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Google AdWords started testing a new feature, in March 2009, that allowed advertisers to target users based on their interests. Since then they have been running a limited beta trial of  ‘Interest Categories’ on the Google Display Network. Now, this feature is finally being made available to all advertisers.

Google allows advertisers and marketers of different products and services to show their ads on the various sites of the Google Display Network, the real challenge has been to reach specific sections of the audience that would be interested in that particular product.

In order to do so in the past, advertisers had to estimate that visitors to a particular website might be interested in particular subject and hence they would be interested in products or services dealing with that subject. For example, visitors to a gardening blog might be interested in buying gardening tools. However, this isn’t always an easy way to target consumers.

Now, when a user visits a particular type of page on a regular and frequent basis, the browser is associated with that interest category by means of a number. Google stores that number in the browser by means of a cookie.

In addition to the type of sites that the user has visited, Google will also consider inferred demographics to judge whether that user is likely to be a male or female, if they are likely to belong to a particular age group and other such relevant statistics. Google will then show ads based on the interest category as well as demographic profile associated with that particular browser.

Adding interest categories in an AdWords ad group

Google maintains that this service is in keeping with their privacy policy, as no personal information about the individual is used for this kind of targeted advertising. When users visit a site from a different computer or browser, they will not be shown interest-based ads, as Google will not know that this is the same user. However, one could argue that a user’s browsing history on their office or personal computer is pretty personal too, and that information is being used by Google in order to target their ads.

Ads will not be shown based on any sensitive information such as race, religion, sexual orientation, health, financial status etcetera. Users also have the right to decide whether or not they want to be shown these ads. Those who do not wish to use the service can opt out of it by clicking ‘Opt Out’ in the Ads Preferences Manager.