MSN adCenter Open Enrollment

    March 6, 2006

Precise demographic targeting is the wave of the future, and adCenter has delivered an advanced platform that’s poised to deliver enormous value to search marketers.

Microsoft’s adCenter PPC ad platform has excited search marketers since it appeared in beta form last year. Why? Because for the first time, we can target searchers by age, gender and to some extent, by lifestyle.

Up until today, adCenter has been an invitation-only affair limited to a select group of participants, but for three hours on Monday, March 6th, from 9:00 AM PST to noon, Microsoft will be holding an "open enrollment" for anybody interested in testing it out. Basically, all you need is a credit card and the willingness to spend $5 to explore the new frontier in search targeting.

Mr. Frog recently got a chance to tool around adCenter’s dashboard, and was pleased by its uncluttered, tab-based layout. Setting up an account and a basic PPC campaign took about 10 minutes, after setting basic geo-targeting parameters and twiddling with adCenter’s keyword suggestion tool.

But the real fun — and it’s certainly worth the $5 price of admission — is in adCenter’s Research area. Here, you can generate a keyword or group of keywords, and immediately see a breathtakingly detailed view of the people that used it in a query. The resulting data can provide substantial insights into who your potential customers are, and how you can design search campaigns to reach them. Some of these findings are downright surprising, including the following:

    50 percent of the 72,000 searches made for the term "iPod" in February came from users over 35 years old. A full 10 percent of these same queries came from people over 60. Want to beat your competitors to the underserved, overlooked market of iPod-buying boomers? Bid a little more for this sector, and target it with customized messaging that reinforces what they already know: the iPod isn’t just for kids! In February, 30 percent of search queries for the term "Segway" came from people over 50. Clearly, many of these boomers are investigating Segway scooters not because they’re trendy, but because they might be a substitute for a motorized wheelchair. If you’re selling Segways, you’ve just identified what is likely an underserved market niche that you can target in your search campaigns. Think you have to be over 60 to be interested in classical music or jazz? Think again. In February, 24 percent of queries on the term "Beethoven" were from searchers under 25. And 42 percent of searchers seeking information on jazz trumpeter great Louis Armstrong were under 35. If you’re selling music online, you’ve just discovered a great niche that your competition probably doesn’t even know exists.

Of course, some of the data you’ll find on adCenter reinforces what we already know or suspect about certain products and product categories, for example:

    57 percent of queries on the term "myspace" came from searchers under 35, with the bulk of these queries (36 percent) coming from searchers under 25. The bulk of searches on the term "NASCAR" came from searchers between 35 and 50 years of age who were overwhelmingly male, as were searchers on the term "Harley Davidson." 78 percent of searches on the term "beer pong" were made by people under 35, with males outnumbering females by a 2:1 ratio.

These are just a few examples of the kind of intriguing insights you can glean by playing with adCenter’s Research area. Even if you’re not presently running a search campaign, adCenter’s treasure trove of empirical data can inform whatever kind of marketing work you do. Keep in mind that adCenter’s data isn’t flawless (age and demographic data is drawn from Microsoft’s other properties, notably its Hotmail and Passport services, which don’t verify identity information).

Exercise caution when drawing conclusions based on queries that don’t happen often: profiles based on low-volume queries will be far less reliable than for queries in the thousands or millions. While adCenter does provide some profiling data on what a searcher’s "Wealth Index" is, this data seems a bit undeveloped at present: for many queries, the number of "unknowns" far exceeds the number of searchers for whom household income data is known. And adCenter’s "Lifestyle" data is similarly sketchy: again, most searchers are "unclassified" right now, rendering this data practically worthless.

Even with these flaws, the search marketing insight you can get from adCenter is enlightening, and as time goes on and more historical data is compiled, this data will become more valuable in terms of providing guidance for smart PPC search campaigns. Precise demographic targeting is the wave of the future, and adCenter has delivered an advanced platform that’s poised to deliver enormous value to search marketers. If you want to register for adCenter’s open enrollment, visit the following page between 9:00 AM and 12:00 noon PST this Monday:

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Mr. Frog is a leading Search industry visionary. Mr. Frog is a member of the Did-it Search Marketing team which accompanies him to most major marketing conferences.