My Targeting Wish List

I had the opportunity to attend Yahoo's Right Media Open last week and was amazed at the level of sophistication of display-based ad targeting. The transformation of the online display landscape through the advent of ad exchanges and data-based targeting is a fascinating phenomenon, but a topic for a later column. Rather, the innovations I saw at the Right Media event had me thinking of all the untapped targeting opportunities in the search landscape. If I had my way, search marketers could target customers in ways far beyond the query alone. Here are some of the top items on my search targeting wish list:


Retargeting current customers. I would love to show a unique search ad to my current customers. I could offer them special offers and promotions, and even target ad copy based on their past purchase behavior. For my retail clients, I would be willing to boost bids to reach these customers because I'm confident they will deliver a higher conversion rate and higher average order size than non-customers. While for my clients in financial services I may recommend lowering bids, or not show and ad at all (wouldn't that be a great option - negative matching based on customer data!) knowing that most of these searchers are simply trying to service their existing accounts.



Targeting based on behavior. If I knew someone had just booked a beach vacation, I would love to customize an ad for her when she later searches for swimwear. Furthermore, I would like to show a different ad for a searcher going to Daytona Beach than one going to Saint Croix. This, too, would influence my bidding tactics. Based on my product mix and pricing strategy, I might be willing to pay more to reach the Daytona searcher, or vice-versa. In both cases, the ability to modify my ad copy and bid price would let me increase my search campaign performance.

Targeting based on demographics. This one is obvious, but it's a wish nonetheless because I can't do it today (not effectively in search with any scale, at least. Sorry, MSN). I would love to target searchers based on income, age, and other relevant demographic information. And in this case especially, it would be extremely valuable to suppress ads entirely to customers outside of my demographic. This would allow my luxury goods clients to compete more aggressively on high-volume generic keywords. It would also allow my pharmaceutical clients to tailor their message and bidding strategies to patients and caregivers, separately.

Targeting based on prior media exposure. I am willing to pay more for searchers who have been exposed to my display advertising than for those who have not. We've known for years that the former group is more likely to click and convert on a search ad than the latter, but we have no way to act on that information. I would also like to tailor my message to complement prior ads to which the searcher has been exposed. And in the case of customers searching multiple times in one session, I would like the opportunity to sequence my search ads to tell a story or strengthen the offer.

Many of these features are commonplace, and all are available in the display advertising world. And they have unlocked significant value for advertisers and publishers alike. The major search engines have the technology and data to execute on these capabilities in the search landscape. And it's hard to see how doing so would do anything other than boost search engine revenues, drive better advertiser performance, and promote more relevant search ads. Why haven't search engines moved to close the targeting gap between search and display? Beats me. But likely these targeting features will be on my wish list for some time to come.

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