Quasi-Search: Contextual and Behavioral Marketing

Advertisers sometimes have difficulty extracting more volume from search. If the problem is due to a lack of inventory, or CPC (define) prices that are hard to justify, consider looking closer at quasi-search media, such as contextual or behavioral, to determine if they can deliver on campaign objectives, whether branding, direct response, or a hybrid of the two.

Over the last several years, lines between search and other targeting methods have blurred. Yet even if PPC (define) search definitions are muddy, particularly among less sophisticated marketers, search marketing professionals must understand the differences between pure search and other targeting methods. Overall campaign efficiency may depend on understanding the types of quasi-search and how they fit into an integrated campaign that may include other on- and offline media.

When I ask marketers if they consider keyword-targeted, text-based contextual advertising part of their search budget, they almost always say “yes.” The same holds true for behavioral search retargeting when done with text links. When I ask about display advertising that’s contextually or behaviorally targeted, answers become more mixed. Some marketers still view any keyword-targeted media as search, but drawing the line is no longer so easy.

Many behavioral targeting systems that use search as a trigger group all searchers within a single category to make it easier to buy that traffic in bulk. Removing targeting precision in exchange for volume primarily appeases media buyers willing to trade precision for scale. Sophisticated search buyers must continue to preach the benefits of increasing relevance and control and continue to request that engines and media providers give us access to tools that control the level of targeting so we can make intelligent decisions about how to spend budgets that may be thought of as search, but are in fact becoming more of an integrated media purchase.

SEM (define) and interactive agencies with strong search skill sets (or even in-house teams that are extremely search savvy) are uniquely positioned to tap the incremental media opportunities that are targeted based on keywords, regardless of whether the targeting methods are contextual or behavioral.

Start exploring the behavioral and contextual media opportunities when one or more of the following are true:

  • You find it difficult to extract more value from pure search and have gone through several performance-enhancing iterations of expansion and segmentation.
  • You’re in a highly competitive category.
  • While the primary focus is on direct response, you also build awareness and want to influence consumers toward your brand.
  • You have high levels of combined organic and paid search traffic (which can be utilized for retargeting the site’s existing search traffic).
  • You have an agency or technology that can monitor the interaction effects between pure search and the quasi-search media of behavioral and contextual.
  • Your agency or technology can optimize the contextual or behavioral buys in conjunction with the search buy to assure the interaction effects are properly accounted for.
  • At the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference in San Jose this week, I had the privilege of sitting with several speakers on a panel dedicated to exploring opportunities within behavioral search retargeting. We discussed optimism in respect to the size of the behavioral search retargeting market and showed how improved targeting based on behavioral search can result in improved relevance for the consumer over broader contextual or channel-based targeting methods while delivering targeting benefits to the advertiser.

    As search engines, publishers, and third-party networks roll out more sophisticated contextual and behavioral media options that are keyword-driven, budgets will flow into anything marketers consider search. Most marketers consider both contextual and behavioral retargeting of search to be within the search budget. SEM agencies and the skill sets they provide will be increasingly necessary as part of overall online media plans. Evidence of this fact is the continuing acquisitions of SEM firms by general interactive advertising agencies and ad holding companies. This week marks yet another significant buy with AKQA’s purchase of SearchRev.

    Regardless of where the line is eventually drawn between search and other media targeted based on keywords, concepts, or behavior, the skills, strategies, and best practices we learn in PPC search campaign management will be highly valuable over the next several years. Even is the midst of economic turmoil, the future looks bright.

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

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