Microsoft adCenter: For SEM and SEO, Part 1

I’ve always used paid search engine advertising data to improve my SEO (define) campaigns. When I was a Microsoft Search Champ, I was thrilled to see the adCenter interface. I watched it evolve over the years, and I still use it.

One of my favorite speakers at Search Engine Strategies conferences is Mel Carson. I always learn something new every time I hear Microsoft’s European adCenter community manager speak. Plus, he’s funny. And British. All too often, Americans think too much like Americans and don’t market well to non-U.S. audiences. So Carson’s perspective is truly enlightening.

In this three-part interview, Carson will share some great information about adCenter and how it can help both search engine advertising and optimization campaigns.

Shari Thurow: Mel, many ClickZ readers don’t know you’ve been in the search marketing industry for awhile. Will you tell our readers a little more about your experience and your current position at Microsoft?

Mel Carson: I actually graduated in drama and was an actor for six years, working in retail at Harrods in London to pay the rent. After deciding that working in an uncertain and volatile industry was not for me, I decided to get into Internet advertising! I landed a job as the travel and shopping editor at LookSmart. It was the new millennium, and the whole search space was going bonkers.

We clung on, and I did various revenue and product management roles till MSN (ironically) kicked us off their search page and I was made redundant.

After a couple of years as an account director at 24/7 Search, getting some valuable agency experience, I came to Microsoft as part of the team that launched adCenter in the U.K.

I’m now part of the adCenter community team that runs the adCenter Blog and supports our customers in the adCenter forum and third-party adCenter forums such as Search Engine Watch [part of the ClickZ Network –ed.], WebmasterWorld, and Digital Point.

We’re designing the adCenter accreditation program. We do a lot of offline events, too — speaking about adCenter and search in general at conferences in Europe and North America.

ST: AdCenter certainly made some major changes since I first saw it as a Microsoft Search Champ. What major changes have been made to adCenter, and why did Microsoft implement these changes?

MC: I’d like to think adCenter has evolved rather than changed in any dramatic way.

We’ve had a lot of feedback from our advertisers, and we’ve listened closely to their needs. Agility has been the key, so we’ve prioritized features like bulk edit tools and enhanced navigation, and bit by bit, in a little under a year, we have introduced an improved user interface [UI] based on customer feedback and built up a platform that really does compete.

Adding the demographic targeting capabilities and the high-converting traffic to the mix, we really have delivered a compelling offering for PPC advertisers to invest budget with us.

ST: The appearance of the adCenter interface has also changed considerably since my Search Champ days. What new information is displayed in the adCenter interface?

MC: The UI guys have played around with the interface to ensure there’s as much rich data to help advertisers quickly make the best choices in managing their campaigns.

PPC is predominantly about ROI, so there are a plethora of reports that can be executed before and after running a campaign. There’s obviously top-line figures on impressions, clicks, click-through rate [CTR], and spend, but delve a little deeper into the “Research” tab and there’s a mine of information to help you get one over on your competitors.

Our Keyword Generation Tool not only suggests keywords but will give you an indication of which demographic profile is searching on that keyword.

We’re able to deliver this information through age and gender data we gather from our Hotmail and Messenger users.

Advertisers use this data to up-weight their bids against a particular demographic they think are more likely to buy their product or service.

For example, if you’re a finance company targeting secured loans to homeowners, you might want to up-weight your bids by 20-30 percent if the system identifies the searcher is 35-plus and more likely to own a house. This potentially means not wasting so many clicks on college leavers looking to buy a car.

Remember, you don’t exclude anyone; you’re simply bidding a bit extra to get higher in the rankings for your target audience.

I remember early last year the agency running Sony’s account in France asked me to tell them who was the dominant profile on Sony’s brand term. They were very skeptical when I said it was 35- to 50-year-old men. But when I told them 35- to 50-year-old men plus disposable income plus midlife crisis plus soccer World Cup equaled 42-inch plasma TV, they got the message.

ST: The demographics information has been very useful for me in both SEO and Web site usability, particularly when I can match a persona or profile directly to a keyword phrase. So kudos to your UI team for that. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on detailed campaign planning and delivery within adCenter. Is there anything else we should be aware of?

MC: When we came to market, the landscape had matured somewhat in terms of CPC, so we were keen on creating greater efficiencies to maximize advertisers’ ROI. How cool is it that they can now target a specific demographic or bid higher on a keyword at a particular time of day or in a particular geographic location?

We also have Microsoft adCenter Labs. Here advertisers can use some of the tools our research team in China are building to maximize ROI through better decision-making based on solid business intelligence. These include Search Funnels, Entity Detection, Keyword Forecast, and Seasonality Forecast.

Since adLab launched less than a year ago, it has been used by thousands of advertisers looking to get an extra edge to their campaigns. The intelligence has been used not only on adCenter campaigns but on other PPC engines and in SEO.

We’re really passionate about advertisers and passionate about seeing them succeed, so it’s nice to see that with the success of adLab we’re being regarded as thought leaders in this area.

ST: Yes, I am a huge adLab fan. If ClickZ readers haven’t used the tools in adLabs, I highly encourage you to visit the site and play around a bit. Both search engine advertising and optimization is all about understanding searcher behavior and accommodating that behavior in your ads as well as your site design. Both adCenter and adLabs are wonderful resources for understanding that behavior.

Next: Carson provides some tips and tricks about how to get the best out of your adCenter campaigns and how this data can help SEO campaigns.

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