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SEM: How To Keep Your Google Content Network Campaigns Clean

Google's content network can be a valuable addition to any AdWords search marketing program. It gives you the opportunity to very cost-effectively display text or graphical ads across Google's network of AdSense partner sites, many of them industry-specific online publications and blogs. These ads have both branding and direct response value. The click-through rate is typically lower (as it is for display ads in general, as prospects see your ads while reading content rather than specifically searching for your product or service), but conversion rates are generally similar.

However, to avoid meaningless impressions, unproductive clicks and bogus conversions, it's critical to monitor which sites your ads are appearing on and keep the list clean. For whatever reason, Google doesn't seem to apply the same rigor to AdSense ad placements as it does to it's primary search algorithm.

Case in point: among my SEM clients are two B2B software companies. Without revealing any confidential information, both companies develop business software, target department heads and directors in midsize to large organizations with their messages, and run their AdWords search ads only in North America. In both instances, their content network ads appear on a variety of relevant blogs and smaller industry publication sites, which is appropriate and productive. However, I check and clean both programs frequently, as their ads have also appeared on:
  • Gaming sites—okay, granted, lots of IT folks are also gamers, but really, how likely are they to click on ad for business software while reading up on tips for World of Warcraft? Even worse, the ads sometimes show up children's gaming sites. Is little Johnny really going to suddenly develop an interest in document management while picking up cheats for Club Penguin?

  • Celebrity gossip sites—the contextual relationship here escapes me. Britney Spears and office applications, Rihanna and IT management...hmm, just not seeing those connections.

  • Country music radio station sites—apparently, Google believes that country music fans are great prospects for B2B software. Not hip hop, rock or talk radio listeners for some reason, though.

  • Foreign news sites—again, both of these companies run their search ads only in North America, so it seems a bit bewildering why their content network ads appear on news sites in places like Ghana, Ethiopia and Nepal.
Such ads can generate thousands of impressions in a short period of time, but rarely a click and never a conversion worth squat. Not a good deal for either for the advertiser or publisher.

Here's how to check your content network and keep it free of nonsensical sites:

1. Login to your AdWords account, then click Reports under the Reporting tab.

2. In the Report Center, click "Create a New Report."

3. Click the radio button to select "Placement Performance" (View performance data for content network sites where your ad has been shown).

4. Specify a date range for the report (use "Al Time" if you've never done this before).

5. Name your report, then click the "Create Report" button.

6. Once the report is completed, click on the report name in your "Report Center" list.

7. Click "Export Report"...csv for Excel. This will open your report in Excel where it's easier to work with.

8. In Excel, select the list and sort it by "Cost...Descending". This will show you which sites are costing you the most money in descending order. Check the URLs for your highest-cost sites first. If a site looks like somewhere you are comfortable with your ad appearing, great, leave it be. If not:

9. Go back to AdWords and click "More tools" under the "Tools" tab.

10. In the left-hand column, click "Site and Category Exclusion."

11. Select your content network campaign (if necessary), then review the "Topics," "Media Types" and "Page Types" tabs to make sure those settings are as you want them.

12. Once that's done, go to the "Sites" tab. Here you can paste in the URLs for any sites you'd like to exclude from displaying your ads. Once you've entered a few sites to exclude, scroll down and click the "Save All Changes" button.

IMPORTANT: Do not click the "Remove all" button - this doesn't remove these sites from your AdWords program, it removes them from your exclusion list! If you click this button, you'll need to re-exclude any sites you don't want to have display your ads.

13. Once you've excluded any high-cost / low-return sites, sort your Excel list again by "Impressions...Descending". This will identify sites where your ads are getting a large number of impressions but few clicks. Again, check on these sites, and exclude any undesirable sites as in Step 12 above.

14. Finally, sort your Excel list once more, alphabetically on URL. You can likely identify some sites that should be excluded just based on the site name. Again, exclude these as in Step 12.

15. Periodically run updated placement reports and repeat the process to exclude specific sites from your AdWords contet network program.

By keeping your content network free of inappropriate and non-productive sites, you can increase the click-through rate and optimize your return on investment from this option for advertising with Google.


Contact Mike Bannan:


Kayley said…
Although I don't have ads on the internet, I have come across this many times while surfing the web. I'll be doing something on a page and then see an ad for something that has nothing to do with what I'm doing. I think you're right: the ads will make more impact if they are put on sites where people actually speak the same language.

Thanks! I enjoyed reading your blog
Dave J. said…
Good tips to clean things up ... but isn't it better and easier just to turn off AdSense and plow that money into AdWords bids?
Tom Pick said…
Kayley, thanks for the positive feedback! I think we've all seen examples of this, the mystery is why ads aren't matched to sites more effectively.

Dave - I always recommend starting with just AdWords. It makes sense to add in the content network once an AdWords program is finely-tuned and producing about as many leads as possible. The content network--if kept properly cleaned--provides very cost-effective branding and additional leads from sources beyond search.

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