SearchTHIS: Search is Over, Content is King

There’s a battle being waged on the interactive targeting front. No, it’s not the adware vs. spyware dilemma; that’s a matter for Capitol Hill. The online siege I am referring to is the ongoing and evolving battle advertisers face when trying to establish parameters for beyond-the-box targeting.

In this mini-war there are two opposing forces, standing on opposite sides of the audience-targeting battlefield: the behavioral targeting freedom fighters and the contextual armada. Both present valid and strong arguments for reaching audiences with sought-after messaging within critical desired action time frames. Unfortunately, comparative results data arguing for either side remains largely inconclusive.

The real debate seems to be the implementation tools in targeting methods. Privacy and the disclosure of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and the ongoing debate about the future of cookies (are they or are they not going away?) are at the forefront of this war on targeting. Let’s see if we can intervene and try to find some common ground, formulate some documentation for a peace treaty and help make the online world a safe place for both parties.

Behavioral says what?

Recently, this topic came up in a heated debate between yours truly and Bill Gossman, chief executive officer of Revenue Science, in an industry guru panel for financial analysts. I later caught up with Bill and Omar Tawakol -- Revenue Science’s senior vice president of marketing -- to continue our discussion.

Since an audience poll I conducted at a recent conference and subsequent discussions with conference attendees indicated that few people could provide a cogent explanation of behavioral targeting, I thought we’d start there.

“The first and easiest definition of behavioral is targeting people, not pages or actions,” Gossman says. “The best way to target consumers is to be where they are and not interrupt their experience by mapping the content to the user.”

Revenue Science has carved out a place for itself in the online world by doing just that, teaching publishers, content owners and advertisers a smarter way to reach out to its user base by using techniques that include maximizing user registration data and, of course, cookies.

At the heart of Revenue Science’s technology is the proprietary Audience Search interface that, ironically enough, uses keywords (along with rules-based criteria that includes behavior and/or registration data) to help identify a potential audience. “The person provides the context and the place,” reports Tawakol. “If done correctly, behavioral targeting is not intrusive, respects privacy, and does not interrupt the user experience.” 

OK, we get it: Reaching out to users based on what you know about them appears to be a hell of a lot better than simply pouring a bunch of advertisements (text, or graphic) out on the proverbial stoop to see if the neighborhood cats lick them up.

Shelving the privacy and cookie discussion for a moment, the debate seems pretty well defined now. Is it better to serve an ad on the basis of what you know about the user or the content on the page?

Contextual come back

Contextual targeting with graphical- or text-based ad units relies on using search terms to deliver ad units to users based on self designated criteria -- in and of itself a tremendous burden for contextual targeting providers. A defined need for publishers to generate revenue with advertising got a stiff kick in the butt when search providers started to integrate text ads into pages based on directive queries.

On the heels of directive search sponsored listings success, contextual networks -- as they came to be called (e.g. Google’s AdSense) -- allowed publishers to place sponsored listings auction style on content pages and share in click-response-based revenue. Putting it mildly, advertisers quickly found that response behavior wasn’t quite as good in contextual listings, and the advertising world cried out for something better.

The content construct

The foundation of most contextual search listing taxonomies is keyword scan technology that matches text or graphic ads with page content. Even that didn’t seem to be good enough, so other methods of implementation were constructed -- such as sophisticated mapping technologies that did not rely solely on keyword scans but created more effective categories for advertisers to select ad placements, Chinese menu style.

Quigo Technologies is one such innovator in the arena of content-based advertising. Quigo’s AdSonar platform offers a wide array of keyword-based content targeting options for publishers and advertisers. “The two most interesting pieces [of AdSonar] are topic based -- to the tune of about 5,000 topics," says Yaron Galai, Quigo’s senior vice president of product development. “The system decides what response-based vehicles are most appropriate, the most interesting is the private label component.”

Offering private labeling contextual search -- such as the offering here with -- and then balancing the publisher need to protect rates with the advertiser’s desire to select individual sites in which to place contextual advertisements adds up to an area in which Quigo excels. Advertisers can elect to place listings on specific sites, a unique and much needed feature in contextual search.

More questions, not enough answers

Clearly, the winners of this war will be those who can go beyond the directive search realm and into the mind of the browser via the vast uncharted content abyss. The big question still remains unanswered. Is a behavioral platform better than a content and keyword driven one? To answer that query, we’ll have to spend a little time with privacy issues and take a closer look at response behavior. You’ll just have to wait until next week for the rest of the story. Stay tuned: The answer just might surprise you.

Additional resources:

All That Googles Is Not Gold

SearchTHIS: Content Works?

SearchTHIS: Why Search is Slowing

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.

Meet Kevin Ryan this week at Ad:Tech San Francisco.