Over the course of the past year, Microsoft has been conducting studies in their ad platform to understand the value that search and audience traffic provides advertisers. Their big takeaways are that advertisers should use their Search and Audience networks in tandem – which, while it’s proven more effective than either in a silo, will remove some controls for advertisers.
In this post, we’ll chat about the takeaways of Microsoft’s studies, the features they’re pushing on advertisers in response, how their offerings stack up against Google’s, and where we recommend marketers go from here.
First, the takeaways according to Microsoft
Reaching the same user across both Search and Audience networks can lead to increased engagement with the brand. (Note: If you’re not familiar with this setup in Microsoft, it’s similar to Google’s search and display networks. The Microsoft Search Network focuses on providing the best ad for a search query within Microsoft’s search engine (Bing), while the Microsoft Audience Network is geared towards displaying the best ad for an individual user via native ad placements within Microsoft products and partner websites – e.g. Outlook.com, MSN, and Microsoft Edge.
Users who see a Search ad and an Audience Network ad visit a brand website 2.6x more often than users only exposed to an ad on search, and they convert 6.6x more.
Overall, accounts who have already adopted multi-channel management (which will be broadly available Feb. 21, 2023) have seen 14% higher conversion rates and 21% lower CPAs.
What to know before flipping the switch
Yes, those numbers look compelling, but the feature comes with a few caveats.
First, you will no longer see the audience ad bid modifier within campaign settings. Microsoft is asking advertisers to simply define their goals, and they’ll take the optimization from there on the strength of their platform AI. (Yes, this is almost exactly what Google is pushing as well.)
Advertisers using this feature won’t be able to leverage positive or negative bid modifiers to manually adjust participation in the audience network. This leaves them with the following levers to optimize a campaign:
Create conversion goals to help keep the system informed and to unlock additional automated bid strategy options.
Determine the best automated bid strategy and Microsoft will optimize performance to meet the goals you define.
Add image extensions from uploaded, stock, or existing images on your brand’s website.
Ensure your targeting settings allow room for user discovery.
Analyze placement and publisher reports to optimize performance via website exclusions.
A closer look at conversion goals
When optimizing for conversion goals, you will want to determine the best conversion goal category and type based on one of the three conversions you are aiming to track: website, mobile app install, or offline.
Mobile app install
Remember to integrate CRM data for advanced optimization!
Advertisers, whenever possible, should leverage their CRM data (offline conversions) via file uploads to the Microsoft Ads platform. This data will help Microsoft rely on signals relayed from lower-funnel events (e.g. closed deals) customers have triggered throughout their brand journey, which means your campaigns will optimize around highly qualified leads instead of a big pool of leads of various quality.
All advertisers need to accomplish this are a few data points: Microsoft Click ID, conversion date + time, and a conversion name. Additionally, advertisers should provide a conversion value, when possible, in order for Microsoft to hierarchize conversions based on the ultimate value those conversions provide a brand.
Advertisers will want to create a conversion goal that mirrors the conversion(s) they are uploading. From there, they will be able to assign specific campaigns to optimize towards specific goals based on the data uploaded. Ultimately, these tools provide marketers the ability to leverage information about lead quality and conversion value in order to reach a target audience closest to a brand’s ICP.
Microsoft Audience Network (MSAN) vs. Google Display Network (GDN)
Since the Audience Network is a direct competitor of the Google Display Network, let’s compare the two:
Pros of MSAN
Cons of MSAN
More limited control
At JDM, we like to approach platform recommendations with a healthy dose of skepticism. Don’t make any assumptions about how this feature will work, but do plan to strategically test it if you can carve out some test budget. Microsoft is making lots of moves these days and getting aggressive about taking some bites out of Google’s market share, so it’s good to stay on top of their products and development and take advantage where you see room for efficient growth.
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