Threading Your Message Through a Tangled Web

With the strains on today’s economy becoming increasingly apparent, it’s now more important than ever to strategically and effectively plan your online media campaigns. To do this, you must have a complete understanding of the overall landscape of online media opportunities relating to your business, as well as your competitors.

Obtaining these critical insights, however, can be challenging, given the sheer size of the Internet. Without a map that truly segments the commercial Web, advertisers can’t really know where to focus their attention and how to most wisely invest their online advertising budgets.

This lack of a standard map is one of the core issues that face advertisers when they consider shifting portions of their traditional advertising budgets from TV, radio and print to online channels like the Internet and mobile devices.

The outdated tools and assumptions that traditionally power audience measurement technologies for the offline world simply don’t apply or are insufficient to provide a clear investment guideline for advertisers. This is especially true for larger advertisers and ad agencies used to making marketing decisions mostly based on demographic considerations and popularity ratings, which assume a limited variety of prospective ad venues.

Contextual Mapping

One of the greatest virtues of the Internet is its ability to present the right content (whether an ad, editorial content or user-generated content), to the right end user at the right time. This harmony between the user and the Web is usually enforced by connecting between words and their available content (ads, articles, etc.) at the time that the content is being accessed by an end user. Creating this perfect match is the task taken by every major search engine, and the science employed by the ad-networks commonly known as “Contextual Targeting”. This proven approach has long been reapplied to become one of the most effective methods of targeting an online ad campaign and a necessary feature of any dignified ad network or ad serving company like DoubleClick or Value Click.

To understand the power of contextual matching, let us consider the days prior to Google’s revolution of online search and, in effect, how people use the Internet. Prior to Google, manually edited directories such as Yahoo directory and AOL’s DMOZ failed to appropriately guide users through their search simply because they weren’t able to classify the enormous amount of content that constantly comes online. It wasn’t until Google introduced its semantic search engine and the page rank algorithm, driven mainly by words and links, that order was brought to the sparse Web, and users were safely guided to their desired content.

Because of the vast number of prospective ad venues and the sparse nature of the Web, manual Web site classifications and the limited consumer panels used for traditional demographic assessments and Web site ratings are simply not enough to guide media buyers and marketing executives through their online advertising investments. Very much like the manually edited directories failed to properly guide users through their search, media buyers need a sophisticated search engine to truly assess their market and plan their investments and acquisitions.

It is therefore no surprise that, very much like what Google did to consumer search, we find that one of the best ways to strategically plan effective online campaigns is to move from the traditional methodologies which are insufficient, to one that is driven by a robust search engine, in effect making it possible to organize the commercially advertised Web in a practical way, enabling wise online advertising decisions. Keep in mind, however, that while keywords and messaging always play a key part in online ad campaigns, other aspects such as the advertiser, publisher, network, type of advertisement and geography are necessary in order to answer the practical questions that enable the design of an effective and balanced media plan across all available online advertising channels.

The Evolution of Online Ad Planning

Traditionally, companies like Alexa, ComScore, Hitwise and Nielsen Netratings utilized various user surveillance methods and technologies to harvest demographic information and assess a Web site’s traffic ratings. From a macroscopic perspective, there are four primary ways to surveil consumers as relates to Internet advertising: voluntary panels, involuntary panels, consumer surveys and data acquisitions. These methodologies fall short of the mark in number of ways.

First and foremost, too often panel data is easy to manipulate or relies heavily on insufficient data, making it incapable of providing a complete and accurate picture of the true competitive landscape, and therefore unreliable for broad media planning.

Secondly, the traditional panel renders do not allow planning toward what’s known as the “buying intent” of your target customers. For example, just because someone is affluent enough to afford the product or service you’re offering — such as a deluxe travel package — doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is actually in the market for a high-end vacation. You might want to consider using different messaging toward your broad audience versus those who are currently shopping. And thirdly, even if we ignore the questionable privacy aspects related to toolbar surveillance, adware and data acquisitions, those methods and technologies are known to be easy to manipulate (e.g. see “Alexa Booster“) and massively affected by proxy servers, muti-tab browsing and International coverage barriers.

If you are relying only on demographic data and loose traffic estimates to strategize your online marketing investments, you are selling yourself — and your media planning dollars — way too short.

By looking strictly at standard measurements such as age, household income, marital status and gender, you’re applying an outdated top-down strategy that misses on the wide-reach opportunity of the Internet, which is in the details. It is important to examine related media buys of both targeted ads space, which is oriented toward return on investment (ROI), and remnant traffic purchases from the body and tail of the Internet, for wide branding and marketing campaigns.

