Better Targeting With adCenter

PPC (define) search has entered a new era with the launch of MSN’s adCenter. Its demographic research and targeting capabilities will go live during the rollout. As is common in SEM (define), the industry is evolving to better meet the needs of all constituents. In addition to having another PPC auction to participate in, marketers are offered a higher level of targeting than ever.

With more targeting, the industry can move one step closer to a perfect marketplace; one in which people only see ads relevant to them, and preferably when that ad is most relevant. When marketers can better target ads they’ll pay higher prices for advertising. This has been a primary driver of increased CPC (define) in the PPC ad markets.

As marketers begin to truly understand the value impressions and clicks bring to their businesses, they bid more for the opportunity. The pressure to fight for scale (click or impression volume) within auctions can be grueling. For those with strong businesses, strong brands, and compelling offers, auction-based media offer great opportunities.

What opportunities do evolution of search and contextual targeting create for you and your business?

MSN’s new adCenter PPC auction lets you select your audiences. Would you like to target women 18-25 with your advertising, because they’re more likely to buy your product or they’re the kind of profitable customers you dream of? If women or men of any age are a high-value segment of your overall target audience, you can boost your bid per click on any keyword for that segment alone.

AdCenter provides a whole new level of targeting by allowing marketers to better select their target audience by age, gender, geography, or daypart (time of day or day of week). This results in more relevant ads. More relevant ads create a win-win scenario for advertisers and consumers. Improved relevancy also drives up prices (monetization and yield). That makes targeting improvements a home run for publishers and ad networks alike.

Only 25 percent of current MSN searches return ads from the new system as MSN tests and tunes the technology. It’s accepting feedback from current advertisers and their agencies. Yahoo Search results return for the other 75 percent of searches. This may actually result in a slightly higher number of clicks from MSN being funneled though Yahoo for some advertisers, because the interim system doesn’t mix MSN’s Search Featured Sites (SFS) listings with Yahoo MSN is displaying either all adCenter or all Yahoo results.

The adCenter system has been under development for many months. It launched in Singapore and France before going live on October 18 in the U.S. In coming months, the ratio of searches will move from 25 to 100 percent adCenter, fully replacing Yahoo Search PPC listings.

This major player’s steady transition means you must consider entering the MSN auction, in addition to Google and Yahoo, even if you never before directly advertised in MSN. AdCenter participation is invitation-only at present, but you can request an invitation on the MSN site (feel free to mention this column in the comments field).

Once you have an account, you’ll learn more about keyword searchers by demographic than you ever knew, unless you subscribed to some expensive research panel services. Do a keyword lookup in adCenter and you’re presented with keyword counts and a breakdown of those totals by:

  • Age (five demographic segments: 18-25, 25-35, 35-50, 50-65, and 65+). Though it seems some ages belong to more than one bucket, this may just be a labeling issue. Also, though there could be a 13-18 category under U.S. law, MSN has chosen not to offer it at this time.

  • Gender.
  • Geography (designated marketing areas, or DMAs).

These data, and deeper information, may affect keyword selection — and not just for MSN’s engine. They may also provide a far better understanding of search behavior in other engines. The exact breakdown may vary by engine, but the data are directional. They can provide a great strategic basis for not only keyword selection but also creative development and landing page selection and design.

MSN will soon enable the targeting features, allowing you to use the same age, gender, and geography factors to “Bid Boost” and increase your likely position for searchers for whom you’re willing to pay more. Your base bid is used for any searcher for whom MSN doesn’t have voluntary registration data. Don’t set your base bid too low on non-targeted ads. MSN doesn’t have registration data on everyone, so even some non-identified searchers may be in your sweet spot.

My team and I were lucky enough to be invited to participate in both the development and launch of the adCenter system, as well as the API (define) that will provide automated control over listings, similar to how we automate listings in Yahoo and Google. As I continue to experiment with MSN’s system, I’ll report my findings so you can get up to speed as quickly as possible.

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

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