The recent launch of Google for Advertisers is really just a wrapper a number of useful Google tools you already knew about. But it gave me a good excuse to spend a little time with Google Ad Planner, a good basic tool for figuring out some demographics about who is visiting a website, or how to find the surfing habits of particular demographics.
(To find contrarian views on why you might not want to use Google Ad Planner, go to the end of this document for my "On the other hand" take on the issue.)
There are some really useful things you can do with Google Ad Planner. I've identified three here, but there are a ton more.
Compare the demographics of the audience of two competing websites
This is really easy. Go to Google Ad Planner and type in a URL for an organization, like Doctors Without Borders. I've done this for you. Notice how it skews for heavily female in its audience, as well as with higher levels of education. Now compare it to UNICEF.org by following this link. (Disclosure: UNICEF USA is a client of my firm, Virilion) Most of the demographics look very similar, until you notice the age breakouts. UNICEF.org has a significant amount of traffic in the 0-17 year old demographic, whereas Doctors Without Borders has none.
While this may be simply be a problem of audience measurement with Google Ad Planner, it could also indicate that Doctors Without Borders is not developing the next generation of its donor base. UNICEF has historically done very well in this area, with the Halloween Trick or Treat box and the new J-8 (Junior G-8) summit program targeting younger potential donors.
Remedying this hole should be a priority for Doctors Without Borders.
Find out what other websites a competitor's visitors spend time at
Another great piece of information is the "Sites Also Visited" section of an audience report. Again, for UNICEF.org, it looks like this:
Notice the correlation of visitors to hrw.org (Human Rights Watch) is 130.0x. That means that visitors to unicef.org are one hundred and thirty times more likely to visit hrw.org than non-unicef.org visitors. If you're a competitor of UNICEF.org, you should be approaching Human Rights Watch for partnerships. From something as simple as featuring non-competitive content in each other's email blasts, to joint projects. Go where your competitor's customers are, and try and recruit them.
Find out where a specific audience hangs out
Let's say Doctors Without Borders wanted to start targeting 0-17 year olds in the United States by approaching relevant websites for non-monetary partnerships to promote their new "Socially Active High Schoolers" material. (I'm making that program up, DWB has no such program) You configure Google Ad Planner to find 0-17 year olds in the United States.
Then, use the Google Ad Planner filter to select websites that fall into the category "Lifestyle -> Activism and Social Issues".
What you've got below (I've only shown the top few) is a target list of websites. You *could* buy advertising on them, but much more affordable (and non-profit-friendly) technique is to approach them to become corporate partners of Doctors Without Borders. With such a partnership could come many benefits, including access to excess ad inventory or other in-kind donations. Of course if they really love Doctors Without Borders, they might also run a donation match for their registered users.
And that's just three things...
I've just covered three things, but you can do a lot more with the free audience research of Google Ad Planner. Don't miss out on an incredibly useful free tool.
On the other hand, why wouldn't I use Google Ad Planner?
Like many Google tools, it's the startup trying to steal market share from more entrenched players. For anyone who's read The Innovator's Dilemna and the Innovator's Solution, this is a very dangerous competitor. Most everyone who sells commercial analytics tools has a bigger list of features than the free Google Analytics, but nobody who makes a product in that space enjoys watching the Google Analytics team steal market share as they slowly develop their awesome and free tool from the bottom up.
Google is attacking the problem of advertising and audience research from the bottom. So it's not going to compete head to head with more advanced services that have been around longer like comScore, but then not everybody needs comScore. Others have weighed in on this, including famed digital media pundit and player John Batelle. Wendy Hofstetter also did a piece explaining why they don't compete.
Ultimately, if you're going to drop a serious amount of money in advertising with the sites you find, you're going to migrate to comScore or Nielsen. If you're not, Google Ad Planner is probably going to be fine, and get better every quarter.