Why You Can’t Ignore The Google Content Network – AdSense Q&A

Recently, on the Inside AdSense blog, Google announced that it was opening up the Content Network to even more third party publishers and ad networks. I was surprised to see so little blowback from the online community as the title of the post, Getting the most revenue from every impression through AdSense, seems like it would be a huge red flag for search marketing professionals everywhere.

Digging deeper into their post:

Who are these ad networks? They’re ad agencies and companies that partner with advertisers and publishers to buy and sell ads on sites they don’t own themselves (much like AdSense). You’ll now be able to allow advertisers from these networks to compete with AdWords advertisers for your ad space.

Yikes! Right? I don’t know about you, but flooding my “auction-based” marketplace with a ton of more competition is not going to help get my click costs down. The jury’s still out on this one folks.

I used to think of Content as paid search’s red headed stepchild. It never outperformed search in any KPI. However, a few years ago, a colleague urged me to pay more attention to Content Targeting as he said it was the future of SEM. He was right. By the numbers, search inventory is not shrinking, but it’s not growing as fast rate as it was earlier this decade. However, Content Targeting is growing rapidly with new web sites and pages being added every minute of every day. Eventually, the inventory for Content Targeting within SEM will be exponentially more than what you’ll find with search. At this point, it’s crucial for every SEM pro to really learn how to work and optimize the Google Content network.

Still not convinced? Check out some of these factoids from the Google whitepaper CPA Performance Trends on the Google Content Network (PDF) after analyzing over 25,000 global accounts for a year.

  • The Google Content Network is the world’s number one ad network, reaching more than 80% of global internet users.
  • It servers more than 6 billion ad impressions each day across hundreds of thousands of websites.
  • In total, 51.6% of advertisers analyzed had an average Content Network CPA equal to or better than their Search Network CPA.
  • Lower-spending accounts tended to perform better than higher-spending accounts on the Content Network relative to search.
  • [A Specific Media] study suggests that Content Network advertisers benefit not only from the click-through conversions driven by their ads, but also from the increased awareness generated by exposure to a targeted message

These topics bring me to today’s column. I’ve had a bunch of questions in my head over the last few years regarding the Content Network, and after attending a webinar on Content Optimization from Jasper Seldin, Content Optimization Specialist at Google, I knew I’d found the right guy to ask.

Q. How many AdSense customers are there?

Jasper: We have hundreds of thousands of AdSense publisher partners worldwide.

Q. What is the ratio between Search and Content conversions?

Jasper: We don’t break out that ratio. What we have found is that the average advertiser on the Content Network gets 20% of their conversions from content.

Q. How is Quality Score calculated in the Content Network and how is that different for Search?

Jasper: Quality score on content is our calculation of how relevant a user of a particular site will find your ad. It functions in much the same way as search, to try to match up the right ads to the right users. Since we’re dealing with many sites on the Google Content Network versus only one site (Google.com) with search, it follows logically that we’d calculate a separate quality score for each individual page on the content network. We use a variety of factors to calculate this including:

  • The relevance of the ad and keywords to the placement
  • Your ad’s performance history on that and similar placements
  • The quality of your ad’s landing page

Q. AdSense users can preview ads before they’re displayed on their site. About what percentage of them are using this tool?

Jasper: It’s called the Ad Review Center. We can’t break out a percentage but we’ve received positive responses to the Ad Review Center and it’s a great value add for publishers who would like to look at how ads might affect the user experience of their site.

Q. We hear that Google institutes a high level of Click Fraud protection on the Content Network. Can you go into a bit of detail on what steps are taken to protect against fraudulent clicks.

Jasper: Google uses the same industry leading invalid click protection from search on the Content Network. We proactively filter out invalid clicks using the following methods:

  1. Our filters analyze every AdWords click in real-time.
  2. Our ad traffic quality team analyzes the impressions, clicks and conversions over a longer period of time. In combing through all this information, we are looking for unusual behavior against hundreds of different data points.
  3. In the relatively rare cases where advertisers are affected by undetected click fraud, we conduct an investigation and, if we find signs of undetected fraud, we mark those clicks as invalid and issue a refund to the advertiser.

