Can Custom Search Improve Search Advertising?

The arrival of Google’s Custom Search Engine set many Web publishers’ hearts aflutter. The site search tool affords the ability to create a vertical search engine specific to its subject matter. What’s not to love? Google’s offering lets users tap dozens, even hundreds, of sites to build a specialized engine that will search those sites alone. It may not be the first of its kind, but with the help of Google’s name, it’s quickly becoming one of the most popular.

After I heard about the new tool and tried it out, my first question was how it might affect paid search advertising. Could it somehow make search ads more effective?

More Qualified Searchers

Let’s put this into terms a media buyer can better understand. If paid search is like behavioral targeting, with ads chosen to appear based on consumers’ interests (represented by keywords), then ads that appear on a custom search engine are like contextual advertising, surrounded by relevant site content. They’re similar in this sense to content-targeted paid search ads, which are also distributed to sites that feature content relevant to the advertiser.

Like content-targeted ads, search ads that appear on custom engines stand to attract more qualified searchers, perhaps even to a greater degree than content ads can. Consumers are able to control the search for their desired subject matter and actively look for information, instead of just viewing the similarly themed ads that appear for them on a site.

User-Friendly Search Experience

Consumers might also view paid search ads appearing on a custom engine more favorably because the search experience in general is more user-friendly. As one search expert puts it, a search for “bug” on an SEO-specific engine returns information on search engine bugs instead of bugs in general. It might take some doing for consumers to revert back to simple searches from today’s sophisticated ones, but wouldn’t that intuitive simplicity be divine?

Custom Search Engines also allow us to leverage the loyalty of site users, who may look favorably on ads and advertisers that appear on their favorite properties. The search term used to pull up an ad may be the same on Google as it is on a custom engine, but the consumer who typed it may be more likely to complete the action you desire.

Improved Broad Match Targeting

Custom Search Engines are particularly appealing where broad match targeting — Google’s default option — is concerned. Broad match ties ads with terms regardless of the order they appear in or other keywords they appear in association with. It’s popular among advertisers because it’s difficult to anticipate every search string a consumer may use, and broad match lets them cover all possibilities. For that reason, though, the impressions generated by a broad match keyword can be less precise.

A search for “service” on Google results in any number of broad match ad results, such as customer service training; online dating; and information on rebuilding vacuum pumps. If a consumer was looking for information on automotive service and maintenance when typing in the term, these ads aren’t going to do him much good. On an automotive-related site with a Custom Search Engine, the same term would bring up the same results — unless a media buyer could choose to have her ads appear on that custom engine alone.

So far, Google sources confirm their ad targeting abilities haven’t changed. The option to pick and choose custom engines on which to advertise doesn’t yet exist (and likely won’t until Custom Search Engines gain the critical mass to warrant this consideration). It’s a great tool for Webmasters, but it would be greater if Google introduced Custom Search Engine targeting that advertisers could manage separately.

If it someday does, media buyers would have some very intriguing options at their disposal. We’d be able to not only pinpoint sites on which to place our clients’ ads based on the nature of their content and the product being promoted but also target potential customers who are actively searching for products on these sites.

Gives a new meaning to “the best of both worlds,” doesn’t it?

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Related reading