Paid Contextual Advertising Driving Search Towards Personalization

Posted on 26. Oct, 2005 in Making Money

As noted in my previous two columns, the Internet is in the midst of another technological revolution, the effect of which will change the ways we will access information and entertainment. Innovation on many core technologies has changed the online marketing environment and the ways commercial information is offered to us. Paid placement based on keyword targeting is a rudimentary example and is currently a major force driving decisions in the industry. The two most successful paid-placement/contextual-delivery programs, Adwords and Overture have been joined by dozens of smaller paid-placement/contextual-delivery engines such as E-Spotting, FindWhat, and Kanoodle. With a market that appears to be growing exponentially, the business potential of providing truly guaranteed listings is enormous. Effectively managing paid marketing efforts is important and tailoring advertising campaigns to maximize revenues will be an artful science.

Paid-Placement/Content-Delivery
Like most great business ideas, the concept of contextual-advertising is simple. When search engine users type in keywords related to a product or service, paid-advertising appears above and beside the non-paid listings. Advertisers bid for placement under specific keywords and phrases based on the amount of money they are willing to spend per click, with the best placements going to the highest bidders. These ads are displayed on the major search engines and distributed through millions of partner sites across the web. Partner sites might include online newspapers, other search engines, Internet Service Providers, and increasingly, privately owned web sites. Distribution of paid, contextual advertising has become a strong secondary income for many webmasters. The next time you find yourself surfing the web, be on the look-out for examples of paid-advertising on non-search related pages and try to figure out which keywords triggered the appearance of the ads. Webmasters interested in gaining a secondary income should check out and compare programs offered by the various search tools. Advertisers should think about exploiting the power of these growing distribution channels.

There are many ways to tailor ads and advertising campaigns to maximize income and minimize costs. Like many other SEOs, StepForth’s Senior SEO, Scott van Achte has developed several writing methods and combinations of different programs to bring better than expected results to his clients. By understanding the working environment and the various options available under each program, Scott has helped several clients find visitors and sales from sources they would never have considered open to them before, such as the New York Times which displays Google Adwords. Knowing that ads appear against articles in the NYTimes (and hundreds of other major newspapers) based on keywords found in the news-content allows Scott to target a huge market that was previously unavailable to most small businesses. There is a definite trick to writing ad-copy that is general enough to appear in many places yet specific enough to target the most effective audience.

Personalizing Results
There have been recent articles stating that contextual advertising is beginning to flat-line. Speculation that the sector is starting to dry up is more likely an indicator that a new twist or innovation on content delivery is necessary than it is that advertisers have gone sour on the concept. It is a short step from keyword targeted advertising to content delivered based on information gathered about your personal preferences. Think about the use of your credit cards, bank-cards, customer loyalty cards (such as air miles or supermarket discount clubs), magazine subscriptions, and your other public interactions. You already know that a great deal of personal information is tracked and recorded. Now, think about your behaviors on the Internet. Did you know you are being watched?

In one way or another, each of us is being electronically monitored while using the Internet. I have a G-Mail account which displays advertising based on keywords found in the text of emails I receive. I noticed that different ads might display each time I open a specific message. I also have a number of super-handy toolbars installed on my computer. I use them for almost instant reference to tons of information about web sites and search engines. The price of my usage is my allowance for the makers to monitor my behaviors while online. The information I feed back to them determines to some degree the information fed to me during searches. For example, Lycos knows I am Canadian. For some reason, it will only allow me to see Lycos.CA and not Lycos.Com. I find this annoying. The results shown at Lycos.CA are not always the same as seen at Lycos.Com. Google also knows I live in Canada and would automatically send me to Google.CA if I hadn’t previously clicked the “Go to Google.Com” link at Google.CA. As the search engines collect information about me, they begin to form a profile of me. The most blatant profiling is currently found at A9.com (see our A9 article). Soon, I suspect I will see advertising directed from my region. I also expect to see advertising that reflects topics of many of the sites I commonly visit, with the sad exception of hockey related advertising which is likely going to be on hold for a while.

Now, if you were an SEO or an advertiser, what would you do with the knowledge that advertising is being directed to specific persons based on basic personal information? Speaking to a search engine placement firm might be a good start. Incorporating geographic targeting in ad-copy and campaign planning was complicated enough for SEOs. Now we need to start thinking about lifestyle-copy, regional-copy and other general identifiers that might produce personalized hits. The upside to the complexity is that personalized targeting should result in stronger revenues at lower long-term advertising costs. After all, personal targeting of paid advertising is getting stronger and much more sophisticated.

Jim Hedger is a senior editor for ISEDB.com. Also he is a writer, speaker and search engine marketing expert working for StepForth Search Engine Placement in Victoria BC. He has worked as an SEO for over 5 years and welcomes the opportunity to share his experience through interviews, articles and speaking engagements. Hedger can be reached at jimhedger@stepforth.com