For more than a decade, paid search has been a go-to channel for digital marketers. It’s not hard to understand why. It’s measurable and accountable. It plays right at the bottom of the funnel where the action happens. It’s flexible and scalable. Last but not least, when executed with even a moderate degree of expertise, it almost always produces a positive ROI. It’s hard to imagine a comprehensive digital media plan that doesn’t include a paid search component, but for one segment of the online marketing universe, paid search has always been a bit of a challenge. That segment is B2B. Ask just about any B2B marketer, and they’ll tell you that using paid search for prospecting and acquisition results in some great B2B leads, but those leads come with a whole whack of irrelevant B2C leads, making profitability in the channel a big challenge. The problem is that search engines haven’t historically provided a lot of tools to segment these audiences in search. When Google announced its new Customer Match product a few weeks ago, a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon for B2B marketers looking to achieve success in paid search.
Simply put, searchers don’t generally qualify themselves as either B2B or B2C when they’re searching. For example, let’s say you’re trying to sell gas and electric to small and medium-sized businesses. You would target terms like “small business energy providers” and “electricity rates for businesses.” The good news is that searchers who use those terms would be highly qualified. The bad news is that almost no one uses those terms. In fact, the Google Adwords Keyword Planner estimates that there are just ten monthly searches for each of those terms across the entire United States. Now, if you sell this B2B product nationally, those are ten searches you’ll most definitely want to appear for, but you can see the difficulty of building a meaningful search campaign in this way. Those terms without the B2B qualifiers are 60 to 360 times richer in volume. While B2C is undoubtedly the higher volume segment, it’s also clear that the B2B searchers are primarily using keyword strings that don’t explicitly identify them as a part of that segment. To date, the search engines have really only allowed you to identify potential customers through the keywords they’re searching on, their locations, devices, time factors and whether or not they’ve recently visited your site. These things are useful indicators (or proxies for indicators) of intent, but they don’t address the heart of the problem.
Enter Customer Match
Google dropped a bit of a bombshell on the search marketing world a few weeks ago when it announced its new Customer Match product for AdWords. This allows marketers to use first-party email lists to match email addresses with signed in Google users when they search. Aside from the Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) product released a couple of years ago, this is the first real audience targeting capability for AdWords. This has been a real problem for search marketers (whether B2B or B2C) for quite some time. Essentially, user expectations in search have been shifting fast, and the tools available to search marketers have not kept up. When they search, users expect that Google knows a whole host of things about them to deliver contextually relevant results. Many of those things – location, device and time factors – have been available to search marketers, but the meaningful behavioural data that drives so much of what you see in the non-paid search engine results has been missing. The kind of audience targeting that you can access in other channels like paid social and programmatic display would be extremely useful in search, particularly for B2B marketers. Customer Match promises to deliver on at least some of that potential.
Use Cases for B2B
So, how can Customer Match change the way B2B marketing works in search? Let’s look at a couple of potential use cases. First of all, the B2B segment is very often part of a larger organisation that includes B2C segments. Let’s go back to our hypothetical energy provider. Let’s assume this provider also offers services to consumers and that the consumer business is the larger segment. Customer Match gives the B2B folks the ability to take that much larger customer list and leverage it in AdWords for search. A very simple thing to do would be to simply exclude all current B2C customers from the B2B campaigns. This could also include people who have given their email address as part of an online lead form or newsletter signup. Just doing that could exclude a whole lot of irrelevant searchers, but it’s certainly not a complete approach. It would, of course, not exclude the B2C customers of competitors, and those B2C customers could also be valid B2B customers. A more nuanced approach would segment and really use the customer data at hand to overcome some fundamental B2B marketing challenges. Because the data you would use with Customer Match is existing customer (or prospect) data, it is often very rich. The B2C customer data at your disposal as part of a brand could include things like employment information. If the data is robust enough, you could even create an audience segment in Customer Match for people with certain job titles. Or you could look at your B2B customer data to see when contracts are expiring and run aggressive campaigns to those customers in the months leading up to those dates with targeted incentives to upsell and drive retention. The possibilities are virtually endless, and the real hope is that Customer Match is just the beginning.
Looking to the Future
As I’ve explored here, Customer Match could solve a lot of problems for B2B search marketers, but the most exciting thing about this product announcement is the potential picture it paints for the future. While using first-party customer data in search is a huge step forward, the optimist in me believes the best is yet to come. For B2B and B2C marketers, real audience targeting in search through the use of third-party audience lists and other data sets would be a serious game changer. It took Google a little more than two years to go from the simple capabilities of RLSA to the much more promising capabilities of Customer Match. B2B search marketers, in particular, should be keeping their fingers crossed that the next big thing comes much more quickly next time.
Scott Ensign, Vice President of Search Marketing
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