While first announcing the technology’s beta release in 2009, Google has announced that full behavioral targeting is now available to it’s AdWords customers. This is a game changer for online marketing, offering the chance to cut advertising expenses in half, while generating the same number of leads at a much higher conversion rate.

For those not familiar with behavioral targeting, it starts with tracking the searches and sites visited by users, along with the frequency and how recently the visits are made. While that technology is not new at all, creating algorithms that can parse through the massive amounts of data generated by each person and identify thematic interests based on these behaviors has been a massive undertaking.

With this new technology available, the internet now gives us the ability to implement a marketing strategy traditional advertisers have used for years: Identify your best customers (not leads), and spend less money and time advertising to them through niche channels.

The problem with this new feature for PPC advertising is the lack of knowledge most schools have on the types of interests that make potential students. I don’t think it will take long for most schools to embrace the technology, but I think that we are going to see a year or two worth of (costly) experimentation while schools try to “guess” at what common interests their potential students share.

With over 1,000 interest categories, I think it’s going to be easy for schools to get lost in assumptions about their students, ultimately giving up on what could be the best thing to happen to online advertising since, well… online advertising.

Instead of diving right in, I believe that schools need to identify the most probable interest categories, and find a way to start collecting that data from students. Not leads, not prospects, but actual students. And I think that the data should be tracked further, breaking it down into students that graduate, students that you are able to place, students that repay their school loans… all of it.

With enough data on location, demographics, personal interests and other factors, I believe that it’s possible to create a buyer persona that enrolls, graduates, secures employment and pays back their student loans. Take a year to gather that data and the technology to target that persona will have been nearly perfected.

So, our recommendation is to avoid using the targeted interests for now, and instead focus on putting together some comprehensive data sets that will allow you to confidently narrow your marketing efforts down to the absolute most qualified prospect.

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