Competition is good, especially when it pushes Google to improve the features they offer to advertisers.
Last fall, Microsoft began testing its new MSN adCenter, a competitor to Google AdWords. Though the adCenter rollout was marred by bugs, one feature generated a lot of positive buzz: demographic targeting.
Always sensitive to the competition, Google recently introduced similar demographic targeting for their AdWords program. Now when you run site-targeted campaigns, you can choose websites based on their audience’s age, gender, ethnicity or household income.
With this addition, content ads on Google may at last have become a full-featured option for brand managers.
Content ads have traditionally been a thorn in the side of search engine marketing: a form of brand advertising offered through what was primarily a direct marketing vehicle.
Search engine marketers tend to frown on content ads, citing lower conversion rates. At the same time, brand managers were initially cool toward content advertising. They wanted to target quality websites, yet early content campaigns were a blind buy on a network of hidden websites.
But with the recent changes at Google, perhaps content ads deserve a fresh look. Now you can place separate bids for content ads, run banner ads, and choose specific sites on which to advertise. Demographic targeting nicely rounds out the latter option.
The stakes are high for Google. Branding is where the big advertising dollars lie, and with the magnitude of growth of search slowing, Google needs those dollars. Expect much more in this area as the competition heats up.