MSN is just a few months shy of launching their highly publicized AdCenter with MSN Keywords, the first program in a line of new things set to come out of Redmond. Every Search marketer out there is just a little bit anxious and giddy as they wait to enroll their clients in this program. Combining demographic targeting with the capability to geo-target and day-part, AdCenter will allow advertisers the control that we have so desperately demanded from the search engines. Precise targeting ultimately will lead to increased ad relevancy, higher ROI, reduced CPAs and happy clients. Begin to plan now for shifting ad dollars to MSN’s new program.
But amidst the brouhaha of MSN’s debut, let’s not forget Ask. Ask has just recently launched their Sponsored Listings program, which replaces their premier listings program. (Not to fear, however: Google will provide their own sponsored listings to Ask, as their contract does not expire until 2007.) Anyone wishing to buy into the Ask program will appear in Position 1 within the sponsored listings, with Google backfill. Ask will be factoring CPC and click-thru rate into consideration when determining position.
So what’s the difference in what they’re offering now? Not a whole heck of a lot. My concern, which should be everyone’s concern, is just how vital this new program should be to your client’s Search campaign. Nielsen//NetRatings reports that in June 2005, Ask Jeeves Web Search had on 8.8% penetration; Google 61.8%, Yahoo 39.2% and MSN 32.9%. Is there value in buying direct? Yes, no doubt. But is Ask valuable enough to warrant spending the time in planning and managing? That’s the real question.
The bottom line is that Paid Search is an extremely multifaceted, dynamic and data-centric advertising medium—and it’s getting more complex with each passing day. Accountability to client’s goals, conversions, CPA and budget expectations put an enormous amount of pressure on agencies to meet and exceed targets. The onus lies with the agency to make critical decisions about when and where to reallocate or cut budgets, based on hard numbers from campaigns that are not producing and meeting certain expectations.
It’s also critical to know that while some parts of managing a Paid Search campaign are automated, for the most part, this is still a manual process. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind: you want to focus your efforts on the top 20% of your highest producing keywords. Will the workload needed to add in another Paid Search program produce the desired return that is being achieved on the Big 3?
Competition in this space is certainly healthy, and the upside is that all of us are benefiting from the advanced features used to target, refine and deliver highly relevant Search advertising for our clients. MSN’s new targeting capabilities are just the first in a long line of new innovations to come from the likes of Google and Yahoo. This is just the tip of the iceberg…get ready!