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The AdWords Content Network: Worth Your Time?

The inexperienced AdWords user often leaves the default settings active, a good idea or big mistake depending on the feature in question as well as the nature of the account. When it comes to the Content Network, many SEO experts advise turning it off entirely, claiming it a waste of resources better spent optimizing for Google search alone. Advice to be taken seriously, given some of the inadequacies of the Content Network feature. For one, the nature of the sites in the Content Network assigned to a given account is for the most part shrouded in mystery. Your ads may show on high-traffic, topically-related blogs, thus reaching a targeting users that may otherwise have been missed. Or they might be inappropriately generated on a site like MySpace or even as a result of a Gmail user’s account (a new and slightly creepy feature!) based on the still-limited technology by which relevancy between an ad and actual page content is assessed. I, for example, had Heating and Cooling repair service and vendor ads showing on my MySpace profile for quite some time based on an odd joke I’d posted about a heat duct.These problems aren’t really surprising, if one stops for a moment to really think about how the Content Network works. Google explains, “The Google Network is the largest advertising network available online, reaching over 86% of Internet users worldwide.” Interesting, considering that it’s estimated that no search engine covers more than a third of the Web. In addition, research has consistently shown that there is very little overlap in the web page databases of the major search engines. Currently, Google indexes approximately 3.3 billion pages, a mere 1% of the total Web. Google claims that through the Content Network, “You can be certain that your ads reach your target audience with Google AdWords”; given the lack of overlap and limited reach of the Google engine alone, it’s clear that the Content Network feature makes use of a whole slew of engines in order to increase its span, many of which are undoubtedly far less trustworthy. Recent SEO discussion focuses on the inclusion within the Network of many “Arbitrage” domains, those that bid on longtail keywords and then “send the clicks to ads targeted at the high paying general search terms… Terms which may be related, but are not actually what the user was searching for.” While Google does allow you to block certain sites or domains from showing your ads, this can be a tedious process offering no guarantees. A new “ Placement Performance Report,” designed to help identify exactly which sites in the Content Network result in the best ROI, is rumored to be on the way, and should help tremendously to this end.

Another possible solution for the Content Network dilemma, and one that I’ve had success with, is to lower the content bids in each campaign in comparison to the regular default bid values for that campaign. If your default bid is $1.00, set the Content Network bid to $0.50, or even $0.30, then be sure to monitor that your relative position stays comparable.

The best idea of all? Run a split test to determine if the Content Network is worthwhile at all for your account. If it is, institute the lower Content Bids, and then make use of the Placement Performance reports to optimize for the sites that harness the most valuable traffic.

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