Once upon a time, advertising on the Google Content Network was like playing Russian roulette – it was impossible to know whether your campaign was going to be massively successful or deadly. As a result, most marketers were extremely wary of investing much money or time on Content. Click fraud was rampant, targeting tools non-existent, and predictability thrown out the window.
I suspect that many of you out there – once burnt by Content – haven’t bothered to try Content again for fear of the same wallet-draining pain, but I’m here to tell you that it’s time to give Content a second chance. Google has completely revamped Content, and you can now make your Content campaigns as profitable – and dependable – as your most successful Search campaigns.
The Google Content revolution is the result of four major changes. First, Google changed bidding from cost per thousand (CPM) to a choice of either CPM or cost per click (CPC). This reduced the incentive for publishers in the Content Network to serve ads way below the fold or to serve too many ads on one page. Publishers now need to think about clickthrough-rate (CTR) and serve ads more prominently on their pages. The result: better placement and more clicks for advertisers.
Second, Google switched from text ads only to a combination of text ads, video ads, and image ads (also known as display or banner ads). Images ads in particular have had a significant and positive impact for the Content Network, simply because they create opportunities for advertisers who would otherwise fail with text-only ads.
Image ads are more effective at getting your message in front of users who might not be looking for exactly what you are selling. For example, let’s say you are marketing a golf school. A text ad on a sports site like ESPN will not attract much attention. A display ad, however, with Flash animation of a golf ball flying off the banner might distract someone from reading a sports story long enough to convince him or her to learn more about your offer. In this sense, adding image ads to the mix is a win-win for both publishers (who get more revenue from more clicks) and advertisers (who can better market products that might be more of an impulse purchase).
But perhaps the most significant changes Google made to the Content Network were adding placement targeting and site exclusion. Placement targeting enables you to buy placement on a website, rather than buying a keyword and having it show up on multiple websites. Site exclusion lets you exclude any website from your Content campaign (the equivalent of a negative keyword in a Search campaign). The combination of these two tools gives perceptive advertisers the ability to exclude poorly converting sites from their Content campaigns, and bid more on sites that drive results.
Publishers who previously made a killing using click fraud to nickel and dime advertisers out of their budgets quickly saw bids on their sites plummet as smart advertisers started to exclude these sites from Content campaigns. On the other hand, publishers with desirable traffic saw their CPCs rocket up as advertisers fought over these placements. The net result: placement targeting and site exclusion are big wins for good publishers and smart advertisers, and help Google weed out malicious publishers.
At the end of the day, providing advertisers with the tools to decipher their traffic and thus increase their profitability is always a good decision for any advertising network. A few years ago, the Google Content Network was an accident waiting to happen. Today, it has become an essential weapon in any search marketer’s arsenal.