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Smash-ComputerOnline advertisers want to know everything they can about you. To understand why, consider the snow blower. Let’s say it’s January, and Home Depot has 30,000 snow blowers it wants to sell.

There are some customers that Home Depot doesn’t want, like people in Arizona. The retailer probably doesn’t care about customers in Manhattan, either, since most people there don’t own houses or shovel their own driveways.

But there are some customers that Home Depot really wants to reach. It would love to find people who own their own houses, maybe in a northeastern state. Ideally they make enough money to afford a snow blower, and they’re old enough to consider hanging up the shovel for good. Maybe they’ve already been online searching for deals on snow blowers. And maybe the local weather forecaster is predicting their town will get pummeled tomorrow by a blizzard.

That’s the kind of people you want to hit with an advertisement for snow blowers. And now’s the perfect time to do it.

“They know it’s a good bet they could sell you that snow blower before the next storm,” says Jay Sears, general manager of Contextweb, a kind of stock exchange for online advertising.

What Do They Want To Know? Everything.

The information that advertisers need to make that happen is at least as varied as the products they’re trying to sell. Your age, race, gender, income, where you live, your online surfing history, the book you bought last week on Amazon, the things you say to friends on Facebook, all of it can be recorded and used to help serve you an ad that is more likely to catch your eye.

And increasingly, the data isn’t just about what you do online. Internet advertisers are buying access to any data sets they can find – your shopping habits from your grocery store loyalty card, automobile registrations, county criminal records – to learn more things about you than you know yourself (do you remember which brand of toilet paper you bought last week?).

Online advertisers need all this information because they’re trying to decrease the amount of ads they can buy, and increase the success rate on the ads they do buy. Instead of broadcasting ads to the millions of people who watch 60 Minutes, for example, with more data they can drill down to reach just the tens of thousands of people they think might actually buy their product.

The desired effect: More sales for less money.

“The whole point is for the right ad to be shown to the right person at the right time,” Sears says.

Next: How Do They Know That? >>>

Image: James Lee, via Flickr.com

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