Google AdWords quietly began a beta program in March 2009 in the content network called interest-based advertising. Unlike many other AdWords rollouts, the program came out of beta with virtually no fanfare about a month ago.
Maybe it's because interest-based advertising isn't new: display networks have offered similar programs for years. However, there are a few big differences between those networks and the Google product.
I've heard many a pitch on display advertising. While each program has unique selling propositions, almost all of them have two common threads: CPM pricing and a high minimum spend.
CPM pricing means you pay a set cost per thousand impressions. In essence, every time your ad is displayed, you're charged -- even if nobody ever clicks on it. While this is great for branding and exposure, it's not always great for ROI. Most direct-response advertisers, including PPC advertisers, need to get a decent return on their ad spend -- and CPM usually isn't the best way to get it.
Google's interest-based advertising, on the other hand, is priced just like all of their search and content products: on a CPC basis. While that doesn't guarantee ROI (you still have to target the right audience and use the right ad copy), it means that you don't pay unless someone clicks on your ad.
No Minimum Spend
Nearly all of the display ad pitches I've heard in the past two years required a minimum spend -- often as much as $10,000 per month. That's a drop in the bucket for big brands, but it can be an entire online budget for the average PPC advertiser. Couple that with the ROI question mark, and it's difficult to justify a test.
There's no minimum spend to participate in interest-based advertising. You can test it for a few hundred dollars a month -- and you can kill it at any time if it doesn't work. Advertisers of any size can test the waters for a low risk.
Text or Image Ads
Traditional display ad networks use only image-based and rich media ads. While it's well known that image ads cut through the clutter in a content environment better than plain text, not every advertiser has the resources to create (or pay someone else to create) image ads.
Interest-based campaign ads, like Google content network ads, can be either text or image. Google also has the advantage of their free display ad builder, so even novice designers like me can put together an image ad with some copy and a JPG file.
It isn't necessary to create image ads, though. Interest-based advertising using just text also works. The old PPC adage applies: test, test, and test again. Try text and image ads, and see which works better.
With traditional display ad buys, it can be challenging to exclude poor-performing sites. Often it's a challenge just to get reporting on individual site performance. Interest-based advertising offers all the same features we've come to know and love from Google: Placement Performance reports, and site exclusion.
Individual site performance can be gauged right in the AdWords interface, and underperforming sites can be excluded in seconds. Just like content network campaigns, a few bad apples can spoil the whole campaign's ROI. Reviewing and eliminating these sites helps bring things back in line quickly.
Google's Conversion Optimizer is available to qualifying interest-based campaigns. With a well-crafted campaign, it doesn't take long to accrue enough conversions to turn on Optimizer. With this great tool in place, conversion rates for interest-based campaigns are similar to search campaigns, with the added bonus of tens of millions of impressions boosting exposure at no cost.
If you haven't tried interest-based advertising yet, give it a try -- and let me know how it goes! Or if you have tried it, leave a comment about your experience.