Has Google Just Patented Geo-Targeting?

Google has been awarded a patent entitled “Determining and/or using location information in an ad system” that has very broad implications for PC and mobile advertising. While we all take geo-targeting today for granted, back when this Google patent application was filed in April, 2004 it wasn’t as common. Dare I say it: Google may have just patented geo-targeting.

Here’s a discussion of the “what is claimed” from the patent:

A computer-implemented method for controlling serving of an ad using its relevancy to a request, the method comprising: a) accepting, by a computer system including at least one computer, geolocation information associated with the request; b) comparing, by the computer system, the accepted geolocation information associated with the request with geolocation targeting information associated with the ad to generate a comparison result; c) determining, by the computer system, the relevancy of the ad using at least the comparison result; d) controlling, by the computer system, the serving of the ad, for rendering on a client device, using the determined relevancy of the ad; e) determining, by the computer system, whether the ad has geolocation price information corresponding to the geolocation information accepted; and f) if it is determined that the ad has geolocation price information corresponding to the geolocation information accepted, then determining, by the computer system, a score using at least the geolocation price information, otherwise determining, by the computer system, the score using at least general price information of the ad, wherein the act of controlling the serving of the ad further uses the score of the ad, and wherein the geolocation targeting information associated with the ad corresponds to an area defined by at least one geographic reference point.

If that has bored, scared/scarred or confused you, there’s some English a little further down:

The Google keyword ad server allows advertisers to specify (e.g., for purposes of targeting) one or more countries in which their ad may be served. This permits ads to be served to particular users who presumably speak and understand a particular language. Unfortunately, however, many businesses have only a regional or local reach. For example, a restaurant may want to target ads only to potential customers within a 30 minute drive. A dry cleaner may want to target ads only to potential customers in the same town, and perhaps a few neighboring towns. As another example, a regional chain of drug stores may only want to target ads to potential customers living within their region. Even if such businesses have ads that are relevant to a search query or a Web page, if the end user viewing a search results Web page or the content of a Web page is outside the geographic reach of their business, the ads will not be very useful and will not perform well. If ads only generate revenue (e.g., for a content owner or ad system) when they perform well (e.g., if they are selected), such ads will generate little, if any, revenue.

Such businesses often advertise in local papers and the telephone book yellow pages. While such conduits for advertisements are useful, they are limited. Such businesses may also advertise on local Websites, but this requires the business to find local Websites, and to track and manage advertising on each of the Websites.

In view of the foregoing, there is a need for improving the usefulness, and consequently the performance, of advertisements. In particular, there is a need to allow businesses to better target their ads to a responsive audience.

2. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention improves the usefulness, and consequently the performance, of advertisements. The present invention allows businesses to better target their ads to a responsive audience. The present invention may do so by determining and using location information, such as country, region, metro area, city or town, postal zip code, telephone area code, etc.

The present invention may also use location information when determining a relevancy score of an ad.

The present invention may also use location information in an attribute (e.g., position) arbitration. Such location information may be associated with price information, such as a maximum price bid. Such location information may be associated with ad performance information.

The present invention may also track ad performance information on the basis of location information.

The present invention may select or modify the content of an ad creative, and/or of a landing page using location information. For example, location information may be inserted into an ad creative. As another example, different landing pages with different content can be used for different locations.

The present invention may also provide tools, such as user interfaces, to allow a business to enter and/or modify location information, such as location information used for targeting and location-dependent price information.

There appear to be two broad concepts here: using location for targeting and/or scoring an ad (ad position) and use of location information for dynamic landing pages and/or dynamic ad creative based on location (e.g., location extensions).

Location as discussed here can refer to proximity to the user or a location that a user is interested in that is somewhere else. (Where I am vs. where I want to go.)

This would appear to cover both the PC and mobile, where it becomes an even bigger deal. I’m not a patent attorney nor do I pretend to be one on TV. But this is a sweeping patent. And while the discussion does refer repeatedly to search engines, this patent aspires to cover areas well beyond search — extending into other forms of geo-targeted digital advertising.

Let’s dip back into the language of the patent, shall we:

FIG. 1 is a high level diagram of an advertising environment. The environment may include an ad entry, maintenance and delivery system (simply referred to as an ad server) 120. Advertisers 110 may directly, or indirectly, enter, maintain, and track ad information in the system 120. The ads may be in the form of graphical ads such as so-called banner ads, text only ads, image ads, audio ads, video ads, ads combining one of more of any of such components, etc. The ads may also include embedded information, such as a link, and/or machine executable instructions. Ad consumers 130 may submit requests for ads to, accept ads responsive to their request from, and provide usage information to, the system 120. An entity other than an ad consumer 130 may initiate a request for ads. Although not shown, other entities may provide usage information (e.g., whether or not a conversion or click-through related to the ad occurred) to the system 120. This usage information may include measured or observed user behavior related to ads that have been served.

(emphasis added.)

There are other patents that seem to cover ad targeting by location in mobile and “local search” more generally. This patent could be used however by Google either defensively to secure cheap licenses to others’ IP or offensively if the company so chose. Because the patent is so broad and a few others seem to bump up against it we can probably expect litigation at some point.

I originally picked this up from VentureBeat and wrote about briefly at Internet2Go.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Google: Business Issues | Google: Legal | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Mobile | Google: Web Search | Legal: Patents | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/simonbaptist simonbaptist

    An interesting (well to me) sidenote is that Microsoft inherited a pending patent from Platefood that relates to this.

    I’m not sure Microsoft are even aware they have it but the might want to consider where it is in the process (process started in 05, record of invention goes back to 04).

    It’s more specific than the Google patent as it relates only to PPC Search results being impacted by location.

    You can find more details here: http://www.wipo.int/pctdb/en/wo.jsp?wo=2006005102&IA=AU2005000977&DISPLAY=DESC

  • benhoyle

    Hi Greg,

    Good to see you start with the independent claims of the patent, as these define the scope of legal protection.

    Many of the posts on this patent lift phrases at random from the main description of the patent. While such phrases are useful in understanding the context of the claims, and could possibly be used in court to determine how the claims are interpreted, they do not explicitly define the subject-matter for which Google has been granted a patent.

    I have posted some comments here: bit.ly/clfTgG .

    Ben

  • http://screenwerk.com Greg Sterling

    I believe there are number of patents in the “local” segment that appear to conflict with one another.

  • http://keshoo.com keshoo

    Thanks for the details. Question to you experts:

    Does this patent change the game for everybody in local search and local advertising business?

  • Philip

    Here are two papers preceding this patent that describe geo-located advertising in the context of an open source geographic search engine called mobilemaps:

    http://www.directionsmag.com/article.php?article_id=281
    http://www.directionsmag.com/article.php?article_id=369

    The ad server wasn’t open sourced like the server, but the code is still available to the authors. It was keyword location advertising and used proximity to modify the ad relevance. The site mobilemaps.com is a ghost site now, but is still live, and was indexed on waybackengine.

    If anyone would like to contest this or similar patents in this area, and finds these papers useful, please get in touch with the authors at: peter AT askthelocal DOT com

  • http://startpad.org mckoss

    I actually filed a patent (for Microsoft) in 1998 that describes using location information to present advertisements presented in a web browser! 6,731,612 issued May, 2004.

    http://u.go2.me/3e6

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