Intent-based Targeting and the evolving Search & Social Advertising Model

“Because search engine marketing is necessarily data-driven, it also means a highly methodical approach in the way advertisers identify “opportunities”, which really are hints of intent.”

Because search engine marketing is necessarily data-driven, it also means a highly methodical approach in the way advertisers identify “opportunities”, which really are hints of intent.

Targeting techniques differ radically between social advertising and search advertising. Sure, both advertising platforms are based on a cost-per-click (CPC) / cost-per-impression (CPM) model. But where, or why, they differ is the way targeting traditionally works on the two ads platform.

Since, in determining the effectiveness of a PPC campaign, one typically measures the click-through rates (CTR) of a particular ad, what contributes to a click-through becomes fundamental to the effectiveness of the given ad campaign.

i. Search Engine Marketing: Keyword Targeting

Search engine marketing is most effectively employed at the hands of a digital marketer who understand the principles of keyword targeting and the platform’s ad bidding mechanism. There really isn’t much variables and most search engine marketers get pretty comfortable at it after a while.

First of all, the data necessary for search engine marketing is reasonably reliable, measurable, and quantifiable.
For little or no cost at all, those data is made accessible to any marketers, assisting them in the process of ad copywriting and bidding.

Supposed you’re running an ad campaign for a hypothetical Music Learning Centre (MLC) based in Singapore, offering free trial lessons for every new enrollment, your first task is to create a compelling, conversion-proof copy for MLC’s ad campaign. For once, deprogram what you’ve been taught by SEO gurus about writing search-engine proof copy. You’re doing everybody, not just yourself, a huge disservice if your ad copywriting is centered on the search engine you’re trying to rank.

Write for human, not (search engine) robots.

So when I said “compelling, conversion-proof” copy, I mean compelling in its most literal form. I mean well-researched copy that matches the search customer’s expectation, so much so that he or she is compelled to click through for hopes of achieving a specific goal.

That goal might be any of the following:

  • Researching a specific product
  • Locating a nearby outlet
  • Making a purchase
  • Looking up for online support
  • Comparison of alternatives

Back to your advertising campaign for MLC centre. You’ve identified the objectives of this campaign, you’ve been allocated a certain budget, and you’re ready to roll out your first ad on Google’s AdWords platform.

ii. Intent-based Keyword Targeting

Because search engine marketing is necessarily data-driven, it also means a highly methodical approach in the way advertisers identify “opportunities”, which really are “hints of intent”.

See, you generally try to achieve a few things with your CPC advertising campaign. But you were told to be specific with your campaign objective. So instead of driving massive traffic, you decided to take a more selective approach through strategic, intent-based keyword targeting. In other words, you’re willing to spend on acquiring only the most likely buyers. The most appropriate prospects for your FREE Trial Music Lessons: New Subscribers Only advertisement.

Not more traffic, but traffic that is analytically measured to be the most likely to convert.

But how do you know that your intent-based keyword targeting strategy is attracting the right prospect?
Because search customers signal strong hints about their preference, behavior, wants, and needs. In short, intent.

The better an advertiser is at identifying the search customer’s intent through research-based keyword targeting, the better likelihood of him outperforming their industry peers in its overall advertising performance (as evidenced by higher click-through rates and conversion rates).

iii. Social Media Marketing: Personal Interests

Intent-based advertising has its place in social media marketing, and its utilization of data isn’t a lot different from search advertising. Well, at least traditionally.

It is different, however, in the way that advertisers identify customer’s intent. Social advertising traditionally analyzes customer’s intent through his/her social activities and perceived interests. Facebook’s advertising platform, for example, assumes personal interests and intent through its user’s personal details (marriage status etc.), engagement with similar brand pages, and Interest (Pages).

Facebook advertising

At the very basic, Facebook advertising platform allows an advertiser to serve advertisements to customers filtered through socio- and geo-demographic parameters. Facebook customers, unlike Search customers, do not express intent through specific search queries. Facebook users expressed intent, at least implicitly, through the pages they Liked and the connection around each individual. Quoting directly from my Facebook Ad Manager’s account, the advertising platform “pulls information from what people have included in their personal timelines and will help (social advertisers) reach their ideal audience”.

