Impression Sculpting: Use AdWords Data to Become a Display Rock Star
Published: August 6, 2012
Author: Molly Shotwell
By Will Lin, Co-Founder
Google released its GDN AdWords demographics targeting out of beta today. 3Q Digital has been using the targeting for a long time in GDN campaigns, and we’ve created a system that works –far above and beyond Google’s standard “best practices.”
How? This story should help explain.
Some months ago, I interviewed an SEM manager who used to work in one of the biggest online agencies. Her biggest account was a car insurance business.
Competition for search in the insurance market, of course, is fierce. It’s a bloody war of casualties and very high CPCs. Established players have a big advantage because they have a war chest to fund bleeding in search. New players can only lick the wounds and hope to somehow break into the party and get some traction.
Search is narrow! Search is finite! Consumers only search by a finite set of queries, plus Google is killing the long tail to drive people toward fewer queries and maximize their own auction return.
Now display advertising, on the other hand…
Display is wide! Display is infinite! For a product like car insurance, display is ideal because everybody needs car insurance, even those who never search “car insurance.” Our agency has been doing large-scale display campaigns from way back when most PPC agencies were only doing search. Some of our biggest accounts have for years split their spend evenly between search and display.
We know display works — but many agencies discount display as useless (we know this because we interview people from other companies and big agencies, and they repeatedly tell us that they do very little display).
Now, back to the interview.
I asked the SEM manager if she used display ads for the car insurance business.
“Yes, of course.”
But then the devil is in the details — “How do you do it?”
Her answer was the usual: “best” practices preached by Google.
In other words, you find some “car insurance” keywords, and you put them into an ad group (some say 10 keywords per ad group is the best, some say 20, who knows), then you create some ads, and you let them run. This is what most agencies do. And you know the result: nothing special. The cost is not cheap, but the volume is, well, insignificant.
Think about it: this “best” practice is basically keyword targeting, which means you are putting your ads on web pages that match your keywords. But how many web pages have “car insurance” as the subject? And how many people are visiting those pages? Everybody has a need for better car insurance, but does everybody go to a car insurance page to read up on some car insurance topic?
For broad consumer products like car insurance, we need to go broad — way broad — provided we have a what I call the “impression sculpting” mechanism in place.
The best way to go broad is the AdWords Demographics targeting.
With the release of the targeting, every account features the “Gender” and “Age” targeting option under the “Display Network” tab in an ad group.
For broad consumer products, broad gender and age targeting is the way to go.
To do this, create an ad group with no keywords, no placements, no topics, no interests/retargeting, but only with gender and/or age. Follow these tenets in your demographic campaign:
Know your audience. Taking car insurance as an example, you should first exclude people who don’t need car insurance. Exclude those too young to own a car, or too old to drive.
Feel free to test different combinations of age and gender. See if there is any sweet spot for your product.
Make sure your ad creative is good. For display, ad creative is the most significant part of your campaign. Don’t go cheap on this! At our agency, we have full-time designers making those ads.
Okay, you’ve started a demographic campaign. Those were simple and easy steps. The difficult part is what we call “impression sculpting,” made possible by the vast amount of data in AdWords. Here’s how to use the data to optimize your display impressions:
Cut by placement. Are there sites that get you lots of clicks but no conversions? At our agency, we go beyond clicks to trace impressions; because CPC ultimately backs into eCPM, impressions are the true cost. We use negative placements, which costs us impressions but no conversions.
Cut by time. Time of day, day of week … late night, office hours, weekends … you name it. Find those times where conversions aren’t happening, and cut them ruthlessly.
Cut by geography. Affluent areas vs. poor areas, urban vs. rural, country, state, etc. Find those that don’t work, and cut them.
This is the “Impression Sculpting” process; internally, we also call it “the thousand cuts.”
We target broad, but we keep cutting bad and risky impressions. Don’t be afraid of overkill in GDN; on display, there are always more impressions. The more bad and risky impressions we cut, the more money have to spend on the good and the safe impressions. This is how we do display.
(Note: The SEM manager that I interviewed joined us, learned the ropes, and is now our GDN rock star.)
– Will Lin, Co-founder