Over the past two years, the depth of reporting and the ability to manage performance proactively within Google AdWords have greatly improved. By taking advantage of this increased targeting, you can gain exposure to specific audiences that might not know of your website's existence, but stand to benefit greatly from your products and services.
Your Action Plan To Generate Great Results on the Google Adwords Content Network
The first step toward creating an effective strategy is to understand how contextual advertising works.
Content network ads are not search ads.
In the content network, there is no actual search involved. To determine the sites on which your ads will appear, Google reviews the keywords in each ad group while assigning a theme to each group. Google also determines the themes of each website in the content network. Your ad group theme is matched to websites with a similar theme or content, and this is where your ads appear.
An important distinction between search and content ads is the level of traffic (exposure) involved. Content network ads appear all across the Web, on thousands of websites, where search ads are specific to user keyword queries on Google search results. As such, it's vital to focus on your ROI within the content network. That includes making sure your ads appear alongside the most relevant content, on the most relevant websites. The tactics that follow are geared toward helping you manage and optimize your contextual advertising to make your life easier and your PPC efforts more successful.
Keep search and content network campaigns separate.
This tactic will help you better manage and optimize your content network performance without affecting your search network results (and vice versa). Separating the two distribution channels allows more control over each and a better measurement of ROI.
Broaden your keyword selection.
Best practices dictate, on the search network, you want to target specific terms that are highly targeted and relevant to your audience - stray from general phrases. But on the content ad network, broad terms can help Google determine the theme of your keywords. For example, if your product is organic Columbian coffee, you might want to add the broad term "coffee" into one of your ad groups to enhance your ad exposure. Remember that Google derives a theme from your keywords on the content network; your ads are not distributed by single keywords.
Write ads specifically for the content network.
User intent for the search network is very different than for the content network. On the search network, someone is searching specifically for what you have to offer, even if they don't yet know of your website. On the content network, users are viewing content related to your offer, but they are not actively searching for your specific website. Keep this in mind when writing ads for the content network.
When writing an ad for the content network, shy away from questions that draw the eye and entice the user. For example, in a search ad you may use the headline, "Looking for Hiking Shoes?" This is applicable because the user (if they queried your keyword) is likely searching for hiking shoes. However, since the user is not actively looking for your product or service on the content network, a headline such as "Hiking Shoes at Great Prices" is a better fit.
Much like search ads, make your content network ads benefit driven by giving users multiple reasons to click. Include a call-to action in order to set up the conversion. Include phrases like, "Get a free quote," or "Register now," or anything relevant to the action you want the user to take when they land on your site.
Optimize for conversion rate, not click-through rate (CTR).
Due to the widespread distribution of content network ads (resulting in more traffic per ad) and the fact that users don't look for your specific product or service, your CTR on the content network will be abysmal when compared to the search network. And that's okay. Your main objective should be conversion rate and cost-per conversion. This puts the burden of opportunity on your landing pages. Test various elements to find what appeals best to the content network crowd. These might vary from your search advertising landing pages, so make sure to optimize different pages tied to your varied campaigns.
Experiment with multiple ad formats.
Within the content network, test various ad formats including those that utilize text, images and video. Pay close attention to those formats that appeal best to your target audience and continue to optimize within that context.
Know where your ads appear.
As mentioned previously, the data provided to AdWords clients are now granular. Not only can you track the domains on which your ads appear, but you can also drill down to those URLs within a given site that drive the most traffic. Acquire this data by running a Placement Performance Report within Google AdWords.
When you run a Placement Performance, you might initially be overwhelmed by the amount of data. After all, there will be hundreds or thousands of URLs listed. Sort the report by number of clicks and remove any sites that don't generate any clicks. This number could be rather large, so this will make the report much more manageable.
Exclude sites that convert poorly.
Once you know where your ads are showing, you can remove poorly-converting sites by using the site exclusion tool within AdWords. This will help increase your conversion rate and lower your cost-per-conversion.
Target best-performing sites.
You also can derive what sites work best for your campaign from the Placement Performance Report. Using the site targeting tools within AdWords, adjust bids directly for these specific sites - giving you more control to generate even better results.
Watch ad positions closely.
Ad position in the content network is sensitive. Most sites display three or four content ads at once. So, if your ad is ranked in the fifth or sixth position, within any specific ad group, your ad isn't showing as much as possible. This is hard to gauge but a good rule of thumb is if you're in position three or lower you may not gain as many impressions as possible.
Bid changes within the content network are also sensitive. Keep in mind that even small bid changes, say five or 10 cents, can have a big impact on performance. Closely monitor the bid adjustments you make in the content network.
Utilizing these tactics will help you gain your footing on the Google content network. Remember, user intent is very different from search; focus on your conversion rate, and remove sites that aren't generating a positive ROI to keep the process manageable and profitable.
Joseph Kerschbaum is a member of the PPC Hero team, a blog that discusses pay-per-click strategy, management, and industry updates - but with a heroic flare. Joseph is a Senior Paid Search Marketing Consultant for Hanapin Marketing, a Search Engine Marketing/Web Development firm based in Bloomington, Indiana.