Review of MSN AdCenter

Jan 4, 2006 at 9:29 PM
Here's my two cents on the MSN adCenter program BETA. Because it's still in BETA testing, you can expect things to change before it goes public.

WHAT IT IS

The MSN adCenter US sign-up is familiar terrain to anyone who does lots of PPC promotion -- with:
  • a 5 buck set up fee,

  • monthly budgeting,

  • statistical data as reports,

  • Bids generally starting at ten cents

  • and other things you've gotten used to from their largest competitors, who uhm, really don't need naming.


First, expect that basic bid amount to skyrocket for good placement on any competitive terms as soon as their doors officially open - maybe earlier depending on how large this gets.

Second, they are a very standard PPC, except that you can add accounts, and as long as you have a username and password you are set up to set up numerous additional usernames, credit card accounts, and "orders" (what we think of as ad campaigns).

I like the set-up that way. It seems to be designed for unlimited expansion of a single account. It can handle one advertisers needs, or it can handle a whole clientele.

CONS

First, don't bother coming there if you won't do it in Microsoft Internet Explorer. Every time I try using a different browser, their interface crashes.

The sign-up process is very carefully controlled. I'm an old hand at this (4 years is forever in SEM), and I want to be able to run willy-nilly all over a campaign changing things during set up. Can't do that.

I want to see exactly what placement my bid is getting me, and that is not set up. Can't do it. Or at least I haven't figured out how to track the rank I'm buying.

PRO

Once you've gotten through sign-up, you'll notice that they separated all the keyword and other recognizable tools out into an area called "research" which is oddly nice.

Of course, the demographics targetting appears to be a pro on the surface, we'll see with time what happens.

Another pro is that it appears to be giving a better click through rate than its competitors for now (much like when Google was new). Never PPC programs are generally better performing during the initial blush of bloom. MSN is no exception -- as long as you set it up correctly.

Further discussion of the much touted demographic targetting

What is it?

You can choose to place added emphasis (in percentages of bids) on certain demographic groups. This is where MSN adCenter breaks the mold -- by offering audience targetting by age and gender in addition to times of day and days of the week. And not as an afterthought. It's there as part of sign-up.

Why am I worried about it?

Sounds great, but where do they get this data? Well, it's MSN, so presumably, it's based on searcher settings, "MyMSN" settings. That is flawed in many ways. Firstly, a small portion of their audience is going to have MyMSN settings (unless they don't want to grab non-portal business anymore). Secondly, I doubt that everyone has that data set accurately. I standardly avoid telling anyone online my race or gender, and think it's nosey to ask at all. It shows I'm being profiled for marketing purposes. It causes me to be fed ads for things I don't want so I skip it. I can assume other people are like me.

Probably to cover their bases on this, MSN doesn't claim to target these people so much as they seemed to say they were allowing you pump EXTRA bid money into a certain specified market (by gender or age) if you want.

The fact that it appears to the untrained eye that you can target twenty-somethings or Women in New York will upset people who don't end up getting most of their business from twenty-something women in New York.

In their constant spitting contest - Google has jumped on this bandwagon. So, Google and MSN are both offering this now, but IMHO MSN is way ahead of the curve on this. MSN offers you demographic data for any keyword, so that you can use their surveyed info in setting your bids. While Google is trying to do this to, the fact that they don't have Microsoft's history of prying into your life puts them at a distinct disadvantage.

MSN's nasty habit of wanting to know everything and everything about you is actually going to serve them well on this. Google is quickly catching up, though and is starting to appear more MSN-ish every day, what with being able to personalize Google, etc. It is NOT for your benefit that they do this. It is to stay ahead of MSN (or keep up with, depending on what source you believe).

TROUBLE SPOTS


  • The scariest part of sign-up is that you have to give them your credit card approval before they ever tell you what they're charging you. Uhm. Obviously just an oversight. Yikes!

  • There is a small problem I can see abetting some click fraud later, way too simplified. You set it up in step one (hint hint to MSN to fix this).

  • Like I said, the bidding system really needs to make it obvious what placement you're bidding for. But it's BETA, which means they'll fix this.

  • It's not likely to happen, but they really need to cross test their site across browsers and platforms.

  • People want to know their placement. It is frustrating to not know whether you're even showing up. Demographics doesn't automatically preclude giving an average rank to a person. I can imagine the complex algo in place, but I want a rank listed in my account. So sue me.

  • The flaws inherently part of targeted marketing by gender and age in an internet marketplace. Either they'll master this quickly or they'll have to chuck it. I don't think they can change the internet marketplace enough to force people to give up the anonimity that makes the internet what it is. But if they can, marketing people will love them.



Disclaimer: Of course, all of this is totally my opinion.