Know Your Options in Google’s Content Network

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Many people are scared of the content network. Too many horror stories or nasty personal experiences involving wads of lost cash. Turn on Google search, maybe Google’s search partners, and call it good. Content network? Horrible traffic quality. Huge numbers of wasted clicks. This mindset is understandable enough. Since it consists of all Internet sites that show Google ads, it’s a tumultuous and ever-growing, ever-changing landscape. Content has always been much more of a “wild west” and infinitely less simple and predictable than straight, old-fashioned Google search. Some businesses have literally bankrupted themselves using Google content.

But this is one powerful traffic source, and you do not need to be afraid of it. Google certainly doesn’t want to bankrupt anyone. They have made the content network much more manageable in the last couple of years, giving you far greater sway over where visitors are coming from and where click dollars are going. A few key changes that have made the content network less risky include:

  • An ongoing refinement of the algorithms determining the pages on which ads appear, to ensure you are seen only in relevant places.
  • The allowance of different bid amounts for content network clicks and regular search clicks.
  • The option to exclude any site from showing your ads.
  • The addition of placement reports showing the sites — even the exact pages — your ads have appeared on, and how well each one generates clicks and conversions.
  • The ability to create placement-targeted campaigns, where you dictate the sites and pages you show up on and how much you intend to pay for each placement.
  • The choice to create placement-targeted campaigns within individual ad groups.
  • The option to bid on placements and target pages on such sites by keyword.

In short, far more control now than ever before. You can confidently draw more customers to your site from more places, know for a fact that they’re just the people you want, and not spend a penny more than necessary bringing them there. With the content network, you can run three major types of campaigns. Two of them you are probably familiar with; the third, perhaps not.

1.  Keyword-Based, Content-Targeted Campaigns

By default, a new Google campaign has this type of traffic turned on, although you can opt to turn it off. Keyword-based, content-targeted campaigns work best when separated completely from search. If you haven’t done this before with AdWords, try it with a single ad group. Create a new campaign, go into the campaign settings and turn Google search “off” and the content network “on,” and then duplicate the old search ad group into the new campaign. Be sure to turn off the content network in the old campaign. Set bid prices, turn on the traffic, and watch what happens. Google won’t show you any specific clicks/impressions results for individual keywords, but numbers will start piling up for each of your ads and in your campaign summary.

Let this run any length of time, and you’ll see results evolve that are distinct from the original search ad group. Clickthrough rates will be vastly different, and conversion rates will change. They may be far better, or they may be far worse. However — and this is key — the kind of ads that get clicks in the search-only ad group will be very different from those that win you clicks in the content-only ad group. It is vital to note this distinction.

Another tip — Gmail is one of the most important places Google chooses to show ads. Always pay close attention to ads that appear in your Gmail box, especially those off-topic to what you are typing or reading about at the moment. AdWords specialist Perry Marshall calls these “jetstream ads” — ads written so well that they are clicked no matter what context Google serves them in. Start to emulate those ads, and you also will be served in far more places.

How do you eliminate wasteful expenditures of money in this type of campaign? Conversion tracking is the answer. Use Google’s reporting feature to generate a placement report, which shows precisely what domains your ads have been showing on and how well each has been converting. Also run a URL report, which identifies individual pages and how well clicks from each are converting. With a placement report in hand, sort the list of domains in descending order by cost, and check the cost-per-conversion column to see which burn up the most money on each conversion. Armed with this information, exclude the money-wasting domains from the campaign. From this point on, your ads will only show on sites that make money.

But what if there are only certain pages on a given domain making a profit? Google won’t let you exclude part of a domain. What if there are domains you want to show up on, but aren’t? At this point, move on to the next strategy — placement-targeted campaigns.

2.  Placement-Targeted Campaigns

The advantage of placement-targeted campaigns is that you choose exactly where your ads show. For every site — in fact, every page — you bid on, you can select different bid prices and even different ads. The nice part is that Google has incorporated placement targeting into individual ad groups, so that in addition to bidding on keywords, you can add specific sites to target — all within a single ad group.

By choosing individual web pages to target, bid on, and write ads for, you get access to pages that Google does not single out. This lets you hone your message to those individual pages, and get a steady flow of pinpointed, micro-targeted visitors to your site. You may even designate individual destination pages on your site, custom-made for visitors coming from individual target pages on another site.

Placement-targeted campaigns mean that nary a dollar is wasted. Here’s a suggested strategy to ensure that you spend your best dollars only on sites that send you the best customers:

  • Create a low-bid ad group or campaign containing a broad swath of sites you want to target and test. Set the payment plan for cost per thousand impressions (CPM) rather than cost per click (CPC). Write the best ads you can and turn on the traffic, monitoring the cost per conversion of each site that brings you clicks.
  • Cherry-pick the best-converting sites or pages. When they’ve proven themselves, pull them out and put them in separate ad groups that allow much higher CPM bids. In this way, you will be throwing your best money at good impressions, not bad.

3.  Enhanced Online Campaigns

The above two strategies are basic, but there’s a third way — an approach you hear relatively little about. In this case, you aim an entire campaign at a specific website, yet show up only on pages that talk about your topic. In effect, this slices the Internet up yet one more way.

Let’s say you sell fine European cheeses. You’ve decided you want to reach wine lovers who frequent a favorite site of yours — www.MerlotLovers.com — and get them interested in your specialty cheeses. The goal of an Enhanced Online Campaign (EOC) is to aim for the site you’ve chosen, but show up always — and only — on the site pages dealing with your topic. A standard placement-targeted campaign cannot get this specific. It would be impossible to keep up with all the shifting pages and content, and ensure that your ads only appear around articles and discussion boards on your topic.

First, create a new online campaign, choosing the “start with placements” option.

Every ad group in the campaign will have the same placement — MerlotLovers.com — but each ad group will target just 2 or 3 keywords, not 10, 20, 50, or 100. Your first ad:

Fine Cheeses with Merlot
Just the perfect combinations
to charm the connoisseur’s palate!
www.FineEuroCheeses.com/Merlot

The keywords you choose might simply be “cheese,” “cheeses,” and “cheese combinations,” so your ad will only appear on pages about cheese with merlot wines. You could also create a separate ad group about “food combinations” or “wine and cheese parties” or any word combination you choose. As the content shifts and changes at MerlotLovers.com, Google will ensure that your ads only appear on appropriate pages. Google chooses those pages partly on the keywords you’ve identified and partly on your ad copy. In fact, ad copy is the bigger factor. Your ad copy primarily, not your keywords, will get you displayed on the pages of a site you want to show up on — the articles, the conversations, the blogs, the discussions, or wherever it may be.

With this level of targeting sophistication now available on the content network, no business can legitimately say they shouldn’t advertise there — they can only say they haven’t yet mastered the art of digging through content’s vast resources to mine out the nuggets of gold waiting. Conquer your fear, try the above targeting and placement techniques, and look for the mother lode.

About the Author

Bryan Todd and Perry Marshall co-authored The Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, available from www.BryanTodd.net.

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