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Nothing Wrong with AdWords Content Network

It's the Advertisers Skill Set that Needs Improvement

     
2:30 am on Jul 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I've been working on the content network to drive conversions. It's been a learning process. I found that making the content network work takes vastly different considerations from what works in the search network.

Some of the things I'm finding is that there are different kinds of ads. Some ads can blend. Some ads can almost resemble navigation. The text ads that work are different in the content network too. I'm still working it out, but I'm analyzing the context of the ad, what the user may be after on the page, then creating an ad that will address that. Not address keywords, but address user behavior.

Ad placement matters. For CPM campaigns I filter out all sites that place my ad below the fold. They're just squeezing me for impressions. BUT, those placements may be good for CPC placements. Ad placement matters because it dictates the strategy to use.

Some sites convert better than others, sometimes sites you never thought would convert. That's why I am bidding on a wide assortment of sites, then removing those that refuse to convert regardless of the different approaches. In this regard, it's similar to the search network.

Here is the cool part
My cost per conversion on the content network is LOWER than on the search network. This is not because I'm poor on the search network. I've tweaked it into a high converting campaign that works. It's just that I found that the content network, when thoughtfully approached, is cheaper.

I am convinced that it is cheaper because advertisers haven't thought through the differences. Worse, many are so lazy they haven't even tried to make it work. Some may have had it turned on by accident without trying to make it work, been burned, then turned it off without investigating. I know because I have been there and done that. But that attitude is what gives the bolder advertisers an edge. The content network works. But it takes a different skill set to make it work. Google has made a lot of changes to the content network, with lots of tools for tracking conversions. I am convinced that intellectual laziness and inertia is what is keeping many advertisers out of the content network, even now that Google has made so many improvements so that it can work.

I am convinced that most of the advertisers who say the content network does not work are in that boat simply because they do not have the skills and ability to think through how to make it work, or they are following the conventional wisdom that it doesn't work and not even trying. The problem is not the content network because Google has fixed it. The problem is the advertisers.

[edited by: engine at 9:13 am (utc) on July 23, 2008]
[edit reason] formatting [/edit]

10:05 am on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Great post martinibuster. I too had paused my content network, until only recently to see that it actually works. Interestingly I have paused most of my campaigns Search Network just too see the difference.

I absolutely agree with you.

10:43 am on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Really nice post. I think its very important to least look at different creative and keywords for the content network. Many advertisers just duplicate their current campaigns to content and hope it will work, but users are in a completely different mindset when browsing instead of searching.

Value and USP related messaging often works well in search - I find product related messaging working much better on content.

12:51 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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As a publisher, I have noticed an improvement in the quality of the AdSense content network ovther the last year. I feel that initially or on introduction of the content network Google failed to manage the publishers and search destinations well. MFA's proliferated and spam websites for some keywords where well entrenched with Google ads. I have no doubt that it was very possible to have one’s ad land on a zero value website encouraging lost visitors to click on an ad to exit.

With a well managed publisher base, reduction in low quality MFA’s, and a more experienced visitor Adwords advertisers will see an improvement in content network ROI.

12:54 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Absolutely right. It doesn't necessarily work for everything (some of my B2B stuff won't work on Content no matter what) but I have some client accounts where Content (and even parked domains, believe it or not) *way* out perform Search, and is much much cheaper.

Dammit, now that I think of it - you let the cat out of the bag - now there will be more competition! (ork ork)

But this also goes back to what I posted in another item about AdWords and small businesses. How many small businesses can afford someone on staff (or to hire someone like me) to learn all these nuances - and keep up with them - to keep their online advertising going and profitable?

1:14 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Worse, many are so lazy they haven't even tried to make it work.

You've got that right. It's that way in the traditional media and the web has proven to be no different. It's a great opportunity for people to make money with just a little extra care.

Instead, people will say, "Buy an ad on Google," as if it is a simple as writing a check.

Dammit, now that I think of it - you let the cat out of the bag - now there will be more competition!

Ha. Yeah, right.

This post by martinibuster has a ton of rare wisdom in it.

2:25 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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After more than 5 years, as an publisher I can confirm that my earning per click (EPC) from adsense for search is always bigger than EPC from adsense for content.

... Except for today, after MB's post. ;)

2:42 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Hey Martinibuster, what sort of business are you advertising using Content? B2B or B2C? Products or services?
2:52 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Your question is directed at martinibuster, but for what it's worth, my best performing Content campaigns are B2C for products.
3:16 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I have had success on the content network with several clients and at a slightly lower CPA relatively to my search buys. However, I often see the opposite effect on other networks, where search is more effective than content, so you can't generalize.
MartiniBuster is right--you need to treat search and content differently. It is worthwhile to separate your campaigns for search & content because they behave differently.
Content campaign keyword groupings should be more thematic. Consider not only what users might be searching for but what category of web sites or sections of web sites where they might expect to learn about your product or are "receptive" to your product offer--possibly related categories or topics, for example.
Make use of the placement performance report by URL to uncover sites and specific pages on a site that do and do NOT perform. Consider selectively targeting to the sub-domain for the performers. Use site exclusion to weed out those domains that result in clicks but few conversions.
Take the time to look at the advertisements that are running on the sites you see in your placement report. Consider the different ad dimensions and where they are placed on the page and whether it makes sense to offer banner creative to gain better placement. If you find just a few sites are contributing quite a bit of your conversions, you can even consider whether it makes sense to offer the publisher your affiliate program--if you have one, or advertise with them directly to garner better placement/more control.
3:34 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Something else to consider is that search campaigns and content campaigns will need very different negative keywords.
4:24 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Yep. And you don't need to worry about match types either.

