If a single ad network could help you reach 80% of global Internet users—and target them based on geography, website and even context—you would probably invest a lot of time figuring out how to optimize your advertising dollars there. Yet, for many large advertisers, the opportunity of advertising on Google’s AdSense content network hasn’t been fully realized.
Advertisers often start with the wrong approach to the content network altogether. As a result, they find the return on their investment to be sub-par. The most typical mistake we see is when search marketers simply run their search network campaigns on the content network. While this approach may save some setup time, it more or less ensures your content network campaigns will be poor performers—because the two networks are inherently different, so your ad campaigns for both must be, too.
However, even when advertisers follow best practices and organize their content and search campaigns separately, they still find the content network difficult to measure and manage. With your ads being distributed across thousands of sites, it’s hard to ensure they are being displayed on websites that deliver high quality and relevant audiences. At the heart of this problem lie two challenges: measurement and scale.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure and many advertisers don’t have visibility into how their content network campaigns perform at a granular level, such as by site or placement. Addressing this problem requires implementing a robust analytics package that manages the process of integrating click and cost data from Google with conversion data from your site—so you can understand the performance of your placements on the basis of revenues, profit-per-impression and return on investment.
Once you have the tools you need to perform accurate measurement, you also need to find a way to manage campaigns across thousands of potential placements. Technology can be part of the solution here. Using an analytical system that is flexible enough to allow for management by exception—enabling you to search, filter and sort in an iterative fashion—is crucial. But even more critical, is how you go about managing your overall content network programs. By applying some simple best practices to your marketing efforts, you may be surprised to find that your ROI on the content network can often be higher than your ROI on the search network.
Here are four best practices to keep in mind:
Create themes, not lists
Advertising excellence on the search network requires building exhaustive lists of keywords, using phrase and exact matches and attempting to account for every variation, plural or misspelling of a term that a user might type into Google. The content network is different. Google seeks to match the keywords you choose with thematic content on a web page.
As a result, your goals for creating keywords on the content network should take this into account. Organize your ad groups into themes and put together a small but closely related set of terms that target that theme. Make your themes specific and try to include the most important word for your theme in every keyword term. For example, if your theme is Florida real estate, choose a set of keywords such as “sunny florida real estate,” “beautiful florida real estate,” “luxury florida real estate,” etc. By anchoring your terms around a specific word, you will help Google zero in on what you are after. Likewise, by modifying your anchor term with a variety of adjectives, you will create keyword terms that improve your quality scores for potential variants on that anchor term.
Add placements as negatives to prune traffic
Once your campaigns have launched, you can begin to measure the results and try to exclude irrelevant traffic. On the search network, this process involves refining your match types and adding negative keywords. On the content network, however, you have another, more powerful option. By reviewing the performance of the sites where your ads are being clicked on using a profit-per-impression metric, you can quickly add negative placements to your campaigns. This not only reduces your costs, but increases the click-through rates on your campaigns, driving your resulting quality scores higher.
This type of refinement can be more powerful than using negative keywords, because negative placements can easily be applied across all of your content network campaigns. If you find that a particular site doesn’t resonate with your target audience for one product, it’s likely that it won’t resonate for others as well. Because there are no limits to the number of negative placements you can use, pruning over time allows you to increase ROI—not only for your existing campaigns, but also for campaigns that you have yet to launch!
Create separate bids for winning placements
When you find a winning keyword on the search network, your best option is to simply bid it up. With the content network, however, you can do one better. Start by identifying which placements are most effective for your keyword campaigns. Then create a separate campaign targeting these high performing sites and placements only. You can leave your keyword-targeted campaign in place, but bid more on your placement-targeted campaign. Over time, you will be able to cherry pick the placements that are most important to you and bid them aggressively, while at the same time maintaining your existing keyword campaigns to identify new high-value opportunities for placement-specific targeting.
Test, measure, repeat
As with any search marketing methodology, you should treat this as a process, not a single change or tactic. Investment in the process, however, will pay dividends over time. As you build a robust list of both negative and positive placements, you build an asset for targeting your high-value customers and understanding where they spend time on the internet. As you launch new keyword campaigns on the content network for new product lines or offerings, your placement list asset will allow you to rapidly generate ROI with a lower investment of time and effort. And with an understanding of where your customers are on the web, you can begin to target them through other channels such as social media, display and sponsorships on these sites.
I’d love to hear more about your experiences on the content network. Leave a comment below about what has and hasn’t worked for you.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.