By Santhosh Nair
Chief Technology Officer, SearchForce, Inc.
In my last blog I wrote about the enormous, but yet untapped potential of cross-device retargeting that Facebook could unleash. But right now, Facebook has a limited impact on serving ads outside its own ecosystem.
Today I want to talk about how Facebook and other social networks could serve ads across the entire web, far more efficiently than traditional ad networks do today.
Intent, Interest, and Endorsement
In today’s marketing environment, the ability to respond to purchase intent is considered the most efficient way to influence your audience.
Web users who have expressed purchase intent are considered to be at the point of the conversion funnel where they are closest to making a purchase decision. Traditionally, purchase intent is often interpreted through “search queries,” an art perfected by Google and today’s search marketers.
You see, Facebook introduced “interest-based targeting” back in 2009 when SEM was still experiencing double-digit growth. Many experts speculated that Facebook marketplace ads would overtake traditional SEM in ad revenue.
But that looks unlikely from that what we see today. Facebook is experiencing a slowdown in revenue growth as of the last half of 2012. The initial enthusiasm to join the social marketing bandwagon has been waned as results have remained inconclusive. The problem? Unlike intent, interest does not necessarily end with a purchase decision.
But endorsement could make a big difference. Here’s an example that demonstrates how this could work:
Imagine you’re shopping for fitness club memberships, visit 24 Fitness’ website, but postpone your purchase decision just before checkout. A few hours later, you check the latest NFL scores at ESPN and notice a banner addressing you by name:
“John, Sandra and James both joined 24fitness! Click here to sign up”.
An endorsement from a friend on one the products you recently researched could definitely accelerate a purchase decision. The realization of programs like these would mark the beginning of SMM 2.0, where social media networks can combine intent, interest and endorsement to serve personalized ads. Facebook’s recent plan to build their own ad network is a big step in right direction.
This is why social media networks, with their unique ability to deliver personalized and socially endorsed ads, have the potential to dominate the entire web, not just their native ecosystems. This is a great news for advertisers that want to personally connect with qualified audiences. Users would see fewer irrelevant ads as advertisers pull money out of blindly targeted display ads and put more money into personally targeted ads.
Product Listing Ads: Unification of Search, Display, and Social
As one of those who have closely followed the evolution of search engine marketing, I think the recent introduction Product Listing Ads (PLAs) is a big game changer.
Now, for the first time, PLAs offer an opportunity to display image ads on Google’s home page in response to purchase intent. Advertisers can now take advantage of additional touch points in a multi-click conversion funnel.
I believe this is a first step toward the grand unification of search, display, and social that Google could offer in the not-too-distant future.
Given that users are very often logged-in to Google’s ecosystem on a permanent basis (much like Facebook). So Google can personally identify you and link you to additional data about your interests, such as your friends and their interests, based on membership in Google+.
Google could use this information to add social endorsements to these ads. For example, if you were searching for digital cameras, Google could display some PLAs with images. Now imagine one of your friends had clicked on a similar ad and actually purchased. Google could use this information to create a social endorsement, letting you know that your friend had made that purchase.
As I’ve noted, techniques like these could easily bring us to a “grand unification” of search, display, and social. Imagine the possibilities for your campaign.