Microsoft is improving its ad platform. Here’s why brands should give it a shot in 2023

ICYMI, Microsoft has ambitious plans: to double the size of its ad business to $20 billion.

So why is this big news? Google and Meta are showing signs of fading, making more room for emerging platforms like TikTok, Amazon and Instacart.

Wait, what about Microsoft Ads?

Microsoft’s search and news advertising revenues have consistently grown over the last four quarters (Q2: 32%; Q3: 18%; Q4: 15%; Q1: 16%).

One advantage of Microsoft Ads is its cost-effectiveness. It’s typically cheaper than Google Ads and offers more opportunities to target specific audiences with relevant ads at a lower cost per click.

Additionally, Microsoft Ads provides detailed analytics that are easy to interpret, making it easier to track ROI and refine campaigns over time.

On the other hand, Microsoft still falls miles behind Google in terms of users. Google typically sits around 83.84% share of the global search market (fallen from 89.95% in the past three years); during the same timeframe, Bing’s share has risen from 3.99% to 8.88%.

But what do other advertisers think?

I asked Christine Askew of Workshop Digital (and 2022 winner of Best B2B Search Marketing Initiative) and Timothy Jensen of M&T Bank (and SMX Next panelist on 2023 PPC trends to get ahead of), their thoughts on why more brands should be giving Microsoft Ads a fair shot. 

Why is having competition for Google search a good thing? Why should search marketers root for competitors like Microsoft Ads?

Having competition for Google search encourages companies to innovate, invest in better search technologies, and create better user experiences.

Competition also keeps prices down and helps to ensure that no one search engine has too much market share or power.

By creating a more competitive market, search marketers can benefit from better search options and more competitive pricing.

Additionally, competition helps to ensure that search results remain unbiased and free from manipulation.

Ultimately, competition is a healthy thing for the search industry and helps to ensure a better experience for users.

How has Microsoft improved their Ads dashboard, features, and product offerings?

Microsoft has introduced a unified interface that allows for better cross-platform optimization and insights. They have also included more detailed reporting, data visualization, and new automated campaign management tools.

Additionally, Microsoft has launched new features such as audience insights and automated bidding strategies to help users better target their campaigns.

Finally, Microsoft has improved its product offerings to include more comprehensive features, such as the ability to manage multiple campaigns from a single dashboard and the ability to optimize campaigns for different devices.

Here are just a few of the latest products and features released by Microsoft:

Extending Shopping campaigns to more markets

New ad type for service providers

Automotive Ads get more placements, roll out globally

Updates to the reporting dashboard with recent reports, real-time previews and more

Cash back incentives for ads

New certification badges, levels and a new learning center

Bing is building a new retail marketplace

Auto-updates for shopping campaigns are launched

Netflix, Microsoft partner for ad supported subscription plan

5 new ad products and updates are launched

Multimedia Ads are launched

When will Microsoft Ads get respect? 

Microsoft has been playing the long game – for a long, long time now. And Microsoft has an equally long history of mistakes and missed opportunities going back over a decade.

Microsoft Ads has been slow to gain respect from search marketers. But Microsoft has continued to improve its platform (e.g., the introduction of a unified interface, more detailed reporting).

Additionally, search marketers are starting to recognize the value of Microsoft Ads, such as its ability to target campaigns across multiple platforms and its automated bidding strategies.

As more search marketers become aware of Microsoft Ads and its benefits, it is likely that it will gain more respect in the industry.

“This may just come with time, and by differentiating themselves in any way from Google – their #1 competitor.” Askew said

“When they improve the reliability of mapping search query intent to keywords. Even exact match keywords are off the rails in matching to a high volume of irrelevant terms. Microsoft should also do more to listen to advertisers’ concerns about the directions Google has taken and be bold enough to take a different direction as opposed to trying to achieve parity with every change Google makes.” Jensen said.

What should Microsoft do to compete more aggressively in the ad space?

One idea, via Jensen, is more comprehensive integration with LinkedIn:

“The LinkedIn profile targeting capabilities we do have certainly were a good starting point, but we were promised expansion of targeting options that never happened. Group targeting, job seniority targeting, and others could be powerful when combined with the Audience Network. A longer-term pipe dream would be an ability to set up campaigns running on LinkedIn via Microsoft Ads (or vice versa) with a full range of targeting options.” Jensen said.

Why should advertisers and brands try Microsoft ads?

Microsoft offers more detailed reporting and data visualization, as well as automated bidding strategies and audience insights in addition to a wide selection of ad formats, including text, image, and video ads.

Microsoft Ads are also competitively priced, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious advertisers and brands.

And the introduction of Multimedia Ads has given the platform a unique feature that advertisers likely won’t find with other ad solutions.

