Online media strategy can be as easy or as difficult as the planner and buyer choose to make it…but not without consequences. You could do a simple ad network buy, which makes things easy but doesn’t come with as much control, transparency, or targeting as the strategy might require. The much-hyped, real-time bidding (RTB) route of online media buying – which is generally for large-scale, audience-profile-driven branded buys and currently predominated by remnant (unsold) ad space – isn’t the right fit for all kinds or sizes of advertisers. In the “old school” approach, the fulfillment of the online media strategy gets dictated by the media plan, and to develop that plan you’re still likely to want to conduct some media research. Though there are plenty of media research tools out there, let’s now focus on how search can inform the media plan.
Datamine Web Analytics and On-Site Search
If at all possible, get access to the advertiser’s Web analytics and any other marketing software tools they have implemented on their site. They are a treasure trove of little information nuggets that can aid in your research. Web analytics can reveal:
- Referring keywords: Keywords that visitors used in their organic and paid search queries to find the advertiser’s site give you a glimpse into the customer mindset. These keywords can then be used directly in other forms of keyword-driven ad buys, like contextual, or can play a role in idea generation for other media placements.
- Referring sites: Referring sites indicate which websites drive the most traffic to the advertiser’s. Are there advertising opportunities on those sites? Can you find similar sites with advertising opportunities?
If the advertiser’s site has a built-in search function, you should also datamine these internal search queries to find out which content visitors seek the most and what keywords they’re using to find it. Use this information as you would the above.
Unless you know clearly where you want to place all your ad dollars, your online media research may begin at the humble search bar. Use the keyword list you’ve developed from your previous datamining efforts. Mere search engine query results can not only yield concrete ad buying opportunities, but scanning these results can also give us other subtle insights – discussion topics or product reviews on blogs or social sites, pages with links to other relevant sites, content ideas for sponsorships – these all can be revealed through simple searches.
Most SEMers are already familiar with many of the tools Google offers, but don’t think of them in terms of online media. Here’s how you can connect the dots:
- AdWords Keyword Tool: If you want to judge the popularity or importance or a keyword based upon its search volume, turn to this simple tool using the keyword list you culled. See if particular queries spark media placement ideas you hadn’t previously thought of.
- Google Trends: Simply put, Google Trends shows you wha’t’s “hot.” It displays Hot Topics and Hot Searches. Take a look at which topics and search terms are more popular (and conversely, which search terms are trending down). Your campaign strategy may even be to just piggyback on what’s trending upward at the moment.
- Insights for Search: Although it looks similar to Google Trends, Insights is algorithmically different and digs much deeper. Use it to compare keywords, see historical activity on those keywords, drill down by geography, and even identify related news headlines, the sources of which might play into your media placement ideas.
- Wonder Wheel: For the more visual-minded media planner, Google search’s built-in Wonder Wheel tool shows you related search terms arranged in a wheel shape. Drilling into related terms will create new wheels with more related terms, and so on. Again, see if these lead to new ideas for media placements. To use the Wonder Wheel, do a simple Google search, then click the “Wonder Wheel” link from the left column of available search tools.
- AdWords Placement Tool: Accessed only from within the AdWords dashboard, this can be an incredibly valuable tool for finding ad placement opportunities. You can either enter in a list of keywords to find relevant sites, or the URL of a known site for which you want to find similar sites. Google returns an extensive list of sites that can be sorted by impressions per day to see where the most active advertising real estate is.
- Ad Planner: This helps you identify websites where your target customers are likely to visit. Enter in the domain of a known website to see traffic statistics, keywords that referred traffic there, audience interests, and find related sites (“sites also visited”) and more.
Crowdsourcing Your Research
Google’s own research has revealed that 20 to 25 percent of search queries are unique ones that have never been searched before. This means that search tools like Google’s are only as smart as the keywords people are commonly using. But what about those less common and long tail search phrases that might otherwise be considered uncharted territory? New concepts, products, and ideas are likely too “young” for search tools to give you much valuable data about them. Don’t despair – you can also datamine crowdsourcing and social networking media to gather media planning insights:
- Twitter Search: Whether you tweet or don’t, you can use Twitter Search to get an immediate pulse on practically any topic. Over 190 million users actively dialog on a variety of subjects, and many tweets contain links which in turn might reveal good advertising opportunities (not to mention there’s always Twitter’s own advertising options, Promoted Tweets and Promoted Topics to buy!)
- Quora: “A continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.” The quality and integrity of the answers provided by the Quora community make it a valuable research tool. Type any keyword or topic into the search bar, and Quora will start auto-suggesting questions related to your query. Drill into any of the questions to see the answers – including links – that people have provided.
- LinkedIn Signal: Signal is a recently launched LinkedIn feature that functions very similarly to a Facebook or Twitter stream in that it shows you a stream of updates from other LinkedIn users. Signal has extensive filtering options, such as by company name, location, or industry, that enable you to create a very focused stream. Use Signal’s search feature to find related updates from LinkedIn professionals for any given keyword or topic. If there’s a lot of activity around a particularly relevant keyword or topic on LinkedIn, you may even want to conduct a LinkedIn ad campaign.
Of course, it’s certainly not necessary to go through all of these possibilities every time you want to build a media plan and buy online advertising. Use the other media planning tools at your disposal when you can. Know, too, that if you have an odd type of product to market or tough-to-define audience end user, a little research ingenuity can go a long way to helping you build a rational plan!
This column was originally published in SES Magazine, March 2011.