Pinterest Opens Full-Fledged Search Targeting to Compete With Google

But will brands move money?

The company is going all-in on search ads.
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For the past 15 months or so, Pinterest has pitched itself to marketers as a search-based platform more akin to Google than Facebook or other social networks.

Today the site is aiming to live up to that claim by launching a new search targeting tool, about a year after hiring Google sales vet Jon Kaplan as global head of partnerships. While advertisers have been able to use search terms to broadly target their campaigns—like zeroing in on the phrase “healthy eating”—brands have not been able to drill down into individual search queries like they do with Google search ads.

“What we’re saying here is that we’re specifically targeting search inventory—the real estate of search requires a different level of sophistication and targeting,” Kaplan said. “We’ve never talked to search-engine marketers before—either the people at the companies that are handling search or the agencies that handle search. What we found is that we’re actually talking to a totally different set of requirements.”

Phrase matching is one way that brands currently buy Google search ads, which Pinterest is now providing brands. Kaplan said there are different keywords on Pinterest that brands need to plan for, since people are not necessarily taking an action immediately like they are on Google. In terms of creative, shots that show how a product works typically perform better than pictures of a product set against a white background.

Barilla has been testing Pinterest’s targeting and has found some nuances between Google and Pinterest search ads.

“Search queries are really broad on Pinterest versus traditional search, where you can get very narrow with the brands or long-tail keywords,” said Jessica Schank, Barilla’s consumer engagement manager for the Americas. “On Pinterest we focus on recipes only, whereas on Google we have other topics in our search repertoire—products, frequently-asked questions [and] tips in addition to recipes.”

During a test that took place during the fourth quarter of 2016, the cost-per-click of Barilla’s Pinterest ads were 50 percent lower from the brand’s traditional search data and clicks from ads led to 50 percent more clicks to Barilla’s website, Schank said.

Pinterest is launching two types of search targeting that can be applied to promoted posts: Keyword and shopping campaigns. With keyword campaigns, brands buy media against specific keywords that they want to align with. Shopping campaigns on the other hand are more specific and use the terms that someone searches for to serve up a relevant ad.

“We take in a feed on the advertiser and surface the right product to the right query to the right experience within the search ecosystem,” Pinterest’s Kaplan explained.

"Marketers might find Pinterest attractive as an intent vehicle a little higher up the funnel."
Jason Hartley, 360iu2019s vp and U.S. search practice lead

According to Pinterest, more than two billion searches flow through the site each month from 150 million users and 97 percent of last year’s top searches were not branded. Unlike Google, where consumers often look for instant answers and content, Pinterest users start searching for content up to three months before they buy a product and save it to look at later.

“While people have a notion about what they want to do, they are undecided about exactly what brand or product they’re going to go with,” Kaplan said. “Whereas I think on other search engines, you come in with a really clear understanding of what you want and you’re looking to transact on either the easiest or more efficient way.”

360i’s vp and U.S. search practice lead Jason Hartley added that Pinterest has some extra data that Google doesn’t offer. “Pinterest has more available information on the consumer’s identity, so you have identity plus intent, whereas Google traditionally only had intent in the form of the keyword,” he said. “Google has a ton of data, but they are careful with making that available to advertisers. So, marketers might find Pinterest attractive as an intent vehicle a little higher up the funnel—conceptually, there is a lot to be said for that.”