Google’s content network: it’s sort of like jumping over fourteen school buses on a flaming motorcycle. If you’re not careful and well-prepared, it can be a huge disaster. But if you can pull it off- it’s totally awesome.  Impress your friends, clients, and coworkers! Tame your fear and win worldwide adoration. That might be overstating things; but in any case there’s usually not much excuse for you not to at least give the Google content network a try.

My arguments for risking life and limb, or rather ROI, are as follows-

I don’t want to give you an excuse to be lazy in your search campaigns, but guess what? No matter how great you are at keyword expansion, there is a limit to the number of people who will search for your keywords. That’s why we constantly expand our accounts with relevant keywords, but even so, there will be a segment of people who aren’t going to look for those keywords who still might want what you offer. Content targeting can help you reach some of them- whether or not you can afford to miss them is your decision to make. This is of particular importance to “new idea” products or services, which may have the potential to be extremely useful to Industry X. Problem is, if no one in Industry X knows that Solution Y exists, they’re not going to be searching for it. Search can work if you target related industry keywords, but until you are better known and have search volume in your own right, targeting industry websites via the content network can be valuable source of additional traffic.

I hear this argument: but my cost per lead is higher on the content network than on search! Yes, yes it may be. If you’re lucky or exceptionally talented at content network structuring and management it might not be, but this is just logic: you are targeting people who aren’t really looking for your product or service. Even if they click on your ads, they are probably going to be less committed to following through with any conversion action. Thus your cost per lead might be higher. The important questions really are: are they leads you couldn’t have gained via search targeting, and is the cost per lead acceptable in terms of your ROI? If it’s not…content isn’t working for you.  Modify your strategy or get off the motorcycle. If it’s fine in terms of your return but just higher than search, then you need to seriously review whether you can increase search leads at a lower cost. If you can’t, the content network can be a great opportunity to bring in revenue.

I also hear you that your product/service just doesn’t work on content. Okay, I don’t 100% believe you unless you’ve tried more than one time. I’m certainly not claiming to be a content network guru, but I do know two things: 1) We have many lead-based clients in various industries it works well for and 2) It didn’t work as well as it does now for any of them on the first try. It needs tweaking.

You should follow Google’s advice on setting up content campaigns, and if you have a Google rep, you can have them help you.  It still might not work perfectly. You need to analyze the sites your ad groups are being automatically matched to and get an idea of the theme that Google is assigning them. You need to determine which themes are working for you, and further target ad groups to similar themes. You need to have enough small ad groups both to create specific themes (I’ll say here- I think Google’s theme targeting is more specialized than they publicly admit) and remove the themes that don’t work without cutting out traffic to themes (ad groups) that do.

To make content cost per lead numbers decent, you have to, have to: stay on top of monitoring your placements. Allowing your content campaigns to run on automatic placements is an excellent traffic-catching method, but if you don’t frequently remove sites that generate clicks without converting your cost per lead is going to be ridiculous. Aside from sites that generate valid non-converting clicks, Google’s content network is, in my experience, a frequent victim of click fraud sites. We spent nearly $2000 in two weeks on just one group of such sites. I found them: Google didn’t do this for me.  You can download placement performance data right in the interface now- choose a date range, eliminate sites that have spent above your cost limit without converting and those with costs per lead above your goals. Excluding them at the ad group level is the more cautious route, in that you won’t remove traffic to other ad groups in the same campaign for which those placements do work. How aggressive you’re going to have to be in removing these placements is really dependent on your margin for profit on the content network, it’s worth experimenting to determine what your cost-before-excluding cutoff should be in order to reduce cost while balancing a corresponding possible reduction in leads (you can’t guarantee that a site that did not convert by the time it spent $5 would not have converted at $7).

We know that our search quality scores aren’t affected by our content network click-through and conversion rates- thank goodness! But you do need to be aware that your content campaigns will have their own independent quality scores, based on basically the same things as search quality scores are. They’ll determine which sites your ads appear on, where you’re placed, and how much you pay for those placements. Therefore, increasing your quality scores on the content network is just as important as it is on search. That’s why you need to structure your ad groups into closely knit themes that can have properly targeted ads and landing pages associated with them. And you need to make sure that those ads and landing pages are in line with the types of placements you’ve been assigned to by Google, in order to increase your click-through and conversion rates.  Just like you remove keywords that with low CTR and conversion rates on search, you need to identify both ad groups that have very low click-through rates or conversion rates and fix them up or pause them, and placements for which you have low CTR or conversion rates. These placements can be identified in the same placement performance report mentioned above, and you should eliminate them too. They’re not doing you any good, and are damaging your quality scores.

Especially when you’re getting accustomed to it, managing large campaigns on the content network can be higher-maintenance than managing search campaigns; but once you’ve gained a comfort level with regular maintenance tasks you’ll have more freedom to expand your efforts to more growth-oriented management. Pay attention, make sure you’re committed and prepared, and you’re much more likely to make it over the buses.