Google, Facebook and Twitter are in a battle to win your ad dollars. The battle ground: a dizzying array of new targeting tools. While this means that targeting options have never been richer, it also makes the pairing of content and context that much more important. In digital, the context can be the content itself, or the “environment” that surrounds it — conversations about that content.
Let’s bifurcate context into the “context of content” versus the “context of the consumer." It’s acceptable to consider reaching consumers “on desktop” or “on mobile.” While emerging digital contexts complicate this, let’s keep it simple. Facebook, Google and Twitter all enable marketers to target these basic consumer contexts. But they differ considerably on how.
Google uses Webpage content and search terms to serve relevant ads. They have two tools that allow advertisers to serve ads in the “right” context: Topic Targeting and Contextual Targeting. Topic Targeting serves ads in the context of a site. Contextual Targeting delivers messages based on content consumed, targeting individual keywords found in Web text—it is Google’s most granular display targeting option.
Facebook uses data from user profiles, status updates, likes and friends to serve relevant ads. (75% of online shoppers click link referrals from their Facebook friends.) This social proof lends credibility to marketing messages and is a very powerful context. Facebook delivers fully on the promise of social-contextual advertising; sponsored stories are a perfect example. Each unit is shown in the context of the interaction friends had with the content.
Twitter uses data from user profiles, tweets, follows and search terms to serve relevant ads. Twitter’s contextual option is keyword-level targeting. Much like Google, Twitter keyword targeting allows advertisers to use exact phrase(s) and broad keyword matching, but instead of search inquiry or Web text, it’s tweeted text.
Real-time and time-of-intent are both important here. It’s not just about reaching someone when they’re talking about something casually, but reaching them with compelling content when they’re in the act of consideration. All three networks have tools to reach audiences in real-time, but paid search makes Google the clear leader on intent.
So what attempts have the big three taken to out-stride the competition?
Do you remember +1 buttons next to search results? This was an effort to use social proof in organic and paid results to increase relevancy and click-through rates. It was a move to harness social data, delivering results not only at the right time but with the addition of social-contextual information. Yet… How many people use Google+?
Facebook Graph Search
Facebook Graph Search can potentially target specific audience groups with contextually relevant messages at the point of intent, but it lacks mass adoption. Less than 1% of Facebook users currently use Graph Search. And Facebook has a long way to go before a critical mass of users engage Graph Search like they use Google search.
Twitter Keyword Targeting
“With keyword targeting, you get the when,” Kevin Weil, Twitter’s director of revenue products, reported in a TechCrunch interview with Anthony Ha. This development is certainly a step in the right direction, but it lacks the intent aspect of a 1:1 search.
To accomplish the digital promise at scale, a robust system for marketers to buy and deliver advertising messages is needed. This system would need the ability to use demographic and behavioral data to target people with 1:1 messages at the time of intent, with contextually relevant messages. Neither Google, Facebook nor Twitter achieve all these goals today, yet they are fighting hard to get there first.