Google Dives Into Online Audience Measurement With Ad Planner

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By: Mike Shields

Google has potentially increased its already sizable influence over online ad spending by throwing its hat into the increasingly log-jammed world of Internet audience measurement.

The company has launched Google Ad Planner, a free product that promises to allow buyers to identify Web sites that match their desired target audiences — and ultimately guiding them toward where they should spend their clients? dollars. The new tool puts Google in competition with established industry metrics players Nielsen Online (owned by Mediaweek parent The Nielsen Co.) and comScore — which charge agencies a fee to access their data and services — as well as a host of upstarts, including Quantcast, Hitwise and Compete.

During a presentation at an Advertising Research Foundation event in New York on Tuesday (June 24), Google demonstrated the various capabilities of Ad Planner, which purports to enable buyers to find viable Web sites, which they might not ordinarily find for their brands to advertise on. Via a simple interface, buyers can enter basic demographic target information and potential sites to buy into Ad Planner, and then can quickly generate a potential media plan. The product also calculates the plan?s total estimated reach.

At the event, Google business product manager Wayne Lin showed attendees a theoretical media plan for the video game Grand Theft Auto which started with just three core gamer-aimed sites, including Playstation.com and Gamespot.com. Ad Planner then generated a list of close to two dozen smaller sites, ranging from independent gaming sites to blogs.

That?s where Ad Planner excels, said Lin, as it should help buyers better leverage the Internet?s ?long tail.? ?This gives you the opportunity to see deep into the Web,? said Lin.

Thus, Google appears to be positioning Ad Planner as better suited to access the Web?s depth than are the panel based services offered by comScore and Nielsen. But Lin, who cited Nielsen as a Google partner, dismissed speculation that his company is looking to to own metrics. ?I?ve seen a lot of those stories out there and I don?t think they are true,? he said. Compared to existing metrics services, Ad Planner is ?similar but different ? I see it as complimentary.?

But that?s not how Web metrics contender Quantcast sees things. Asked whether he believes Google?s contention that it isn?t looking to compete in the online metrics arena, CMO Adam Gerber said, ?I don?t see how they can make that claim. Google is doing what audience rankers have done for years.?

He offered that Ad Planner also creates risk for established publishers, as it help buyers to find their users elsewhere on the Web, and probably for cheaper prices. ?Publishers should be concerned,” he said. “They absolutely should be asking the question, ?do I want to help buyers find my audience in other places???

Another big question that remained unanswered at Tuesday?s event — just where does Ad Planner’s site data come from? Lin didn?t provide any specifics, saying only that the tool utilized a ?fusion? of different data sources. That vague description lead several questioners in the audience to ask Lin whether Google was prepared to undertake an audit — something he didn?t immediately have an answer for.

Attendees also asked Lin about potential conflicts of interest for Ad Planner, since the tool could in some cases essentially end up recommending that buyers put more money towards Google?s own ad network. But Lin said that Google deals with similar issues all the time in the search business, where it clearly deliniates it?s ?natural? search results from search ads.

He said that Ad Planner will be equally transparent. ?If we don?t [do that] people will see through it and stop using the product.?

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