In today’s installment of, “Some Insights Into Things & Stuff”, we’ll cover some insights we here at Hanapin have come across in regards to Bing’s in-market audiences, as well as their branded “Microsoft Audience Network”. For reference, most of the findings I will speak to come from my work on an account that operates in the education vertical.
What Are Those?
For those not “In the know”, allow me a moment to explain, to some extent, what the audiences I’ve referred to above are.
First, I’ll touch on Bing’s in-market audiences. To piggyback off of my colleague, Mark Ferree, who has previously written about Bing’s in-market audiences, “in-market audiences utilize artificial intelligence to curate audience lists of users who have shown purchase intent signals in one of various categories available. The purchase intent signals used to generate the audience lists include searches, clicks, page views, or other interactions on Bing or Microsoft services.”
Now, to speak to Bing’s Microsoft Audience Network (MSAN), which, at the time this article was written, was in a closed beta. According to Microsoft, the MSAN is, “An audience marketing solution powered by the Microsoft Graph and artificial intelligence.” Sounds like a lot of jargon, right? Essentially, the MSAN is Bing’s take on the Google Display Network, albeit with many different data points being fed into it.
Naturally, this move by Microsoft to create their own audience network, as well as release their own version of in-market audiences, makes sense as marketers are shifting their attention to focus on what really counts – people. Or maybe they’re just following what Google does, hard to say. Regardless, Microsoft states, “Marketers can now target addressable audiences in the right place and at precisely the right moment.” Is this statement true? Let’s see what the data says!
I’ll begin by speaking to the performance we’ve seen from our Bing in-market audiences, but I’ll preface it all by saying that there are 200+ different in-market audiences. The performance we’ve seen from the audiences we’ve tested may very well differ greatly from the other audiences.
Bing’s in-market audiences, related to education, have had strong, albeit it limited, performance for us. What do I mean by that? Well, our in-market audiences have had trouble generating a large amount of traffic. Is this due to the in-market audience list itself? Is it due to our budgets? Our ad rank? Hard to say exactly, but regardless, our in-market audiences vastly outperform our non-in-market audience performance, at least in a vacuum.
Our campaigns typically have CTRs in the range of 1.7-3%, conversion rates in the ballpark of 2-4% and cost/conversions around $120-140. When looking at only our in-market audience performance, we consistently see CTRs under 0.5%, but more importantly, we see conversion rates around 6.6% and cost/conversions around $103. I will add this one caveat: our client operates in a lot of different, unique markets. This lends itself to vastly different performances for these audiences depending on the unique market, which makes sense because the in-market audience lists are more than likely different for each market as well, but I digress.
What does this data tell us? It tells us that the in-market audiences perform, more or less, how they’re supposed to. We see higher conv rates and lower cost/conversions because we’re reaching an audience that is, allegedly, ready to buy into post-secondary education. The lower CTR for in-market isn’t a problem, as it likely means we’re only paying for the most qualified clicks (see the higher conv rate data).
Lastly, I’ll speak to the Microsoft Audience Network beta. To re-iterate, the MSAN is Bing’s take on a display network and it uses user intent targeting, user profile targeting, location, and device targeting to target your ideal customer. In-market audiences are one part of the MSAN, among a plethora of other data points, including LinkedIn profile targeting (company, industry, job function).
MSAN ads are high-quality, brand-safe, native placements on sites like MSN, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Edge, with more to come.
Anyways, we started our test by only using MSAN campaigns in one of our many markets. Remember, I mentioned that we operate in a lot of unique markets. The test was very, very slow going for a while. I think over the first month or two we only managed to generate 15 clicks from 75,000 impressions, at a cost of $25. Certainly, nothing to write home about, but it was such a low-cost test that we thought the impressions alone were worth it from a branding perspective.
After taking some time to further expand our MSAN campaigns to other markets and dig into what issues may be limiting our traffic, if any, we came to realize that bids (and subsequently average position) were a huge factor. After raising our bids from $2 to $3.5, we saw our traffic increase exponentially. We went from generating an average of 6 clicks/month to being able to generate 250+ clicks/day through MSAN campaigns (we did expand the number of campaigns using MSAN, but the point stands).
The MSAN most definitely has the potential to drive huge amounts of traffic at a cheap CPC, but how well does it generate conversions? Though I hope time will prove me wrong, the MSAN does a poor job of generating conversions. 300+ clicks later and not a single conversion, but don’t let that discourage you! There are too many pieces in play here to draw a conclusion like that so soon. Perhaps our ad copy is the reason people aren’t converting? Perhaps the landing page isn’t so user friendly? I encourage you to test it out for yourself and see if the MSAN brings you any leads!
Funny PPC Joke
Bing has a very robust and healthy audience network with a lot of unique data points that you simply can’t find anywhere else. That alone should encourage you to test out the MSAN, or at the very least, some of the targeting included within the MSAN (like in-market audiences). That being said, remember the statement, “Marketers can now target addressable audiences in the right place and at precisely the right moment”? Well, in my opinion, Bing does a good job of targeting addressable audiences in the right place, but perhaps not at precisely the right moment.
Whether we like it or not (I like it) the shift to audience marketing is coming. Challenges still exist, like ensuring clients that their ads are only serving in brand-safe placements, for one. Additionally, reliable and accurate targeting isn’t something we can take for granted yet. I believe this will all become more effective and efficient over time. Perhaps, the quicker we all buy in to it [audience marketing] the quicker it becomes the audience marketing we need, not the audience marketing we deserve. Food for thought, at the very least.