Facebook advertising

As advertisers, we then should be aware that the effectiveness of our advertising campaign should depend on a carefully distinguished set of variables — determined by the nature of the platform, whether it is based of a social platform or on keyword-based search queries.

Sure, enticing copy and the fundamental understanding of intent-based advertising still matters, but on social media platforms the advertiser is required to analyze human interests, behavior, and social interaction. An advertiser might be really efficient at targeting a one-time PPC campaign through Google’s AdWords platform. By any odds, his targeting techniques might not be equally compatible when applied on social advertising platforms.

Especially if you consider how the click-through rate of Facebook Ad campaigns are often remarkably lower than that of say, Google’s PPC campaigns. Should you be surprised?

No, if you’d pay attention in Marketing Conversion Funnel Lesson 1: Buyer’s Readiness.

Facebook averaged at 0.05% of CTR while the average CTR of an ad on Google’s Display Network is 0.4%. If the targeting options are optimally used, CTR on Google’s Display Network has the potential to increase by up to 36 times.

The bottom line is this. Targeting options and techniques should be tailored to fit the advertising platforms.

iv. The social extension of intent-based targeting, and vice versa.

When social signals began appearing on search engines, we saw a glimpse of what would become of the new digital advertising reality. Yes, the convergence of search and social extensions isn’t a trend. It’s a reality.

Social signals on search engine

If you already have an active Google AdWords account, you probably already notice how the search giant is already tapping on the sheer amount of user information social network contains to improvise targeting and interest relevancy. In fact, it even hinted so in it’s official documentation:

Google may use information that people provide to websites on the Display Network — such as social networking sites — about their gender, age, and other demographics in showing contextually relevant ads to search customers

We got it. We’re seeing a confluence of social data and search query mining.

Google, for one, is determined to refine its contextual targeting tools and audience targeting tools over its own Display Network by embracing social.

Social extension in Google search

Look at the image above. Guess how much of an impact social extensions have on search advertising? A massive 22% increase in click-through rates.

What does Google say about social extensions?

On average, search ads with social annotations have a 5-10% uplift in click through rate and the AdWords Social Extension helps you show more of them.

What about vice versa, if there even is one?

There is one. It’s exact counterpart. Team Zuckerberg introduces it as the Facebook Exchange platform.

What better way to learn a new advertising platform than dive right into it’s official documentation?
I know, we’re getting pretty uninventive here but here’s the example provided by Facebook itself about when brands should consider using Facebook Exchange:

For example, say I’m an e-commerce company looking to drive purchases on my site. In this case, people browsing on my website or searching for products that I sell on a search engine are expressing meaningful intent. Facebook Exchange would be a great fit because it enables me to use those signals to remarket to this valuable audience on Facebook, and at the right time … Facebook Exchange is perfect when the objective is a conversion outside Facebook and the data used to drive that objective exists outside Facebook.

Three points:

  1. Tapping on the power of intent-based keywords, as in “searching for products that I sell on a search engine”
  2. Usage of intent-based search signals “to remarket to these audience”
  3. Extension of search and demand-based targeting by using “objective-driven data that exists outside Facebook”

Sounds like Google and Facebook are crossing each other’s territory?

Yes and No. And I’ll explain.

v. DSPs: Bigger, better data for intent-based targeting

A little earlier I mentioned how we’re seeing a convergence of social data and search query mining.

If we weren’t reading carefully it’s tempting to arrive at a misinterpretation. Don’t blame the buzzword convergence for this.

Advertising platforms are going to evolve and social network’s inherent democratizing function is not relieving its grip any time soon.

But because ad platforms are evolving and are getting better at picking up “intent” signals from across the social web it doesn’t mean that ad platforms are heading towards a common point.

