Why the Google Content Network Works: It’s all about the moment of relevance

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I’ve been writing about the Google Content Network frequently as of late. This is because I think this distribution channel is a crucial element of achieving your paid search campaign’s full potential. In my last few articles we’ve discussed nuts-and-bolts Content Network optimization, but today I’ll discuss why the Content Network works and why it has the ability to generate great results, if managed properly.

From user intent, to management strategy, there are numerous differences between the Search and Content networks within Google. The Search Network generates awesome results because you can display your ads at the moment a user is searching for your product/service.

With the Content Network, there is no actual search query involved because your ads are displayed on sites that contain content that is relevant to your keywords and ad copy. So, the intent between a Search user and Content user is vast. One user is directly looking for your product/service (Search Network) and one is viewing content relevant to your products but they aren’t specifically looking for you yet.

However, within the Content Network, just because a user isn’t specifically searching for your products doesn’t mean they’re not interested. It all comes to the moment of relevance.

Users are inundated with information every day, however, displaying your ads next content that a user chooses to spend a few minutes reading, can be very powerful. And that is the moment of relevance on the Content Network.

For example, if you sell gardening supplies, you should specifically target websites within the Content Network that fit into a “Gardening/Home Improvement” category. Sure, when the user is reading an article on a certain gardening site, they aren’t specifically searching for your products. However, they are in the mind frame of gardening/home improvement. And, if managed properly, your ad should can be displayed next to this article.

The moment of relevancy differs between Search and Content, but they be equally powerful.

The reasons listed above are how and why the Content Network can generate targeted traffic and increase leads with a positive ROI. However, and I’m not going to lie, successfully managing a Content Network campaign requires diligence, analysis, and hard work.

So, why go through all this trouble and fuss with the Content Network? Google recently released a white paper on the CPA Performance Trends on the Google Content Network (PDF) and Josh Dreller at Search Engline Land pulled some great factoids from this report:

  • 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.
  • [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.

There are still PPC managers who avoid the Content Network but I think this because they haven’t realized how to fine-tune this distribution method in order to increase their relevancy. Like I said earlier, you need be vigilant when optimizing your performance on the Content Network.

Now, we know it’s paid search success revolves around displaying your ad at the moment of relevance (on Search and Content), and we know that the Content Network has a wide reach and shouldn’t be ignored. So, what can you do make sure your ads are showing on the right websites within the Content Network? I’ll leave you with a few tactics:

Specific Content Campaigns: Since the user intent between the two distribution channels on Google are quite different, they need to be managed differently as well. You should create separate campaigns for your Content Network efforts.

Placement Performance Report: If you are running ads with general Content distribution (automatic placements), the AdWords placement performance report can be the key to your success. By running the placement performance report you can find and exclude websites that are not generating positive results.

Google Ad Planner: If you want to take the bull by the horns and create your own media plan, you can do so using the Google Ad Planner. You have the option to not opt into general Content Network Distribution, and you can pick and choose upon which sites you’d like to run ads.

Site and Category Exclusion: With this tool you can prevent your ads from running on specific websites. You can exclude at the “topics” level. And you can prevent your ads from displaying on certain “page types” as well.

Negative Keywords: Don’t forget that just like the Search Network, you can utilize negative keywords to better target your distribution.

A well-structured content campaign that utilizes these tools and tactics has a much better chance of displaying their ads on the right websites at the highest moment of relevance.

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12 thoughts on “Why the Google Content Network Works: It’s all about the moment of relevance

  1. Robert Brady

    Why use the content network? Because there is less competition and the average CPC is a lot lower. That is why the best PPC guys put the time and effort into the content network. Great post Joe.

  2. Matt Umbro

    Hey Joe,

    Nice analysis of the content network. For the longest time I avoided it because it wasted too much money. Then Google introduced managed placements and the ability to target keywords within your campaign. Now my content network campaigns have great CPAs and conversion rates and are bringing in good leads. I still get my share of junk leads, but the good leads far outweigh the bad.

  3. Jordan McClements

    Nice article.

    I had a good read through the Google whitepaper.

    Since I live in the UK – there is one piece which I really took note of :-

    “the median advertiser in the UK has an average Content Network CPA 6.2% higher than that of search.”

    I certainly agree with that. I don’t know what the reason is, probably partly:

    1. Nearly everyone in the UK sets their own campaigns up and just leave the content network turned on without really understanding what it is.

    2. People in this country are much less likely to buy something they are not specifically looking for on impulse…

  4. Martin Perron

    Hi Joe – completely agree! Google’s been hard at work in the last little to give advertisers more control and transparency which makes it possible to now strategically use the content network and optimize it. Now if only they could give us the same tools for their “Search Partner” network 🙂

  5. AtlantaRealEstate


    Good post but I never found the content network returning the targetd traffic in my industry and it makes sense.

    We are looking for people shopping for homes. People looking for home supplies, homes improvements, etc., are not typically also looking to BUY a home.

    So, I spend all our budget on highly targeted long tail KW campaigns on AdWords.

    Works for us.


  6. Info @ Suche Group

    Hello there, great post. Just one question, what is your experience with Banner ads and the GCN? I have only seen poor performance out of Banner ads vs. contextual ads. The ads are very targeted in nature. Thoughts? Thanks!

  7. Goran @ Net Age

    Hi Joe

    Great post. Been searching the web for a question that I cannot find the answer to. I though that you might be able to help. Been using campaign automation, does the fpbid + X actually work. If you have to ensure that you ad was on the first page but at the bottom right, how would you do it. Thanks Goran.

  8. Gerald @ Masai Mara Safaris

    I am getting a lot of spam email when i advertise on the content network. The users are landing on a lead generation form and i have come up with measures to block automated junk requests but its no use. I get a lot of spam emails from the adult industry

    Any advice on how to stop this. Is there a script out there that can detect if the clicks to my site are fraud?

  9. Chad Walls - Tutor Burnaby

    Is it best to use managed placements or automatic placements. If using automatic placements what are some good ways to know which sites to place your ads on? I assume a person might have to start with automatic placements unless they really know their industry and which sites prospective clients frequent. Do you have any tips on knowing how to choose the right managed sites?

  10. Jockovic

    I think AdWords and Google Ad Planner are very innovative and useful in what they do. I think it helps the owner of websites to be able to control and monitor their ads and how much they’re producing for them.

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