eBrandz Blog

Do ads in Gmail messages always match your interests?

When Google first unveiled Gmail almost seven years ago, it didn’t apparently copy Microsoft’s Hotmail or Yahoo Mail. Gmail was created for an experience of distraction-free speed. Text-only, the ads were largely unobtrusive. Users could hardly notice that they were there. In a way, Gmail has been a sort of retro offering, reflecting the text-only computing.

Making ads relevant to users

From the start, Google grasped that its users would be annoyed by irrelevant ads. So it came up with software, which analyzed the text in any incoming message and chose what could be termed as most salient ads from among those lying in its inventory. The company just recently announced that ‘better ads’ were coming to it. However, as it has invariably been the case, Gmail ads will be ‘fully automated – no humans (to) read your messages,’ the search engine giant proclaims. A recent write-up mentioned:

“With features like Priority Inbox, we’ve been working hard to help sort through the ‘bacn’ in your messages — the unimportant messages that get in your way. Soon we’re going to try a similar approach to ads: using some of the same signals that help predict which messages are likely to be important to you, Gmail will better predict which ads may be useful to you.”

For instance, if you have been receiving messages about cameras or photography, an attractive deal from a nearby camera store might draw your attention. If you classify such messages as spam, you probably are not interested in that deal, the system realizes. The crux of ads in Gmail is more relevant ads, importance ranking of Gmail applied to them, and offers/coupons relevant for your area.

In essence, Gmail system tries to make its ads as useful and relevant as possible to users. Has that been the case? A professor of business with San Jose State University, Randall Stross, mentions in his New York Times column:

“Seven years in, it’s amazing to me how crude the Gmail ad-matching system still is. This week, an e-mail from my daughter’s school about a coming Teacher Appreciation Week brought an ad inviting me to ‘Become a Teacher, Earn a Master’s’. A different e-mail, which made no mention of medical matters but had the phrase ‘no recurrence’, was accompanied by an ad for patients who had had a mastectomy.”

Gmail will offer a single text ad when one looks at an inbox view and hasn’t chosen any particular message. A sampling of recent ads, Mr Stross observes, was comprised of one inviting him to put money in oil stocks and BP plea telling readers about its restoration efforts in the Mexican Gulf. The expert states he has little idea how he has been matched to these ads.