Targeting Your Search Campaign: Seeking 42-Year-Old Female In Kalamazoo

First published December 8, 2005 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Search marketers love granularity in campaign management. Correction: we love the results of granularity. That’s an important distinction. Do search marketers want to spend 98 percent of their remaining time on earth manually tweaking a 50,000-keyphrase campaign? Not me. But we also don’t want to set on the broad match “auto pilot” and let the campaign fly itself. In a marketing channel as measurable as search is, we can’t get the highly optimized success rates we’re looking for unless we roll up our sleeves and get dirty.

So here we sit, awash in spreadsheets and rule-based bid management tools, with metric acronyms (ROI, CPA, ROAS) up to our earlobes, wading through a tsunami of numbers, hoping at the end of it all that there will be a bottom-line result that brings a smile to our client’s face. Some are born to numbers, and some of us have numbers thrust upon us.

Search marketing by the numbers. So, at Chicago’s SES show, it was with interest that I sat in on the session where Jed Nahum from MSN adCenter provided a peek at his company’s new demographic targeting tools. Suddenly, search marketers have a whole new level of complexity to deal with. It’s not enough that we do keyword by keyword management. It’s not enough that we have to watch our competitors’ bids, the time of day, and the day of week. Throw geo-targeting into the mix for good measure. If you’re lucky enough to be included in MSN’s beta, you can now target by age and gender.

As panelist Kevin Lee from Did-It pointed out, if you took full advantage of all the permutations and combinations, you would end up with somewhere around 7,500 possible campaigns, per keyword! The arithmetically challenged amongst us in the audience felt the anxiety pangs in our chest.

It all depends on how you look at it. Numbers like this can be daunting to crunch, if you look at the entire universe. But the whole point of targeting is not to reach everyone; it’s to reach the right person, at the right time. If you start from the potential customer and work backwards, targeting provides a level of power unavailable before. It just depends on your perspective. If you’re looking at the work involved to manage a 50,000-keyphrase campaign, additional targeting options can look like a colossal pain in the butt. If you’re looking at the optimum way to reach that ideal customer, it will be your best friend.

The prerequisite here is getting to know ideal customers, intimately. Know who they are and what their intent is. Know where they live and where they work. Know what they’re looking for when they use a search engine and how they’ll search for it. And most importantly, know what they’re looking for when they end up on your site. If you have firm answers for all these questions, you’ll love the new targeting features that MSN is making available, because they will provide the shortest possible path to your best prospects.

Targeting in action. Kevin Lee added more sage advice: you always want to buy your best clicks first. The eye tracking research undertaken by Did-It, Enquiro and EyeTools showed that top sponsored positions deliver substantially higher visibility and click-throughs than do the side sponsored positions. You’re looking at a visibility multiple of 3X to 4X, and a similar boost in click-throughs. But for competitive words, those positions come at a premium that may be beyond the reach of many advertisers. Now, if you can boost your bids for your carefully selected prime segments through pinpoint targeting, you can gain those top spots for just the right prospects, and then drop out of the top for less desirable segments.

You can’t target everyone… yet. Obviously, MSN can’t deliver targeted search ads to every user of MSN Search. To enable age and gender demographic targeting, users have to volunteer some information about themselves, either through signing up for a Hotmail account, a MSN Passport or some other Microsoft account. Nahum was pushed for what percentage of MSN’s user base this might be. His answer was a coy “larger than you might think.” While the transparency of the answer wasn’t what the audience was looking for, moderator Danny Sullivan made this salient observation: “Look, compared to the targeting you can do through television or almost any other medium, this is a quantum leap forward.” Hard to argue that one.

Get used to it. In the recent full speed game of one-upmanship that the search engines are playing, it won’t be long before Google and Yahoo! have introduced their own targeting tools. This will be the new reality of search marketing. It’s somewhat ironic that a marketing channel that took off because of its self-service simplicity is now becoming one of the most complex media-buying challenges in advertising today. But with complexity comes power, and there may be no channel available to marketers today that’s more powerful than search.

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