Non-Text Contextual Ads: Quality Score and Bidding Strategy

AdWords advertisers can run multiple non-text ad media/formats: static banners, animated GIF or Flash banners, and video ads. I’ve previously described best practices in designing non-text ads to obtain the best possible CTRs (define). This week I’ll describe the most important fundamentals for getting top rank and best ROI (define).

Non-Text Ad Quality Score

For search ads, Quality Score is an important factor that every advertiser should understand. Though on the surface, search Quality Score can seem complicated, it’s actually pretty straightforward, since the Google algorithms have plenty of textual context (keyword lists, text ad copy, landing page content) to judge whether an ad campaign is relevant to the search terms included in the ad group.

The picture’s murkier when it comes to campaigns on the content network. In keyword-targeted content campaigns, the keywords serve to describe the pages/sites where ads should appear — and hence are often bad context for judging whether an ad group is “relevant.” In fact, the whole concept of relevancy is much different in content campaigns, since the person viewing the ad has not expressed a desire/need through search terms.

Here’s the most important thing to understand: content ad group Quality Score is based almost entirely on CTR. This becomes obvious when you consider the case of non-text content ads in placement-targeted campaigns.

Because the advertiser lists domain names instead of keywords, there’s zero keyword context. Because the ads are graphical instead of text, there’s zero ad-copy context. So, there’s no way for a content-matching algorithm to judge the relevancy of an ad group to a landing page — and landing page content can’t possibly influence Quality Score.

What’s left? CTR seems to be the only factor that can possibly influence minimum bid price and ad rank for non-text ad groups.

This seems to turn on its head the conventional wisdom that best practice for a new content campaign is to start bid prices low and then move them higher as enough data accumulates to judge whether doing so will result in acceptable ROI. It may be better to start bids high, effectively “buying CTR,” and then move bids lower once the Quality Score “love juice” has been accumulated. Of course, creating effective ads that garner maximum CTR must be a key part of this strategy.

If this is all true, there may be very little “relevance” at play in contextual advertising — and maybe none in the case of non-text ads.

We’re now testing this premise with our clients’ campaigns, and I’ll report the results in this column. Meanwhile, please let me know your own results via the feedback form or in the SEW Content Advertising forum.

Bidding Strategy

The practice of mixing media types within a content ad group is the most important best practice. If you’ve followed my advice in this column during the past few weeks, you should be running ad groups that include a mix of text and non-text ads. If so, take a look at the performance data, and you’ll probably see that the performance metrics for each ad type may be widely different.

We’ve seen CTR and conversion rate differences as high as 500 percent from one ad to another. The root cause may be obvious in the case of text ads versus non-text ads, but we’ve also seen wide variations between non-text ads of different configurations — skyscraper banners versus horizontal banners, for example. This kind of variance makes it difficult-to-impossible to intelligently set minimum bid prices.

Isolating each ad type/configuration into its own ad group seems to be the best practice. This lets you set bid prices to achieve target ROI and allows you to test ad variations more easily.

This may all seem like more trouble than it’s worth — for some advertisers with low-volume campaigns, or those whose objectives are mainly branding-oriented, it probably is overkill. But for many advertisers (and agencies) who tightly manage their campaigns to maximize the number of conversions at or below a target (define), it’s all worth the effort.

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