So until we can really substantiate our arguments, we should stop using the buzzword because:

  1. Convergence of advertising platforms is just as shallow a statement as it can be.
  2. It’s dumb to begin a conversation when you have little to offer, intellectually, on the subject

Let’s make this clear, in case it isn’t obvious enough.

If the correlation between user’s intent and his/her behavior across the web can be expressed the way mathematical formula are usually expressed, until recently the algorithm has been pretty single-dimensional and platform-specific.

Now, with the emergence of demand-side platforms (DSPs) and real-time demand-based advertising, the algorithm is looking more comprehensive than ever accounting for a user’s behavior across the full spectrum of the web experience.

Right. Had to clear that bit before we get back on track to demand-side platforms and all the fuss about bigger, better data for intent-based targeting.

Facebook Exchange launched

When Facebook Exchange is unveiled, advertisers and digital marketers are presented with new opportunities of leveraging consumer insight data. Pamela Vaughan wrote an article titled Facebook Tests Real-time Ad Targeting Based on Web Browsing Activity less than 6 months ago, in which she attempted to illustrate how Facebook Exchange work. Modifying her version to suit our earlier illustration, I’ll briefly explain the mechanics of this new bidding-based advertising system.

  1. Julie, a Singapore citizen is researching on part-time music classes on the net and stumbled upon Music for Beginners Blog, a blog owned and run by MLC, the hypothetical music centre we used in earlier examples.
  2. MLC, at that time, has already hired a third-party DSP that is working with Facebook Exchange.
  3. During the time of her browsing session on Music for Beginners Blog, a cookie is dropped by the DSP on Julie’s computer typically when Julie’s browsing behavior implies purchase intent.
  4. Suppose Julie, at the end of her visit on Music for Beginners Blog, did not make a conversion (signing up for free trial lessons, purchase a course etc.), MLC can retarget to prospective clients like Julie through pre-loaded Facebook ads specifically designed for such purpose.
  5. Julie leaves Music for Beginners Blog and visits Facebook, which recognizes the cookie dropped by the DSP, and in turn notified the DSP of the opportunity for retargeting.
  6. Through it’s hired DSP, Music Learning Centre is then presented with the chance to make a real-time bid, so as to display the pre-loaded, highly targeted ad to Julie.

Of course, cookie-powered advertising has been here for a while now but the appeal of Facebook Exchange’s lies in its evolution — not transformation — from Facebook’s traditional targeting model towards a richly layered “intent-based” targeting model.
If its previous advertisng model is too often being criticized as “interruptive and obtrusive”, this new design seeks to fill the void by attempting to match web users’ intent at a much greater, and broader level.

While Google’s keyword-based search advertising has been the gold standard in demand fulfillment marketing, Facebook is looking to be the first platform to offer real-time demand-based marketing with demographic targeting capabilities!
Neil James

Just when we thought that the craze about inbound marketing is cooling down, it looks like it’s set to make a tremendous leap.

Or, more specifically, an insight-driven leap powered by the raw power of data.

vi. To hell with privacy.

Your favorite social media has more than 85% of its revenue generated from internet advertising already, so go figure.

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Lorcan Jordan
Lorcan Jordan

 Love your article -  our ( collaborative search proxy employs this Intent+Context paradigm within a community model to increase relevance of local search engines and we achieving average CTR increases of 60%


Loved the way you have defined the important aspect of social media and how to use it in intelligent way for  betterment of site promotion and raining real traffic

Seo Services Oman
Seo Services Oman

there is very unique and heart touching points about  Search & Social Advertising Model 2.  i really like your blog and its all points, which is very important in seo

Website Designing Services in India
Website Designing Services in India

I have learnt a new concept of Intent based search and keyword targeting in your post, I have found this information important for my knowledge thanks for the share.

Samuel Chan
Samuel Chan moderator

@Lorcan Jordan Thanks for dropping by. I like how you begin your latest blog post on heystaks, "eCommerce websites are driven by search. But consumers often find it difficult to find the products they are looking for." An interesting proposition.

Intent + context is where search engines are headed, spot on!


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