“I think Microsoft has the reputation that they ‘”‘just follow whatever Google does months later.’ Our team is always impressed when Microsoft releases a new feature that is different from Google (incentivizing Meta campaign imports, LinkedIn audience integration, action assets, etc). I think that being less of a ‘follower’ and more of a ‘trend-setter’ will help really elevate the adoption of Microsoft Ads,” Askew said.

Why are brands hesitant to try running Microsoft Ads?

There’s a perception that most everyone uses Google as their search engine of choice, Askew said, when in reality 724 million monthly unique desktop searchers globally on the Microsoft Search Network in December 2021 (according to comscore Search):

“A client asked ‘do people even use Microsoft’s search engine?’ I hit him with that handy dandy stat. Additionally, advertisers who specialize in lead gen may look at lead volume only and say ‘Google is driving more leads for me at a more efficient cost per lead, so why would I continue to fund Microsoft campaigns?’ When in reality, lead volume is only one piece to the puzzle – there’s also lead quality to analyze. For one of my B2B lead gen clients in particular, we see less lead volume and a less efficient cost per lead on Microsoft compared to Google; however, every month we consistently see a greater percentage of those leads turn into an opportunity in Salesforce – which can then lead to a contract/revenue for the business. This means Microsoft is driving higher quality leads than Google. If we’d just stopped to look at lead volume alone, we’d be undervaluing Microsoft entirely. Many advertisers who don’t have this kind of closed loop data may be hesitant for this exact reason.”

Besides the obvious point that volume is significantly lower than Google, performance can often be unpredictable as well, Jensen said:

“While I’ve worked with some brands that see excellent results from Microsoft, more of my recent experience tends to be that leads are lower quality and month-to-month flakiness can occur in both amount of conversions and how qualified they are. Search query mapping to keywords leaves much to be desired. The recent move to “force” Audience Network inclusion in campaigns (unless you opt for an account-wide exclusion) hasn’t helped either.” Jensen said.

The advantage of using Microsoft ads over Google Ads

Microsoft offers some advantages over Google Ads, including a unified interface for cross-platform optimization, more detailed reporting and data visualization.

Additionally, Microsoft offers a variety of pricing options with different ad formats that are likely a cheaper option than Google. Finally, Microsoft provides access to a larger global market, which can be beneficial for advertisers and brands looking to expand their reach. Said Askew:

“Compared to Google – Certainly the LinkedIn audience integration, Google does not have as many audiences that are relevant for B2B industries in my experience. Cheaper click costs than Google, which means more bang for your buck. Microsoft has different extensions, now known as assets, than Google including action assets and filter link assets. Microsoft Clarity is also available (a lesser-known & free user recording and heat mapping tool that can be used to understand user behavior on a website). Compared to Meta – I think the audiences Microsoft has available are more relevant in the B2B space than Meta. Especially since Meta has been steadily removing audience targeting options as time goes on. For businesses that operate B2B, getting the audience targeting right is half the battle.”

Despite its limitations, the LinkedIn integration is a big advantage for Microsoft with a level of B2B data that the other platforms just don’t have, Jensen said:

“While volume can be a challenge, I’ve seen good conversion data from layering on job functions and industries with the right brands. Another advantage is that with their ‘underdog’ status there has been at least some level of trying to listen to marketers and roll out features that are helpful, although I’ve seen less of this in more recent years.”

So are Microsoft ads better for B2B?

It depends. (I know, I know. Sorry.)

Microsoft has a wide selection of ad formats, including text, image, and video ads, as well as audience insights and automated bidding strategies.

Additionally, Microsoft Ads allow for cross-platform optimization and detailed reporting, making it easier to track and measure campaign performance.

Finally, Microsoft is competitively priced and offers a variety of pricing options, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious B2B campaigns.

But as Askew pointed out, volume would likely be lower than that of its competitor, Google. For that reason alone, brands could be hesitant.

How about the Audience Network?

The Microsoft Ads Audience Network is beneficial for brands as it allows them to reach users on a variety of platforms, such as mobile apps and websites. This can be especially helpful for brands looking to target a wide range of audiences – especially B2B.

Additionally, the Audience Network provides access to more detailed data and insights, allowing brands to better tailor their campaigns to their target audiences.

Finally, the Audience Network is integrated into the Ads platform, allowing brands to manage campaigns across multiple platforms from a single dashboard.

Microsoft Ads has come a long way in recent years

Microsoft continues to improve with the help of AI technology. The company is investing heavily in machine learning and artificial intelligence, which will greatly enhance its advertising capabilities in the future.

The bottom line is that Microsoft shouldn’t be overlooked by search marketers who want better results without breaking the bank. With the right targeting and optimization strategy in place, Microsoft Ads can be just as effective as Google Ads at a fraction of the cost.
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Source: Search Engine Land