Peanut butter and jelly.  Batman and Robin.  Milk and cookies.  Some things just naturally go together because they complement one another—I like to think of them as classic combos. They remind me of search and content networks.  Though not always used by B2B marketers, the search engines’ content networks can be complementary to existing search efforts, and go a long way to helping marketers expand their reach.   

Understanding the value

B2B marketers should leverage content networks because they are an effective means to get in front of an audience where they are spending their time—reading articles and visiting news pages—and not just in search results.  According to ComScore’s Media Metrix from February 2009, there were 192,187,000 unique users online. Of those users, 70% visited news or informational websites. That sounds like a heck of an opportunity to me as content networks will allow you to place relevant ads on a number of those websites. Moreover, according to Google, their content network reaches “80% of global internet users—making it the world’s #1 ad network.” And that’s just Google; Microsoft and Yahoo both have content offerings as well.

The big difference

While content networks represent significant opportunity, B2B marketers need to realize that there are some inherent differences between search and content networks.  For starters, search is frequently referred to as the “ultimate form of permission based marketing.”  This is because its engagement process involves someone raising their hand and actively looking for information related to a particular keyword.  In essence, they are “pulling” the information from advertisers.  But the content network’s engagement process is different.   Most of the time someone is reading an article on the web where an ad is shown based on the article’s content.  In this model, users have ads “pushed” at them. Given this “push – pull” difference between the two channels, marketers need to be mindful that content networks need to be approached differently than search.

Witnessing their power

The key advantage of content networks is that it provides marketers with the ability to reach decision makers at that moment of relevance when they might not even realize they have a need for what you are offering. Here’s an example.

Last week I caught up with my close friend Michael.  He works for a large software company, and was recently promoted from I/T Specialist to I/T Supervisor. Over lunch he gave me a run-down of his new responsibilities, which included evaluating all expenditures, cutting costs, and spending smarter and more efficiently.  And while he hadn’t planned to shake things up so soon, Michael ended-up changing his company’s current computer hardware provider after only a few days in his new role.   Why the sudden switch?  The economy certainly had a lot to do with it—and his new boss was eager to see change—but the real driver was a content network.

How so?  Michael participates in a handful of tech blogs, forums, and social networking groups, which is not surprising because as a techie he is more apt to pay attention to what other techies have to say about products, services and experiences instead of what the manufacturers have to say.  And one day while reading an article in one of his favorite forums about some new PCs that IBM was introducing, he saw an ad to the right of the article. It was for corporate discounts on PCs and accessories at PC Connection, a leading I/T solutions provider.  Though he had never heard the company’s name before, he was curious, so he clicked on the ad. 

When all was said and done, he had placed a call to their corporate sales department, established an account, built a relationship with a dedicated account manager, and placed an order that had been sitting on hold due to costs on his end. In the end, he saved 20% over the original estimate provided by a different vendor.  And while Michael wasn’t specifically seeking a new hardware vendor, or actively looking for information on purchasing computers, he was presented with an ad that was indirectly related to the article he was reading, and ultimately it caused him to make a purchase.  

Things to keep in mind

Given the inherent differences between search and content networks mentioned earlier, you can imagine how their performance metrics also differ.  For example, the click-through rate’s (CTR’s) in your search campaigns will almost always be higher than they are in your content campaigns. Again, this has a lot to do with people’s mindsets when they are presented with your ad.

But how you leverage content networks will largely depend on your goals.  For example, a B2B marketer with a strong brand and very tight ROI or ROAS goals may choose to allocate more money to search than content.  Conversely, a B2B marketer with some flexibility on ROI who is looking to increase brand awareness might have a stronger allocation of their budget in content. 

Fortunately, the search engines have changed their models to provide pricing that aligns with the needs of their advertisers. At a bare minimum, marketers should test the value of content networks and determine how they can work for their business. In this economy, if you are able to secure a dozen additional leads, than I would say you are onto something.

Overall, B2B marketers should leverage content networks to complement their existing search efforts.  By tapping into the power of these networks, B2B marketers can have their brand and messaging seen by many people who otherwise would have only seen their competitors.  Smart B2B marketers will start thinking of search and content networks as a classic combo.

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

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: Search Marketing

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About The Author: is managing director of the Chicago office for search engine marketing firmiProspect, and can be reached at a.wheeler@iprospect.com.

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