Reconsidering The AdWords Content Network

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As a qualified AdWords Professional, one of the first pieces of advice I give to new clients is that the automated option for ‘search and content’ be turned off, leaving adverts that only display on Google’s search results pages. I do this because time and time again the default search-and-content option delivers weak campaigns, poor conversion rates, and spiraling costs.

However, this is also somewhat unfair, as a content campaign can actually add real value. The key is to keep the two elements wholly separate. The search portion of the AdWords campaign is not then influenced by the massive impressions and lower conversion rates of a content campaign bolted on to a refined account. From a content side, the keywords, ad text, placement options, and budgets can be fashioned around the nuances of the content network. In short, content network advertising differs hugely from search-based advertising and should always be set up as a separate campaign within a pay-per-click account.

Getting to grips with a new content network campaign can be an uphill battle initially. It’s much more difficult to target ads accurately, leading to stats that are hard to interpret and an ROI that’s tricky to measure. Achieving an acceptable conversion rate is difficult as the network of placements is much more diffused, making the quality of clickthrough somewhat questionable at times.

On the other hand, advertisers willing to dedicate a few weeks’ worth of budget to experimentation will be thankful they persevered in the long run.

A year-long study by Google has just thrown in some convincing arguments for content network advertising. After monitoring a core of 25,000 pay-per-click accounts, analysts determined that for advertisers running both search and content, around 1 out of every 2 advertisers enjoyed a 2.6% Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) saving on the content network. If you’re a relatively small advertiser, there is more good news. Google’s 12-month study found that accounts spending an average of just $1000 per month performed better on the content network than larger spends.

To replicate these successes, be savvy about your PPC content advertising. The use of two free tools is key. The Google conversion optimizer and the site exclusion tool are both weapons that should be in your advertiser arsenal. The conversion optimizer in particular is extremely useful, as it automatically optimizes bids in line with cost-per-acquisition goals. Use this in conjunction with the site exclusion tool (which weeds out sites that aren’t performing) and your budget should shape up well, even when compared directly with search campaigns.

A common complaint of those who have tried and failed to come to grips with the content network is that the budget has a habit of running away with itself. This happens when placements are not carefully selected and target audiences clearly defined. AdWords contextual targeting features allow advertisers to select the most relevant sites and page placements for the advert to be displayed.

The ever-expanding range of content network placements is a point in its favor. Among other benefits, AdWords advertisers can tap into the social media phenomenon thanks to the inclusion of popular blog sites and channels like YouTube, without the need to hire a creative team to make a tangible, professional presence a reality. A suite of multimedia advert options, including image and video, make it easy to blend in and encourage users to engage with the marketing message and brand itself.

Three pricing options make content network advertising a more attractive option still, with pay-per-click holders choosing between the familiar cost-per-click (CPC) bidding, cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM), or the conversion optimizer for cost per acquisition (CPA).

Campaign Optimization Tips

  1. Contextual targeting happens at the ad group level. All keywords in the group must have a common theme and be closely related to the advert text. Groups should be kept small with no more than 15-20 keywords. Keywords that are closely related will result in better placements.
  2. Unlike the search network, general keywords should be duplicated in each ad group in order to establish a common theme across the campaign. For example, if you sell lots of different types of shoes (sneakers, work boots, high heels, sandals) you may want to create small ad groups for each type of shoe sold (girls sneakers, boys sneakers, child’s sneakers, etc.) and then include the generic terms like ‘sneakers’ or ‘shoes.’
  3. Negative keywords are an essential element of your targeting strategy. Build as many negative keywords into the campaign as possible. An extensive list will help the search engine decide where your ads should and shouldn’t display. Google says their system is becoming more and more intuitive, so if it finds a page that contains more of your negative keywords than positive, chances are your ads won’t display. This attention to detail will help create positive campaign stats.
  4. This same eye for stats should be applied to the various reporting options. AdWords allows you to create a Performance Placement report. The wealth of data can integrate with Conversion Tracking and Google Analytics to help you delve deep into the heart of the content network. Filter reports by useful metrics such as cost or conversion to see which sites in the network are delivering the most customers.
  5. Play around with the site and category exclusion tool and remove sites that are not delivering clients despite lots of clicks. Weeding out these costly placements will free up budget to discover better performing sites.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the great article. I want to add my personal experience about Adwords content network. Conversion tracking and content network reporting (including placement report) is a must. Do not use CPA (cost per acquisition) bidding that the system tries to make you use until you compare the both bidding calculations in depth. Try to get in top 4 average position on content network.

  2. Nice article. I have tended to stick with PPC on google search only. But perhaps I should reconsider. One of my sites targets a health condition which strikes women of a certain age, much more than it does men. I believe you are saying that I can target sites with the content network using Google's demographic feature. That has potential... (Amazing how these old posts stick around and provide value, eh?) - Ryan