Commentary

Could Google Chrome's Rise In Market Share Lead To Better Ad Targeting?

Google's Web browser, Chrome, continues to gain market share, rising from 5.6% in February 2010 to 6.1% in March, according to data from NetApplications. The research firm estimates Chrome will hit 10% market share by year's end.

NetApplications isn't the only research firm noting an uptick in Chrome's market share. Google's Matt Cutts points to data that suggests from 8.4 to 9.5% share.

So I set out to determine whether Chrome's rise in popularity would increase Google's ability to target display ads. As you can probably guess, not all industry execs felt comfortable talking with me about the subject. Some did. But for those who did not, I gave them anonymity to share what they know.

Since Google's Chrome browser defaults to Google's search engine, most execs say an increase in Chrome downloads means an increase in searches on Google related sites and an increase in paid search ads, as well as display ad across Google Content Network.

A Google spokesperson explains that Chrome, an open source Web browser, doesn't collect and send browsing information back to its servers. "Using Chrome doesn't mean sharing more information with Google than using any other browser," he says, sending me in the direction of the wrench icon at the top right corner of the browser.

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Click on the wrench to find the "Options" setting and when you find the "Under the Hood" tab look for the "Content settings" button under the heading "Privacy." There you can restrict sites from setting data, block third-party cookies, and more. In fact, Google lets you customize privacy settings.

Browsers work this way: You type in a URL and hit the return button. The browser goes out to a server where the page is hosted, returns the code and renders the page. That traffic goes to the server and returns to the computer. It's not proxy through Google. Google does not get a copy of the URLs similar to the way it collects search data.

But that still didn't answer my question on whether Chrome's rise in popularity would increase Google's ability to improve ad targeting. On first glance the two appear unrelated. But some suggest that the "open source" aspect of Chrome makes it easy to drop Flash cookies or lay ad targeting technology on top of the Web browser.

Vince Vizzaccaro, NetApplications executive vice president of marketing and strategic alliances, says browser providers Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc. are capable of tracking all Web site and page visits as well as any clicked for any user of their browser. "They would have to transmit that data from the user computer to their own data centers for storage and analysis," he says. "We don't know what data they track, if any, or for how long they keep it. But, the capability certainly exists."

Analytics tracking on a Web site can detect many details about the site visitor. That's why in March, Google announced a browser plug-in to protect consumer privacy. It allows consumers to block being counted when landing on a Web site that monitors visits with Google Analytics, a difficult task when considering the company must please two masters, advertisers and consumers.

Vizzaccaro says there are several data collection methods with a variety of capabilities such as Google, HitsLink or Omniture on a Website, toolbar tracker, add-ons to a browser, browser provider tracking, and ISP based tracking,

People also will find cool browser add-on tools and install them, not thinking that companies collect a boatload of data from Web browsing activities. Not only for Chrome, but other Web browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer, too. Companies with Web sites partner will partner with data companies that provide stats collected through the browsers.

Test it yourself. Go to eBay.com and type in a product, such as plasma TVs, and watch numerous URLs appear at the left bottom of the browser window as the Web site returns queries based on your keywords. Evidently, eBay.com's privacy policy covers this action, but the names appearing at the bottom of the browser represent companies receiving your search data. Search for travel deals on Kayak to see your search data get transferred to ad networks. Consumers just don't read the fine print, noted ad executives who asked to remain anonymous.

A variety of search engine optimization professionals believe Chrome will help to boost Google's ability to target ads and content. Some simply refuse to use Chrome and Google products because they don't want the search engine to collect data and track their every move across the Internet.

SEO professional Terry Van Horne agrees that a browser should only collect someone to a Web site, and to collect only the data that is required to pull up pages someone visited in the past. It should keep track of the pages to obtain historic information at a later time. Still, Van Horne prefers not to use Chrome, and predominantly relies on IE, along with Firefox to test sites.

I'm looking forward to reading and hearing your opinions and thoughts. I know you have them.

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