Keep in mind we have every reason to provide outstanding returns for advertisers on both search and our Content Network and devote significant resources to creating technically sophisticated ways to filter invalid clicks before advertisers are charged for them. As a result, the percentage of invalid clicks that may escape detection — and for which advertisers may have been charged — is very small.

Q. I learned recently that you using negative match in Content ad groups can work well. Can you list some best practices for this type of tactic?

Jasper: Yes, you can use negative keywords on content and they are quite effective. However, best practices for content negative keywords differ from search. All negative keywords are exact match, and our system considers them thematically. You can have multiple themes within your negative keyword list. Be careful when you come up with your content negative keyword list, because our system blocks ad serving if a theme in your negative keyword list matches a theme on the page.

As an example, lets say you are selling fruit. Even if you only sell apples, you wouldn’t want to include oranges as a negative keyword because users interested in oranges may also be interested in apples. You would want negative keywords related to computers, because apple the fruit could be confused with Apple the computer manufacturer.

Q. How are click charges calculated on the Content Network if it’s ad group targeting, not keyword targeting. I read that it uses the default ad group bid. Is that true, and, if so, how does the platform know what to charge you if you don’t implement ad group bids?

Jasper: We have a bid hierarchy on the content network that is as follows:

  • If you have a content bid, we use that. Content bid trumps all other bids.
  • If you have keyword level bids, we take the average of all your keyword bids and use that as your ad group bid. If you just have the default bid for your ad group, we’ll use that for content as well as search.

We’ve recently implemented a feature that lets you set individual bids for sites you’re appearing on with your keyword targeted campaigns. This is a great way to maximize your ROI – set a bid on each site relative to the value its providing.

Q. We all know by now that Content Targeting extrapolates the idea of your ad group via the keywords and then matches it with a theme and runs on those sites. Can you go into more detail about this process? Is it the same 594 themes as can be found in the Placement Targeting list? What about if I loaded up conflicting keywords such as “car, chocolate, happiness”? Can more than one theme be targeted?

Jasper: Google performs page analysis on every page in the content network. First, we scan the page and pick out words we think are most relevant to the content on the page. We can tell headlines from footers and can pick up on words that repeat often or are emphasized with bolding or italics. Together, these words create concepts. Concepts tell us the unique meaning of each page. There aren’t a finite number of concepts, unless you count the number of words that convey unique meaning.

And of course, we look at related concepts and see how they roll up into entire categories,. It’s these concepts and categories that you are ultimately targeting with your keyword list. When you select keywords, we analyze the theme of the keyword list and place you on pages where the themes and categories match. An ad group can target multiple themes, but we recommend only targeting one theme with each ad group to ensure that you are putting the right message in front of the right user.

Q. Any new features on the Content roadmap?

Jasper: I would say that Conversion Optimizer is the most exciting new feature. It has already been released, but it gets smarter all the time and we’re constantly working to improve the product.

Q. What other interesting tidbits, tricks, tips, etc. can you share about the Content Network?

Jasper: For direct response focused advertisers, we recommend starting with a keyword contextual targeted campaign. Here are some tips to help you set and manage up your campaign.

Manage your search and content campaigns separately to customize content keywords, placements, and budgets. With keywords, create ad groups with small keyword lists that reflect one theme per ad group. Add keywords that are specific to one theme and avoid keywords that may relate to multiple themes, ie. add ‘java coffee’ and avoid ‘java’ which may expose your ad to ‘java programming’.

With regards to bidding, use CPC bidding with contextual targeting. As for your creatives, we recommend using call-to-action phrases in your ad to reference a desired action post-click. Try to clearly tell your audience exactly what you offer on your site in your ad. Make ads specific to the advertised product or service to increase the conversion likelihood. You can also align display ads to offline ads to reinforce your message.

For your landing page (ie destination URL), link your ad to customized landing pages that match the information in your ad. Then provide an easy path for users to purchase or receive the product or offer in your ad on the landing page. In your landing page, its best to make a call-to-action (ie, button) above the fold.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Toolbox


About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

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