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August 30, 2007

Leveraging Google’s Content Network

For the majority of Google advertisers who are not professional SEMs or don’t work with a search marketing professional in some capacity or other, Google’s content network remains a mystery. It is a tantalizing way to get more volume for a campaign, but conversions are inevitably lower (often MUCH lower) than ads on the search network, and click volume can be extremely high which translates into big bucks.

Understanding what Web sites are opted into Google’s content network (e.g., display Google ads) is the first step in creating order out of the chaos. For example, MediaPost reported that CNN.com will be continuing its partnership with Google Adsense and opening up its extensive inventory to all advertisers. The official press release about the agreement can be found on Google’s site.

Google is notoriously tight-lipped about the sites in the content network. However, they will occasionally announce partnerships like the one with CNN.com in order to dangle the carrot of high-quality traffic in front of their many Adwords advertisers.

The possibility of getting your ad on a top tier Web site such as CNN is definitely a compelling reason to opt into the content network, but before you launch a content-targeted campaign on Google and let it rip, there are a few things you should know.

First of all, in a content-targeted campaign you can’t actually choose the sites your ad appears on. You can only do this with a site-targeted campaign. What’s the difference?

  • A site-targeted campaign is created at the campaign level (in the campaign-summary tab within Adwords) and runs on an impression-based cost model (e.g., cost per thousand impressions or CPM). That means you get charged for every 1000 ad impressions whether or not someone actually clicks on your ad. Even though you can set your CPM via a bidding system, this can still get pretty expensive.
  • A content-targeted campaign can only be set up as a keyword-targeted campaign. That is, there is no separate content-targeting campaign setup option within Adwords. So, after you’ve created your keyword-targeted campaign, you’ll need to opt out of the Google and partner search network and opt into the content network, which can be done at the campaign level. Clear as mud?

So how can you refine your content-targeted campaign so that your ads show up on high quality sites only? Well, it’s not entirely possible to eliminate all poor-performing sites, but you can certainly eliminate a lot by adding a list of URLs where you don’t want your ads to appear.

First create a content-only campaign based on your top performing keywords. You can do this easily using Google’s Adwords Editor which allows you to copy an entire campaign and clone it in about three seconds. Creating content-only campaigns also gives you complete control over ad messaging, which should be different from keyword-targeted ads since user motivation is different with content-targeted ads.

Then get a list of sites that are currently running Google ads. To do this you can create a site-targeted campaign (but remember, don’t launch it or you’ll pay on a CPM, not a CPC basis). 

  1. First, log in to Adwords – it can’t be done from the Adwords Editor.
  2. From the Campaign Summary page select “create a site-targeted campaign”
  3. When you get to the “Target Your Ad” page select “List URLs” This is the good part! You can search for specific Web sites that are showing ads in the content-network if you’re curious to see who’s partnered with Google by typing in a specific URL. For example, when I typed in CNN.com, Google showed me a list of similar sites displaying Google ads including Digg.com, SFgate.com, Nasdaq.com and many more.
  4. If you want to see what sites might display your ads within the content network, then paste the keywords your targeting into appropriate field and see what comes up. When I typed in a short list of SEM-related keywords I came up with a list of very low-traffic Web sites and/or competitor sites. I saved this list to a spreadsheet and went back to my content-targeted campaign to add them as negative URLs (this can be done by selecting Tools/Site Exclusion in the Adwords console.

I have one more trick up my sleeve for weeding out poor-performing sites in a content-targeted campaign. Run a Placement Report report on your campaign. This report lists some sites where your ad appears in the content network and if you’re tracking conversions through Adwords, you can see the best performing sites and eliminate the sites that don’t convert. This report is limited in that it doesn’t disclose all the URLs, but instead lists things like “Domain Ads” or “Other” as this post on SE Roundtable explains.

The key point of this extremely long post is that you can definitely benefit from Google’s high-profile content partnerships if you implement some optimization strategies, but they’re not necessarily going to make it easy for you to do this on a cost per click basis. My advice is to test, review results, weed out poorly performing sites and test some more. You might also consider running a site-targeted campaign on select Tier one sites to gauge performance – just be sure to watch the spend closely and (did I mention) test, test test!

Author:  Jacqueline Dooley is the owner and founder of Jacqueline Dooley Internet Marketing, where she works primarily with agencies large and small as a consultant on a variety of search marketing campaigns. Read more of Jacqueline’s bio here.

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