Last week we talked about the Google content network and automatic placements. I completely ignored the fact that managed placements exist because they didn’t fit in with my description of the ways in which targeting automatic placements is just like riding a flaming motorcycle, but I’m fixing that this week with an even more convoluted metaphor for the content network.

So play along with me for a minute. You are a lion! There are lots and lots of cute little bunnies hopping around your savanna. Whenever you come across one, you can probably reach your paw out and swipe it without much investment. But you have to catch so many to eat well. You might have to spend your whole day munching on rabbits just to feel well-fed. It’s one of nature’s balances: low risk, low reward. Automatic content placements: they are the rabbits of the search marketing world.

But what if you look up and see: a wildebeest? Now that’s 600 pounds of respectable animal. Those things are scary. They can hurt you, and it’s an enormous energy expenditure to try to catch one. If you’re unsuccessful, it’s has the potential to be a huge loss for you. But if you succeed: Wow! 600 pounds of meat! Your whole family can eat for a week. Managed content placements: they’re our wildebeests.

When you launch a content campaign and ad groups based on keyword themes, it’s like waking up in the morning surrounded by delicious bunnies. Google automatically matches your ads to sites they think are contextually relevant, and you’re supposed to start converting! But Google knows a few things. There are millions of sites in their content network. Some of them convert well, some of them don’t. They try to balance this out for advertisers and improve our ROI with a system called smart pricing, which basically boils down to: on sites Google thinks will have lower conversion rates, you pay less for your clicks. You don’t have visibility regarding what sites you’re getting smart pricing on, but overall, it can help lower your cost per lead for your automatic placements. For advertisers with a lot of traffic on the content network, this can be a great advantage because if you have a lot of automatic placements, you will sometimes convert on the very low-cost smart priced sites. With aggressive elimination of non-converting, high-spend sites, this can help generate a lot of conversions at a reasonable cost; but as I said last week, it can be a time-intensive process to turn all of those one-off conversions into a viable long-term lead generation strategy.

So you might think: can’t I just find a couple of wildebeests and stop messing around with all of these little guys? Wouldn’t that be nice, to just target a few high-conversion sites with managed placements and simplify your life? It’s possible…you might stumble upon a site and know this is just the audience that will convert for your ads. Or it might be hiding in there with the rabbits, the page Google automatically matched you to that has a CPL 1/3 of your goal and has converted 52 times this month. It’s tempting to want to grab these up, add them to our managed placements or create a site-targeted ad group for them, and let the leads roll in.  Which is a great strategy, except for that it doesn’t always work.

Do you know why? Well, because targeting a placement is just like telling Google: this is high value for me. You’re not going to be getting any kind of discount on your advertising for that site. If the conversion rates on a site are really so high that you can afford to pay more per click, then by all means, try to add a managed placement for that site or page. But be sure to increase your bid- you’re probably not going to get away with using the same bids as you use for your automatic placements on your managed placements. You’ve declared the value of that site, and you will have to take on additional risk to obtain that value. It might not work: if your bid isn’t high enough, your ads won’t show often, and traffic on the site will decrease enough that you’ll lose leads rather than gain them as compared to the site’s performance as an automatic placement. Also, if conversion rates on the site aren’t high enough to counteract your increased bid, it’s possible your CPL could go up once a placement is managed as opposed to automatically matched.

Like the lion’s decision about when it’s wise to chase down a wildebeest, you can’t just be adding managed placements without carefully considering your potential for success and expect to win every time. If you’re getting a high number of low CPL conversions on a low conversion rate site because your clicks are high but your CPC is very low…probably not a great candidate for managed placement. A high conversion rate, coupled with a reasonably low cost per click and low potential competition on the managed placement you’re considering (you can go to the page and see who’s competing for that space) are probably the best indicators of potential success. But as always, there are no guarantees in life. You need to follow the data carefully, modify your bids to gain more traffic or lower CPL as necessary, and understand when to give up the chase. Sometimes managed placements you would really like to make work don’t. Delete them, eat some more bunnies, and keep an eye out for the next big one.