Should Dayparting Make You Nervous?

Last week, Google rolled out automated dayparting--the ability to automatically serve ads toward optimal times of the day. This is good news for search: it is bound to greatly heighten advertisers' precision, and eliminate campaign waste. What's more, Google dayparting will be free. (Until now, automated dayparting was available only through third-party search firms.)

But despite my overall excitement about the product, I'd still like to add two words of caution. First, it's bound to make search still more competitive. And second, if your searchers change schedules faster than you can follow them, it could leave you targeting toward the wrong times.

Smaller Windows, Bigger Competition

Dayparting relies on the idea that for many kinds of businesses, certain times of day are highly valuable; other times of day are less relevant. Businesses want to place as much spend as they can on those most-valuable times, and to shift spend away from the less valuable time slots.



While that goal makes excellent business sense, it's also important to realize that no advertiser works in a vacuum. It isn't just one advertiser that wants to move to the best time slot--it's all of them, all at once. Which is a setup for shifting the nature of search competition entirely, from small skirmishes throughout the day to an all-out war during Prime Time. And because it's a fight over your best search traffic, it's a war you won't be able to avoid.

When that level of competition hits (and it will take time--because not everyone will figure out when the optimal times are, right away), you'll need to rely more than ever on strong ad copy--to pull searchers away from your many competitors, and toward you; you'll also need to be able to develop stellar conversion architecture, to make sure that the traffic you pull in--which, in that highly competitive landscape, you'll need to pay more to get--definitely converts for you.

In other words, if you're in a daypart-oriented business, Google dayparting will make all the other aspects of your search more vital than ever before.

Search Times Are Changing

To understand how search markets can migrate from one time of day to a different one, consider online personal shopping.

Lots of people make personal purchases and purchasing decisions at the office. There could be many reasons why that's so: people need a break during the day; people would rather cut in on their work hours than on their personal lives; people reflexively think of brick-and-mortar "regular store hours," even when they're shopping online.

But an alternative reason for workday shopping might be technological. Until relatively recently, most people got their broadband connections at work, and had dial-up at home. And it's a lot easier to shop through broadband than it is to shop through slow dial-up.

If broadband is the primary reason your market is doing product searches from 9-5, then widespread adoption of home broadband is likely to affect the pattern. Now that they've got home broadband, your market might do online shopping and searching at nights, on the weekends, or in the early morning. And if you aren't on top of your market's changing online habits, you might end up focusing your dayparts toward 9-5--which is when your market used to shop, but isn't shopping any more.

Learning who your searchers are, and when they search, is entirely an issue of having the best analytics. The better you are able to gather in-depth metrics and understand them, to test out new initiatives before rolling them out fully, and to know how to ask the right questions about your campaign, the better position you will be in to find the right times of day for advertising to your market--wherever it migrates.

Which is to say that the vast benefits of dayparting need to go hand-in-hand with great analytics. If they don't, things could get risky.

Using the Tools

The point I'm making here isn't that we shouldn't be exhilarated about Google's dayparting--or Google's geotargeting, or MSN's targeting suite. What I'm arguing, instead, is simply that targeting capabilities are tools. And rather than being inherently good or bad, tools are best at intensifying the way things already are: they build on strengths and magnify weaknesses. That includes your skills at fighting the competition when things get rough, and your ability to know what your market is doing and when.

Like it or not, targeting tools are the new search reality. And for those of us who can work well without the tools, they are undoubtedly a real cause to get excited. For everyone else, maybe it's best to see them as a wake-up call.

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