MSN’s adCenter: More Control and Better Results

This week, Microsoft’s MSN formally announced its upcoming pay-per-click (PPC) search platform. At last, marketers who use MSN’s featured listing product, but who want more control, will get their wish. The new platform will provide all the control of Google AdWords, plus some very useful targeting options that will place MSN in the forefront of PPC search advertising.

Unless you market in France or Singapore, you’ll have to wait to use MSN’s adCenter. Rollout to the test markets will happen within the next six months; no dates are provided for a U.S. launch. MSN clearly wants advertiser feedback on the new system in the meantime.

Yahoo’s Overture will continue to provide backfill listings for ads not directly purchased through MSN’s system. As before, if you run an Overture campaign for a keyword and buy MSN listings for the same keyword, MSN suppresses Overture’s listing and displays only its own.

The Basics

First, the basics. AdCenter resembles Google more than Overture because you don’t have direct control over your position. MSN will take your ad’s CTR (define) into account when displaying your ad and determining position. So your ad must be targeted and somewhat compelling, or you’ll risk getting a lower position for a given bid.

MSN hasn’t fully committed to a specific length for ad copy. I predict the size will be Google’s current format. This could change, given the launch’s early stage. Creative already running on Google may be easier to transition. Chances are, you’ve already gone through a creative maximization process. You’ve determined the best mix of 25-character titles, followed by two lines of 35 characters’ worth of ad space, for each keyword. Given MSN will reward maximized creative, importing good Google creative will likely perform well.

Marketers will have more control and glean more consumer insight with MSN’s new system as compared to the current SFS keyword product. There will be some loss of control, though, as the new system will take consumer response into account. Thus, no guaranteed positions. Additional targeting, improved consumer experience, and ability to test and control at the keyword, targeting, and creative levels more than make up for the loss in direct position control. Match type control is very good as well, and the demos display an easy interface.

New Goodies

MSN also rolled out several new adCenter goodies. Moving PPC search to an entirely new level, the company unveiled several groundbreaking pre-purchase features, including info about keyword searchers by:

  • Gender. Knowing a searcher’s gender before buying a keyword allows you to tune ad and landing-page creative. It may also help determine the suitability of certain keyword types for your campaign in general, based on media and marketing objectives.

  • Age. Knowing searchers’ age makeup helps you target before you bid on the keyword, as well as work on great targeted creative.
  • Lifestyle category. Lifestyle information refers to a searcher’s psychographic and demographic profile. Marketers targeting a lifestyle type can make better keyword selections and easier develop killer ad and landing-page creative.
  • Wealth/income. Do different related keywords skew to wealthy searchers? Chances are they do. This will help keyword selection and creative.

Before you buy a single click, you have the opportunity to tune a campaign. That’s going to be very cool. You’ll also be able to geo- and daypart target. Although third-party campaign management firms have long offered dayparting, it’s new for a major search engine to offer it as an automatic, as opposed to manual, feature. Of course, dayparting an entire campaign doesn’t always make sense, given the high return on investment (ROI) on some power and brand keywords, regardless of time of day.

Bid Control by Gender or Age

This is adCenter’s killer app. MSN uses registration data from Hotmail, Messenger, or other personalization to deliver ads targeted by age, gender, and other parameters. Now, marketers can influence whether their ads show up more frequently to a specific age group or gender by increasing bids.

Say you put up a campaign and test the traffic. For a specific power keyword, you find you’d bid $0.25 more if searchers were female and $0.11 more if they were 25-35. The ad would rotate more heavily based on a higher AdRank (Google’s term, but appropriate here). Additional control through such bid knowledge creates better campaigns.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Yusuf Mehdi, MSN’s corporate VP of information services and merchant platform, discussed the system’s features in Redmond, WA. In his presentation, Mehdi committed MSN to launching an API (define) to coincide with adCenter’s Web-based front end. This is great for marketers with large competitive campaigns who manage to specific success metrics.

These additional data and targeting parameters may seem complicated. But more control means ads will be more relevant and campaign ROI will be higher. MSN is looking to give marketers control while improving the user experience for searchers.

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

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