Practical Ecommerce

Using (Big) Data to Boost PPC Advertising

The term “big data” can be confusing. For some people, it conjures up thoughts of someone spying on their activity and then selling that information. For others, it represents a treasure of information about potential customers.

In fact, while big data is complex, it can produce many benefits if handled appropriately. For pay-per-click advertisers, using additional data can help target ads, thus boosting performance. Examples include age, income, location, interests, and hobbies.

What Is Big Data?

The Wikipedia entry for big data is this:

Big data is a term for data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate. Challenges include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, querying and information privacy. The term often refers simply to the use of predictive analytics or certain other advanced methods to extract value from data, and seldom to a particular size of data set. Accuracy in big data may lead to more confident decision making, and better decisions can result in greater operational efficiency, cost reduction and reduced risk.

Private companies lawfully collect data about consumers and sell it to other companies. The sources for this data are public information — think government Census data — surveys, cookies, and so on. Relevant data that doesn’t violate a law or a privacy policy is likely stored by these companies.

Advertising platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and even AdWords rely on the following companies for data:

  • Datalogix;
  • Acxiom;
  • IHS Automotive (by Polk);
  • Experian;
  • Epsilon.

I liken these firms to credit bureaus that banks use for loan approval and credit scores. Credit bureaus do the legwork to obtain and catalog consumers’ financial history so that banks don’t have to. Likewise, data companies catalog web behavior and characteristics to help advertisers reach their desired audience.

How to Access the Data

Getting access directly to these data sources is difficult and expensive. However, the data companies are already working with many PPC platforms — examples include Google AdWords, Twitter ads, and Facebook ads — to make their data available.

Keep in mind that when you target an audience using this data, you’re targeting a bucket of users with similar characteristics — not an individual. As you get closer to the individual, privacy becomes a serious concern. So the data is bundled in ways to protect individual privacy.

Leveraging Big Data Right Now

Facebook. Data is available in Facebook through its Demographics and Behaviors section. Whenever you create an audience for Facebook ads, you’ll see an interface like this.

When you create an audience for Facebook ads, you’ll see targeting options, such as Demographics and Behaviors.

When you create an audience for Facebook ads, you’ll see targeting options, such as Demographics and Behaviors.

As you browse through these Demographics and Behaviors, you’ll see, for example, Net Worth, In-Market Vehicle Shoppers, Buyer Profiles, and other choices. You may also note the source for the data.

The "Net Worth" targeting data on Facebook is provided by Acxiom.

The “Net Worth” targeting data on Facebook is provided by Acxiom.

Data on consumers looking to buy new autos is provided by IHS Automotive.

Data on consumers looking to buy new autos is provided by IHS Automotive.

Experian provides Facebook with data on buyer profiles, such as interests and hobbies.

Experian provides Facebook with data on buyer profiles, such as interests and hobbies.

In other words, Facebook provides a description of the audience and provides the data source. As you browse through these categories, you’ll find many targeting options.

Twitter. Twitter, via its Behaviors section, uses data similarly to Facebook. IHS Automotive data is here, as well as household income data from Acxiom and Epsilon.

Twitter provides ad targeting options using data from IHS Automotive, Acxiom, and Epsilon.

Twitter provides ad targeting options using data from IHS Automotive, Acxiom, and Epsilon.

You can even target Twitter users by the breakfast cereal they eat.

Advertisers can target Twitter users by the breakfast cereal they eat, based on information from Datalogix.

Advertisers can target Twitter users by the breakfast cereal they eat, based on information from Datalogix.

AdWords. Google AdWords even provides access to data through its In-Market and Affinity audiences. To find these, navigate deep into an AdWords campaign that is targeting the Display network, then pick the “Interests & Remarketing” tab and then choose “+Targeting” to arrive at the following screen.

To access Google AdWords targeting data, navigate in an AdWords campaign that is targeting the Display network, then pick the "Interests & Remarketing" tab and then choose "+Targeting."

To access Google AdWords targeting data, navigate in an AdWords campaign that is targeting the Display network, then pick the “Interests & Remarketing” tab and then choose “+Targeting.”

Note the screenshot above. That’s 436 categories of “in-market” data, meaning these people are currently looking to buy products or services in these categories. AdWords also provides 104 affinity audiences to target, as shown below.

AdWords provides 104 affinity audiences, to target by interests.

AdWords provides 104 affinity audiences, to target by interests.

In short, using data to enhance ad performance isn’t scary or intimidating. AdWords, Facebook, and Twitter have already integrated data into their targeting options. Data is simply a tool to make your campaigns more effective and profitable.

Robert Brady

Robert Brady

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Carlos Rivera May 5, 2016 Reply

    Nice! I never realized that big data and these audience segmentation tools were one-in-the-same. Thank you for sharing!