As a media planner, it’s critical to use the right advertising channels and messaging to engage with prospective clients. For example, each of the following search phrases — “Buy Honda,” “Buy Hummer” or “Compare Hybrid cars” — represent very different audiences. Knowing where other advertisers allocated their budgets, what messages they used, and how campaigns are executed in order to reach each of these distinct user types, ultimately results in an improved user experience (the consumer gets the most relevant offers) and more effective advertisements.

The Media Buyer’s Search Engine

Google’s search engine changed the way casual consumers use and find relevant information on the Internet. By analyzing and indexing the content and linkages between Web sites, search engines like Google and Yahoo are able to help casual users find the most relevant information for their searches. Unfortunately, the regular search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN are not designed to answer professional business-oriented queries. In fact, because of the biased nature of advertising and the “holiness” of organic search algorithms, Google’s search, for one, generally excludes advertised links from their index and ranking algorithms.

An advertiser that sells DVDs or subscriptions to an entertainment magazine is likely to look for answers to questions like “Where should I place my new DVD ads?”, “How much should I invest on those advertising channels comparatively? “Which ad networks should I work with?” “Which related sites or companies can I acquire to improve my strategic positioning as an online entertainment magazine?” “How popular is each prospective ad venue?”, etc. The likes of those practical marketing questions are simply not supported by the regular search engines

This type of professional questions can be most reliably answered by looking at the actual ads and links that are distributed throughout the Web as part of any online advertising campaigns. Surprisingly, up until recently no company has employed the proven crawler data harvesting in conjunction with a specialized link-words analysis for marketing intelligence purposes.

As an online media planner, solutions that are based on deep analytics of factual online advertising links data, such as TNS’s eValiant, and Syntryx Executive Solutions, give you the necessary foundations to gain insightful marketing intelligence, making you more effective in your role. One of the main advantages of this approach is the ability to consider the full picture and extract the overall online opportunities found across the head, body and tail of the Internet, enabling you to manage your risks and maximize reach across multiple channels. Get out of the “mainstream bubble” and become aware of all aspects of the Internet.

Using contextual marketing tactics when planning your campaigns is a far more practical solution to allocate your online advertising budgets since by the nature of the bottom-up approach of crawler data harvesting, it is tailored to the way Internet advertising actually works, rather than applying outdated methodologies. Perhaps most importantly, considering contextual marketing tactics enables you to act quickly, using the most basic principle; simply “follow the money.” So, when you’re preparing for your next Black Friday shopping spree, consider the latest ad planning technologies and take a new approach to your online advertising. Especially in light of today’s economical downturn, you should ask yourself and your colleagues some important questions:

  • Does our technology solution give us the full opportunity to apply proven contextual targeting concepts in a way that goes beyond ad word campaigns? Are we truly aware of all risks and opportunities? Do we have the full picture?
  • How well do we manage our risks when it comes to our online media investments and acquisitions? How dependent are we on Google’s performance? Do we have any way to audit our third-party agents and service providers and hold them accountable for the budgets that we allocate to them?
  • Do we have a solution that will help us identify the best places to advertise and strategically allocate our online advertising investments?
  • Did we choose a solution that shows the whole Web, or did we get a service that is bound to constraints that could create a false image of the true business opportunity? Did we purchase a solution or service that goes beyond traditional demographics? How much time are we spending on blind research? How accountable are our online media buying and branding decisions?
  • Do we stretch our advertising muscles to reach all relevant ad venues? Do we have the ability to design a balanced media acquisition plan across the head, body and tail of the Internet? Are we neglecting the tail or body? Are we utilizing affiliates, e-mail, and display ad channels?

By evaluating where ads are already being displayed, you’re positioning yourself for success. If you’re in the retail fashion industry, for example, find a solution that can quickly identify where The Gap is advertising successfully. If your business is similar to theirs, chances are you’ll be successful as well.

Finally, as the industry catches on to the emerging need for practical media planning technologies, remember that while new expenditures on various low level solutions may seem impressive at first, they are often a primitive version of the professional analytics tools and resources you should be using. For the savvy advertiser, such sub-sets of inferior tools should generally not be considered as a serious alternative to guide their online marketing investments. Those advertisers who spend US$50,000 per month or more on online advertisement should seriously consider moving to a professional online media planning solution for their online marketing expenditures.

Assaf Igell is vice president of product strategy for Syntryx, an online marketing advisor.

1 Comment

  • Came to this via google search – Used Syntryx years ago when it was still going. Fascinated me so much I set up Publisher Discovery – affiliate network analysis still excites me AM azingly 🙂

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