How To Optimize A Contextual Search Advertising Campaign

The major pay per click engines, such as Google and Yahoo, include two different types of distribution: On their own search engine result pages, and on content pages elsewhere on the web. These two types of advertising, while often lumped together under the pay-per-click (PPC) label, are very different. Advertiser’s ability to control these networks and consumer’s interaction with these networks are completely different. Hence, they should be treated as completely separate types of distribution.

It’s easy to visualize the search network. Advertisers choose relevant keywords and then bid on them. Searchers enter queries, and if the advertiser has chosen that keyword, then the ad is shown. The matching is based upon an advertiser wishing to buy traffic based upon what a searcher is looking for at that moment in time.

With contextual advertising on the content network, the engagement process is very different. A PPC engine scans a page of content (this could be a news article, a blog page, or any non-search page on the web) and then tries to match the theme of that page to advertisers who have chosen to advertise on those themes. The process is more akin to very targeted banner buys than search. Even though it is not directly search advertising, it is still a valuable outlet for advertising, if it is treated correctly.

Search page views are roughly 5% of page views on the web, which means non-search page views are roughly 95%. There is no quicker way of increasing one’s advertising reach on PPC than utilizing the content network. However, if it is not done correctly, it’s easy for ads to be “matched” to irrelevant items, and advertising dollars will be wasted by being shown next to non-relevant content.

How content matching works

With content advertising, most PPC engines scan the keywords within an ad group, and then assign a theme to that ad group. This differs significantly from the search network, where a PPC engine examines a user’s query and tries to match it to each individual keyword in your account. This creates a one to one matching which is easy to monitor and optimize.

An ad group with the words Sony plasma TV, 36" plasma TV, plasma TV is easy for an algorithm to match to the theme of “plasma TV.”

However, an ad group with the words big screen TV, LCD TV, plasma TV isn’t as straightforward. While all of these words represent high end, expensive TVs, the group appears to be more about TV sets in general and could be matched in a large variety of ways.

It is critical for advertisers to control their messaging and relevant themes. Ad group organization is by far the most important piece to pay attention to when advertising on the content network. It is better to have 100 tightly themed ad groups with only 10 keywords in each one, then 10 ad groups of 100 keywords.

Once you have organized your account into logical ad groups, it’s time to examine how to bid for the content network.

Content network bidding

On most PPC engines, the content network themes are decided at the ad group level. This means the keywords within an ad group help shape its theme, but the ad group actually houses the theme that those keywords generate. Therefore, bidding generally occurs at the ad group level and not at the keyword level for content match.

On each of the major PPC engines, you have the option to set different bids for the content network and for the search network. It is important that you do so. As search and content have different user engagement process, the cost per conversion can also be very different. As advertises should be bidding on a keyword’s or ad group’s ability to reach that goal; then one needs to measure and treat these networks separately.

At the campaign level, ensure that you have content match bidding enabled. Then, bid each ad group based upon an ad group’s return rate.

Content network pricing

Content network ads are priced using a cost per click basis, therefore are still pay per click advertising. However, the actual click cost may vary more dramatically than the search cost per click for the exact same ad group.

The search engines look at a web page and make a prediction of where in the sales cycle any web page might fall. Depending on the quality of the page and how commercial it may be, click prices may be discounted. Therefore, the conversion rate is less important on the content network and the cost per conversion is the metric to track.

To illustrate this point with an example:

If you are reading Bob’s blog about how he used a digital camera to take pictures while on a vacation, you may see ads about digital cameras. However, most individuals reading Bob’s blog are probably not intent on buying a digital camera at that moment in time, therefore the click charge is often less than what you are willing to pay for that click.

If one is reading a digital camera review on the odds are that the reader is further into the sales cycle and therefore the visitor is worth more.

Hence, if you bid $1 per click for an ad group about digital cameras, Bob’s blog could cost $0.05 per click. If you received 1000 clicks from Bob’s blog, the conversion rate may be terrible, but the actual cost per conversion is $50. However, on CNET’s review site, you may pay $1 for each click, however, the conversion rate maybe 1 in 50 which would make the traffic from CNET also have a $50 cost per conversion.

Therefore, with the content network, the actual cost per conversion is a much more accurate measure of quality than total clicks or conversion rate.

This discounted process is called AdWords Discounter on Google, and Quality Based Pricing on Yahoo.

How to measure the content network

The very first thing to do when measuring the content network is to make sure you are looking at search only or content only reporting. Do not combine search and content data into the same report. They are different user engagement processes, and you should treat them as completely separate inventory types.

Once you have organized your ad groups into meaningful themes, then look at the cost per conversion by ad group. Based upon how each ad group performs should determine your bids for the content network.

With Google AdWords, you can even take this a step further. Google has recently become much more transparent on the content network, and this has allowed advertisers to be more informed about where their ads are shown, but also insight into how to further optimize the content network past just some bid changes.

On Google there is a report type called “placement report.” This report will give you visibility into where your ad is being shown, cost per conversion (if you are using Google’s conversion tracking system), total clicks, and total impressions from those websites.

When examining the report, if you see web sites that are sending you traffic (make sure it’s statistically significant first) but the cost of conversion is above what you’re willing to pay, block the website. In the AdWords tools section, advertiser’s can block websites from showing your ads by using the “Site Exclusion” tool.

If you find a web site that is sending a significant amount of excellent traffic, you can also use AdWords’s Site Targeting feature to advertise on just that particular site. At present this is only a CPM system (cost per one thousand impressions) however, Google is also testing a beta version that will transform this pricing model into a CPC basis as well.

Content only campaigns

The final step you can take is to actually create completely different campaigns for search and content. This may double your management time as you will now have to maintain ad copy and keywords for each existing campaign for just the content network.

However, this will also give you the ability to test different ad copy on the content and search networks. It will also allow you to leverage keywords that help define an ad group’s theme for the content network that you might not wish to feature prominently in search results.


If you are looking to expand your PPC advertising, there is no easier way to accomplish this than by enabling the content network. However, it is extremely important to treat this network different than search, in the following ways:

  • Always measure cost per conversion on content
  • Never mix statistics with both search and content information
  • Ensure that your ad groups are tightly themed
  • Block sites on AdWords that send low quality traffic
  • Bid the content network based upon its cost per conversion

The content network can help advertiser’s expand their advertising to reach a much larger audience past search. However, advertiser’s need to respect the fact it is a different network and treat it with its own rules. Treat, measure, bid, and optimize the content network differently than search, and you will be much more successful with contextual search content advertising.

Brad Geddes is the Director of Search for LocalLaunch, a blogger at, and a frequent conference speaker. The Paid Search column appears Tuesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column | Search Ads: Contextual


About The Author: is the Founder of Certified Knowledge, a company dedicated to PPC education & training; fficial Google AdWords Seminar Leader, and author of Advanced Google AdWords.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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