Microsoft Infuses Audience Targeting Into Its Search Ads

Microsoft is enabling two types of audience targeting to improve search ad performance, which it built to bring its ad offering to parity with Google Ads.

Brands can target search ads based on products the person has viewed; and they can target Microsoft audiences similar to their own customers. Both products are still in open beta, and Microsoft expects customers to test these new features as the holiday shopping season approaches.

The new audience targeting features are powered by the Microsoft Graph, which compiles data from its consumer-facing products like Bing, Xbox, Outlook email and LinkedIn. The cookie-based graph combines intent signals with some identity and profile information (all GDPR compliant, according to Microsoft).

The Microsoft Graph respects consumer privacy, said Steve Sirich, general manager of the global search and advertising business, which pulls in about $7 billion in revenue a year.

“We have principles that differentiate us in how we manage data,” Sirich said. “We don’t export data at all, we anonymize the data and we enrich the data set at a high degree of aggregation.”

Microsoft’s pilot found that targeting search ads using data from previously-viewed products doubles the conversion rate and lowers cost per acquisition 40%.Targeting audiences similar to a brand’s customers boosted conversion rates by 70%.

These audience-targeted ads also run on the display-focused Microsoft Audience Network. Search buyers place ads on Microsoft-owned properties as well as non-Microsoft publishers plugged into Microsoft Audience Network via select exchanges (though not Google’s).

Bing is also unveiling automated testing of search ads. Brands can test different combinations of headline and text for the best result.

The addition of audience targeting makes the Microsoft platform easier to use for search buyers familiar with Google’s setup. But Microsoft sports one unique audience targeting feature Google doesn’t have: Because of LinkedIn data, buyers can target by company, job and industry.

Despite Google’s dominance in search, advertisers buy search ads on Bing because they can find an unduplicated audience, and they get greater efficiency, according to Sirich. Because Microsoft’s auctions are less competitive than Google’s, advertisers pay less and see bigger ROI – even before the new audience targeting features were added in.




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