Google begins beta-testing bricks-and-mortar in-shop tracking

By Mark Leiser |

November 12, 2013 | 4 min read

Criticism of Facebook and Google for tracking their users is nothing new and is often misguided. Tracking users in order to sell behavioural advertising often creates panic about privacy, or the lack thereof, but the limitations of behavioural advertising have been known for a long, long time.

What people look for in the real world often differs from what they look for online. It is fair to say that Google, Facebook and other online websites have got really good at formulating algorithms based upon what you look at online, but up until now, they have not been very good at connecting your online habits with what you do in the real world.

Tracking: Google wants to monitor shoppers' offline habits more

This may not be the case for much longer now that Google has begun to beta test a program that tracks the shops that people visit in the real world in order to serve consumers better by targeting more niche advertising.

The process is relatively simple: if you looked for something using Google’s search function, say ‘golf clubs’, for example, you would be served with the normal Google ads, but the service also could direct you to local shops who have bid to have you served with an advertisement.

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Where the change from normal keyword advertising comes from is that Google could use its own location services in order to determine whether or not the customer served with the ad actually goes to visit the bricks-and-mortar store.

Dan Auerbach, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that users might not realise they’ve opted in to constant location tracking when they opt in to ‘location services’.

“The disclosure mechanism for these apps is pretty weak,” he explains. “I think there’s a gap between user expectations and what apps are really doing.”

Google has been hinting that it would start testing this type of service for a while now. These cross-device conversions were discussed extensively in a blog post Google released earlier this month.

Sean Singleton, marketing manager at American Apparel, noted that: “We always knew our online ad investment was influencing conversions across devices, but we didn't know how to begin estimating these numbers.

“Once we saw that 5.3 per cent more conversions could be attributed to cross-device conversions in AdWords, we knew we could more accurately calculate the value we were receiving from each ad click. We also learned that mobile ads are driving 16 per cent more conversions than we thought, so we are now investing more into this channel to gain more sales.”

The new cross-device conversion tracking appears to be heading to the phone calls you make as well. As Google stated: “Both phone calls and store visits will be included as part of Estimated Total Conversions in the coming months.

"These are important conversions to consider — people make more than 40 million calls to businesses each month directly from Google ads and are often looking for physical store locations when they search on Google, particularly on the go.”

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