I have found that I need more ad groups with fewer (but much more tightly themed) keywords in them to succeed in Content. Also, I think the name of the Ad Group is important in helping Google figure out where to place the ads (if you aren't cherry picking sites yet) So never just called your Content ad groups "Ad Group #1".

4:31 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Excellent post. I'm getting sick of people who say the content network doesn't work. It does, it's just different from search, and you need to optimise differently than you would on search.
6:49 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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content works. but like everything else, it comes down to analytics. Are you tracking the right things and are the numbers accurate...

PS: I am surprised that you thought cpc in content is less than cpc in search. That has always been the case for me. Is there anyone who can afford to spend more on content then search for the same KW?

7:18 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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>>>for the same KW?

I'm not bidding keywords on the content network at this time. That's a whole other campaign to test. I have been putting ads on specific websites, cherry picking the sites where my ads will show up.

9:15 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I am confident that the content network would be much much more profitable for ROI focused advertisers if Google required advertisers to "opt in" rather than "opt out". I hypothesize there a ton of advertisers that are not measuring their ROI on content because it's blended in with their search data, and as such, are polluting the bid landscape in content with unprofitable max cpc's. For those advertisers focused on ROI, you can typically find very steep decreases in CPC's between ad positions 1, 2, and 3 in the content network.
11:47 pm on July 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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We offer an online service and the content network has always outperformed search for us.
12:03 am on July 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I totally agree.

I regularly see accounts that do better on content than search. Conversely, there are some that just don't do well on content.

Content optimization has a lot todo with testing and refinement. I see very different content CTRs (yes, CTRs have a much different meaning on content than search) on IP targeting vs using geo-keywords in the ad groups.

It's also just not understanding the tools; it's understanding how they work with other settings; which means you also need to understand what the other settings actually do.

Teaching more about content optimization is going to be more of a focus for the AdWords seminars; especially with the launch of ad planner.

1:21 am on July 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I'm glad someone finally took the time (and had the guts) to say it. So much Google bashing going on that I rarely venture into the Google forums here. Bravo MB!
1:37 pm on July 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Do the prices you pay come down after a while? Here's my example...I recently started working with a client who has been running a content campaign that was doing pretty well, but I've read that each ad group should only contain 20 or so keywords and they should be as similar in each ad group as possible. This client had about 200 keywords that were similar, but not really that optimized in the same account (and again had been doing well). They had an average ranking of about 3 in this ad group and a cpc price of about 18 cents. Well I created about 10 new ad groups following all the good instructions I've read on here and in these new ad groups the cpc prices are probably 5x more expensive...these are the same term in MORE optimized ad groups now. Why would that be? Think the really high cpc prices is temporary? Should I bid as high as I need to get up to the same ranking I had (#3) and then hope the prices adjust down?

It's frustrating to say the least to follow the good advice, but I think with Google many times it's best not to fix what isn't broken even if someone tells you there is a better way to do it.

2:14 pm on July 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

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MartiniBuster is right--you need to treat search and content differently. It is worthwhile to separate your campaigns for search & content because they behave differently.

Agreed. In most cases, search ads will be much more straightforward, for example.

I agree with Scout that content ads would be better if they were opt-in. But, let's face it, then the network would have never been built.

This is, indeed, a joyful thread. That thoughtful, professional marketers are finding that their ads can be effective when placed in context with compelling or useful news and information bodes well for the web--and all of mankind, actually.

It is true: Most commercial speech has real value.

2:25 pm on July 25, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Any thoughts on if prices do start to come down after you establish some history?
9:48 am on July 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Interesting thread to read! I have been thinking about the content network, possibly experimenting with a couple of cherry-picked sites (with access to adplanner I think it makes things easier to choose some to try with).

However I'm unsure about the content network for B2B (that we're in). It seems that most of the successful cases here quote B2C efforts and especially in product arenas - is there anyone who has worked with B2B and the content network?

2:06 pm on July 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Yep, but it's not so clean cut as to say it's good for B2B or bad or so so. It depends on the nature of your products and services, in addition, on the nature of what type of related content is to be found on the Internet, and how buyers typically discover / search for what you offer. So my opinion is that you're going to need to test. A few years ago, I would have said don't bother, the content networks at all the engines were overpopulated with nasties. G's content network is definitely worth experimenting.
8:26 am on Aug 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Well I would agree - I will definitely give it a try and see what I can make out of it. However it would be great to hear if there is any special thoughts on the B2B side of it / anything specific that has proved different from B2C in this area?

Anyhow, I'm out to create my test and then evaluate and see what I get out of it.

1:39 pm on Aug 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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One bit of advice on B2B... within the content network, generally there tends to be fewer target sites for B2B products and services, so use placement targeted more. In B2C, this is usually not doable, there's too many relevant sites, further, the margins generally don't call for more site-segregated management. In B2B, often the individual sales have a much higher margin associated with them and there are far fewer sites where your ad will appear... so run content, then pluck from it, the better performing and larger volume sites and manage them as placements to allow more control.
6:44 am on Sept 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I opted out of Adsense CPM a long time ago, but this thread has me just about convinced to opt back in.

IMHO one of the driving motivations for running Adsense has been to provide value-added content to pages (which Ads for good quality, topically targeted advertisers definitely are), and if it can be made to work for everyone concerned - publishers, advertisers and users alike, it's definitely worth another go.

12:46 pm on Sept 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

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i switched content network back on a couple of days ago !
10:12 pm on Sept 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

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again guys and girls, please start slow. Spend no more than $50/day initially to make sure you are tracking the right things (converting ad groups, converting sites, etc) before you spend the big money..