Practical Ecommerce

Advertising On The Google Content Network

The most common mistake Google AdWords advertisers make is assuming that Google’s search network and Google’s content network are the same. In reality, the two are very different. Below is a checklist of how one should go about settings up a content network campaign.

Getting Started

A content network campaign should be set up separately from a search network campaign for a number of reasons:

You’ll be reaching your target audience at a different stage of the buying cycle.

You’ll be targeting prospects using various types of ads types/formats.

Quality of traffic generated through the content network is different.

Your optimization strategy is rather limited and otherwise is very different from a search network campaign.

You should have a separate budget for a content campaign.

Content network ads are theme-based, versus search network ads, which are keyword-based.

Step 1

To understand why the content network works differently from the search network, think about how Google’s spiders crawl all those websites on the Internet. In order for Google to figure out what your website is all about, it has to scan pages and pick up keywords that you’ve used on your site. Then, using proprietary algorithms, Google takes into account all other factors that it had picked up about your website and makes an educated guess on the theme of your web page.

Knowing that, think about a way to match the expectations of Google’s spiders to your content network setup. Brainstorm some themes that are relevant to what you have to offer.

For example, if Practical eCommerce were to establish a content campaign it might explore the following themes:

  • Internet marketing
  • Ecommerce
  • Shopping carts
  • Web development
  • Pay-per-click
  • Search engine optimization
  • Search engine marketing
  • Web analytics
  • Internet resources

Note all of those themes are very broad and are targeting an audience that might find Practical eCommerce useful.

Step 2

Once you’ve hammered out the themes you would like to target, it’s time to build your campaigns. Here’s an example of how a “pay-per-click” Ad Group could be set up:

Content Ad Group: Pay-Per-Click

Keywords: pay per click, payperclick, ppc, pay per click advertising, pay per click management, pay per click services, search engine, seo, search engine optimization, ctr, cpc, pay per click firm, pay-per-click, internet marketing, advertise, Google, Yahoo!, ad words

To develop that list, I first poked around Wordtracker for some top keywords. Then, I identified keywords that are likely to be mentioned on the page that talk about “pay per click.” I would recommend 15-25 keywords in any given Ad Group and I’d recommend that you forget about match types.

As you build out your Ad Groups, don’t worry about repetition or using broad terms. Feel free to use the broadest possible keywords and repeat keywords if necessary.

Step 3

Think about ad copy and ad formats. In order to kick your campaign performance into overdrive, develop ads in all allowed formats. These include text ads, image ads and, if resources permit, video ads and widget ads.

More information can be found at Google AdWords.

You’ll be reaching your target audience while they are peacefully browsing around the web and not necessarily looking to sign up, buy or download anything. Make sure your ad is creative, catchy, but at the same time pre-qualifies your users and seems in line with their interests.

Step 4

Figure out the following settings for your campaigns:

  • Daily budget
  • Geo-targeting settings
  • Language
  • Content network distribution
  • Content bids: Set your content bids lower than your search bids (I usually start them off 25 percent lower but there are no rules)

Ready to launch!

Step 5

Once you’ve ran your campaigns for at least 2-3 weeks, you should start exploring some of the optimization strategies:

Excluding Sites

Run “Placement Performance” reports and select all websites that have not generated any conversions. Don’t worry about clicks, CTRs or impressions. Conversions are the only metric that matters. Exclude all those websites by going to the “Tools” section in Google AdWords. By excluding those sites you’re ensuring that those ads will no longer be displayed on the sites that have not produced conversions for your campaign.

Negative Keywords

Consider adding negative keywords to your content campaigns to disqualify any sites mentioning those words. For example, if an advertiser is a car dealer there is no reason for his/her ads to be displayed on the sites that talk about car parts, car manuals, or repairs. Hence, you would add “repairs,” “manuals,” and “parts” as your negative keywords.


Don’t forget about reviewing performance metrics of the ads you’re running and adjusting those as needed.

Greg Laptevsky

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  1. Legacy User January 29, 2008 Reply

    I wasn't aware that you could repeat keywords and not get penalized by Google.

