Behavioral Matchmaking, Part 2: Search and Behavioral Targeting

Search has become an integral part of the online experience. Its directness offers marketers many one-to-one opportunities. Search has experienced a super-accelerated, boys-to-men transformation — in less than the total-season length of “The Sopranos.”

Whether search led, or contributed to, the resurrection of the interactive advertising industry is arguable. What’s certain is it’s changed the way we connect and utilize the online medium. Some might even say search has exponentially elevated the complexity and intensity of the online media game.

Search is still an intent-based action. It thus demonstrates user behaviors that exhibit interests, patterns, and trends. Today, let’s look at the possibility of a behavioral search engine. If you’re just tuning in to the series, check out part one, on a complete on-/offline database to achieve a holistic understanding of consumer behaviors.

Tool or Fool?

Search is one of the purest one-to-one marketing solutions available in online media. Aside from providing cost-effective marketing campaign solutions, it can also serve as a prime foundation of online behavioral targeting.

Generally speaking, large search engines are a great tool to monitor consumer behaviors. Not only can these engines measure buzz and demand for products based on search data, they also offer real-time glimpses of consumer wants and market needs (recall Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance and its effect on Google earlier this year).

Can search really be applied to behavioral targeting? I believe so. Let me explain.

A keyword’s popularity often implies consumer interest in a particular service or product. If you want to find out how much buzz there is for a given product launch, aggregate the Google and Overture search results (generated within a specific timeframe) to create a preliminary assessment of consumers’ interests. To quote a former boss, “Search provides an immediate tool for tracking the heightened awareness of a topic in the eyes of the mass market.”

If a week’s most-searched words represent the most current market status in real time, then, by the principles of association and relativity, we can infer search queries are indicative of online consumer behaviors. If a user conducts massive travel-related searches (“cheap travel sites,” “affordable flights,” etc.), isn’t this person an ideal target for travel-related offers? Such search data are crucial for online travel advertisers because chances are this user is planning travel in the near future.

Search is a behavior. It indicates near-future actions users might take. It’s a true indication of consumer behavior in the most linear way. Keywords used probably reflect a user’s current mindset and suggest that person’s behavior. This type of cognitive-psychology-based action analysis is precisely why search data should be integrated with behavioral targeting. Search offers a synergistic complement to other marketing efforts.

Behavioral Search: Is There Such a Thing?

Conceptually, yes. Currently, no. But we’re getting close.

Startup Eurekster dabbles in behavioral search by combining the concepts of search and social networking. Instead of simply making connections between individuals (as most social network sites do), it helps people locate information their friends and colleagues already find interesting. The engine ranks results according to what interests people in a particular social network.

Sure, Eurekster sounds more like Google-meet-Friendster than a behavioral search engine. But like Eurekster, we should index, log, and reference search queries in behavioral targeting. They’re indicative, and can be predictive, of user’s behaviors and actions online.

A recent Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division) study found “most online consumers still don’t know exactly what they want when surfing for products online.” The study suggests marketing should always be proactive, with specific calls to action for different demonstrated behaviors. It also promotes using of behavioral targeting as an inferred solution to mend the data gap between investigative/information-seeking actions (search) and navigational/experiential actions (online media).

What Does This Mean for Online Media?

Like search, behavioral targeting offers the same one-to-one marketing promise. This delicate relationship is paramount for media development in the future because it suggests elevated relevancy and personalization for each individual consumer.

There’s currently a gap between search and media. Though Google’s AdSense and Overture’s Content Match can contextually match up consumers’ interest with keywords within the content of a site, they don’t address the broken data link between the disciplines (search and media).

Search still exists in a silo, apart from other online media. Whatever terms a user searches, results are only based on the word that user typed in, rather than interpreting where that user’s been. Conversely, behaviorally targeted online banners don’t take into consideration which keywords that user previously searched. If behavioral targeting is about understanding consumer actions and patterns (and it is!), then the data marriage between search and targeting is critical to future industry growth.

Integrating consumer search data with behaviorally targeted online media is a logical step toward a holistic understanding of how consumers use the online medium. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer.

In the final part of this series: GPS’ (define) rising importance, and why it’s the ultimate behavioral targeting.

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