Segmenting Ad Buys

Many agencies that invested in adserving technology over the past couple years had some unrealistic expectations regarding the types of targeting they would be able to implement from the agency side.

For some, it was a rude awakening when they realized that it was impractical to use their servers to target. After all, with a couple of exceptions, a web site publisher’s adserver is the one making the call as to when a specific agency’s ad is served — not the agency’s.

Most agencies learned very quickly that if they wanted to target OS/2 users with specific ads via their adserver, they could do that. But they also learned that they would have to develop a default message to serve to all other users. After all, when a publisher’s adserver tells an agency’s adserver to serve an ad, it has to serve something, regardless of whether the end user is on OS/2 or not. If you want to target OS/2 users only, that targeting filter has to be implemented on the publisher’s side.

While agency-side targeting still isn’t where most would like it to be, there are some very smart tests an agency can implement in order to learn more about its audience. Segmenting an audience using the agency-side adserver can often yield some surprises.

For instance, if your client provides a web-based service, you might try segmenting the audience by time of day. Serve the same banners to all users, but segment the audience in such a way that the reports from your adserver show response rates broken out by time of day. This breakout may reveal that response to your ads peaks during business hours. In that case, you might consider implementing a time of day filter on the publishing side. You’ve actually tested the targeting filter before buying it!

The same methodology can be used to test response by geography, operating system, top-level domain, and many other criteria. If you have a hunch that a specific audience segment will respond more readily to one of your ads, you have very little to lose and a lot to gain by testing.

Another way to get more bang for your buck using the targeting capabilities of your adserver is to segment your audience and serve different messages to the unlike segments. If you have a computer hardware product, you may want to consider different messages for different operating systems.

If you’re selling a business card scanner that works with a MacIntosh, you may want to deliver a banner that speaks to this audience — “Hey Mac users We’ve got a card scanner that actually works on your system” or something to that effect. Response rates will increase if you can address small niche audiences with personalized messages.

Many of the agency-side servers can use cookies to recognize surfers that have seen your ads before. With this information, some servers can show banners to a user in a specific sequence. Wouldn’t it be great to serve up a special ad to those who have seen your offers before? Or perhaps you could serve more retention-focused ads to people who have visited your site before, while serving new acquisition ads to those who haven’t.

Although agency-side targeting is not as robust as targeting on the publisher’s side, it is still very useful in some situations. Consider using it to help increase your efficiency and to help you learn about your audience.

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