    — *Shaun B.*

  2. Legacy User January 29, 2008 Reply

    Great examples! Thanks for the helpful article, Greg.

    — *Andrew Jensen*

  3. Legacy User January 29, 2008 Reply

    Thanks – I think I finally get it!

    — *Crafters Cafe*

  4. Legacy User January 29, 2008 Reply

    Great article and easy to read!

    — *S. Purchase*

  5. Legacy User January 29, 2008 Reply

    I market the site We sell discount furniture online. We drive about 30% – 50% of our business (both for online and in store) through PPC. I had not thought about separating the content and search before, but it makes TOTAL sense. I am going to do some restructuring to our campaigns today. Great article!!! Thanks so much

    — *Eli*

  6. Legacy User January 29, 2008 Reply

    I have found Google Content Network to be a rip-off for advertisers. People want to make free money and they put up these sites. Once I forgot to disable content network for just one day for a new campaign, by mistake. It sucked a lot of money out of my account without any single visible result.
    What is the experience of others?

    — *Nari Contractor*

  7. Legacy User January 30, 2008 Reply

    Google content network is really rubbish… don't waste your money in it..

    — *Manish Jain*

  8. Legacy User January 30, 2008 Reply

    My experience is also the same : Cost per order is about 10 times more in content than what we experimence in search. We definitely need to refine our practice and this article give clear guidelines. Eager to see how we will improve.

    — *Delphine Robiot*

  9. Legacy User January 30, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for your comments.

    I would like to point out that Google's Content Network has substantially improved over the past 10-14 months. Your past experiences (2006 or earlier) might not be representative of the current performance.

    Additionally, Nari's and Manish's experiences point out the fact that content network HAS to be setup and optimized SEPARATELY. It is NOT similar to Google's search network.

    Don't assume that if you've mastered search – you can just apply the same strategies for content ads.

    — *Greg*

  10. Legacy User January 30, 2008 Reply

    I'm a bit confused by the references to keywords in both Step 2 and Step 5. If you create a seperate campaign for content network only – like Greg is suggesting – entering keywords is not an option. Rather, the ad is created and the desired content sites are chosen. Sorry if I'm being lame. Is there something obvious that I am missing?

    — *Fred*

  11. Legacy User January 31, 2008 Reply

    Hi Fred,

    It sounds like you're referring to "Placement targeting" campaigns. Those are also a part of Google's Content Network but they are a bit different.

    Make sure that you select "keyword-targeted" when setting up a new campaign.

    Hope that helps.


    — *Greg*

  12. Legacy User January 31, 2008 Reply


    You have a good point. Ultimately, its about finding the right sites.

    But most advertisers don't have the funds or time to manually pick & choose websites out there. Furthermore, you would never be able to ensure a balanced distribution across Google's vast network of sites. Rather, think about running isolated campaigns on websites that have proven to generate success – after you've figured those out through an automated content campaign. (It's sort of working backwards from what you are saying).


    — *Greg*

  13. Legacy User January 31, 2008 Reply

    Thanks Greg –

    But following the logic of your article, aren't we ultimatley trying to find content network fits for our businesses? As you indicate, tracking who converts and who does not is really what this is all about. Why bother with keywords (you mention that broad keywords are preferable anyway). Why not simply create good ads and "try" as many placements as possible and glean from there? Why narrow the possible fits with keyword guessing? As all of us involved with this "game" know, the best "converting" places can be surprises. Isn't really all about your Step 5.

    – Fred

    — *Fred*

  14. ElectricMotion October 13, 2009 Reply

    This is a great article. Really helped me understand the Content Campaigns I have a third party running for me in my account.

    I was having a lot of the same issues mentioned above with my content ads and pricing until I decided I needed help and gave AdMetrica by ScienceOps a try. They use a blackbox algorithm on the content network and I am not sure what all they do, but currently I am getting about 250 conversions a day from my Search campaigns for $20 each (which was about what I was getting before), and getting as many as 600 conversions a day from the AdMetrica Content campaigns for an average of just less than $10…

    Now when I hear people try and say that the Content network is trash or rubbish or not the slightest bit usable I just have to laugh and think, "user error"