—though
the company has not released a list of exactly which sources it will be
Each service's methodology, however, has drawn criticism
from industry experts. Panel and survey
search strategies have come under fire in the past, the main argument being
that Web usage is too fragmented to be accurately represented by a limited
sample size. Reporting solid results
about Internet usage becomes tricky when using a restricted number of
participants. Smaller sites may not be
included in results, and the selected panel may not accurately represent the
online population as a whole.
Meanwhile, Google leads in search, with a market share
of nearly 70%. This means that more than 30% of searches are not being
tracked by the company and will not be included in Ad Planner data.
Some experts wonder if Google's Ad Planner service may
be a conflict of interest. Will
advertisers trust data from a source that sells them online advertising?
"Since Google's purchase of DoubleClick, the search giant—even
more than before—needs to walk a fine line," said Mr. Hallerman. "While
publishers use their own traffic data all the time to sell ads on their pages,
the Ad Planner service can also be used more objectively, with data from sites
Google has no control over or interest in."
Most pundits predict that comScore and Nielsen will weather the Ad
Planner storm. These services currently
offer more detailed results than Ad Planner, as well as the integration of
offline information and the ability to cut data in more ways. comScore and Nielsen
Online may focus on their premium services as a distinguishing characteristic,
while touting their custom research capabilities. Some analysts even propose that
Google's new service may be better compared to other free Web trackers, such as
Amazon.com's Alexa, Compete.com and Experian.
Ad Planner appears to be the next step in Google's evolution
of advertising services. Mr. Hallerman notes that as Ad Planner develops it
will likely have two levels, like many other online services: a free service
for basic offerings and a subscription level for additional functionality.
"Keep in mind that Ad Planner is only in beta right now," warned
Mr. Hallerman. "Perhaps, like other Google offerings that are released in beta,
it might take some time before getting fully developed. However, this type of
Web analytics will improve as more companies use it, generating more data for
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