Online Exclusive: Google Enhances Bidding Controls, But Is It Enough?

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Google recently added an important new tool to the AdWords management console to give advertisers more control of their campaigns: separate bidding for content Ads. While this approach has been used by many search engine marketing companies to effectively deliver traffic from the content network at an acceptable cost, marketers need to ask: Is separate bidding enough to effectively manage content ads?

Let's first start with a brief explanation of content ads. Unlike search network ads that are delivered adjacent to the results when a search engine visitor submits a query, content ads are served within the text body copy of a web page of related material but the Web page is not delivered in response to a specific search. Rather, it may be on a news site, a blog or any other type of Web site. Think of content sites as publishers' Web sites. Anything published can be considered by Google and others as participants in their content networks.

For example, if you are bidding on the term "tennis sneakers," your ad could be served on a Web page that discusses tennis injuries, tennis match results or even how to make sure your sneakers fit properly. So, it is quickly apparent that these content ads can target people who are not actively looking for your product or services. Rather, they are browsing material related to your industry or company, but because the page contains the terms you agreed to bid on and pay for, they will be shown your ad. In fact, they may be enticed to click on your ad, perhaps as a knee-jerk reaction when they haven't taken the time to read your pre-qualifying text "Buy tennis sneakers!"

It is this less targeted characteristic that makes content ads often worth a lower cost per click than an ad served up to a visitor at Google who just searched specifically for "high performance tennis sneakers." Accordingly, Google now enables an advertiser to go into the campaign settings and elect to place separate bids for all content match ads. On the surface this seems like a great tool to control costs, but, unfortunately, it does little to address the underlying issue with content ads: they convert at a lower rate for many, but not all ads.

In order to truly manage your content ads effectively you first need to be tracking all ads to conversion on your site. Google offers the tools to do this, and any respectable SEM company does, too. Once you can track the conversion rate and ROI of each keyword in your campaign, you will begin to see some ads that generate much better returns than others. Unfortunately, if you are running a single campaign in both content and search networks, you will not know if the term "red tennis sneakers" is converting in search or content. Without knowing something about the differing conversion rates, you will still be bidding blindly on both.

So, in order to truly manage content and search networks as the separate campaigns that they are, you need to run them as separate campaigns in Google. Before you simply change your content bids consider this: Launch your entire ad campaign a second time with a different campaign name. Then under campaign settings turn one on search network, and the other on content. You can now not only set individual bids for the two networks, but you will have individual conversion data to act on as well.

By treating each network as a separate campaign and managing them independently, you will be able to make educated decisions on bid prices. You will also be able to determine if a keyword should continue to be bid on in one program but not the other. This will not only lower your cost per click, the original intent of the separate bidding feature, but also let you increase conversion and ROI rates while reducing your overall spend.


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