Contextual Advertising: How to Target Sites in AdSense

Google advertisers can boost ROI (define) by creating placement-targeted content campaigns — choosing to position their ads on specific sites. It’s the ultimate content control.

Last year, Google took another pioneering step and rolled out an AdWords feature that let advertisers place ads on specific sites displaying AdSense units. Placement-targeted campaigns (originally called site-targeted campaigns) consist of ad groups that are identical to ones in traditional content campaigns except for one key attribute: ad groups contain lists of Web sites, not keywords.

Placement-targeted ad groups can include all content ad types: text, static, and animated graphics in a wide variety of sizes and formats — even video. Advertisers can choose whether to be charged on a CPM (define) or CPC (define) basis.

The ability to choose specific sites is powerful, but Google goes it one better: advertisers can choose to display their ads on specific pages within a site, or even subsections of pages. For example, advertisers can choose to advertise on The New York Times Web site in the business, fashion, health, travel, or sports section.

The Google content network is huge and growing rapidly — some say new sites are entering at the rate of at least 100,000 per month. Google recently shared an overview of the some of the best-known sites. Almost every major media channel is represented, from leading magazine and newspaper publishers to television networks.

How do advertisers find which Web sites display Google AdWords content ads? Google provides a placement tool that lets you pick sites by either browsing a list of categories, entering keyword topics, listing specific URLs of sites you know (or hope) display AdWords ads, or selecting demographic slices you want to target.

In each case, the tool digs into the pool of site publishers and lets you choose which sites (or site subsections) will carry your ads. Unfortunately, the placement tool can be inefficient. It frequently suggests sites that bear no resemblance to the category or topic you choose.

Worse, it neglects to show appropriate sites that may be perfect matches for your ads. Google is aware of these inefficiencies and is working on improving the tool.

You can frequently find additional participating sites by doing a Google search on a term related to your product/service, and then pasting the list of sites displayed into the placement tool’s List URLs field. You can count on finding between 25 and 40 percent more sites than the placement tool reports via the Browse Categories or Describe Topics methods.

Placement-targeted campaigns offer several advantages over content campaigns. Because you can target ads to specific sites, you can tailor your ads to appeal specifically to the readers of site groups (for example, an apparel retailer could display travel clothing ads on travel sites), or even tailor ads to readers of individual sites. A soap pad manufacturer could create special ads for the sites that say “Beantown Loves Brillo!”

Another big advantage: you can set individual bids for each site. By running reports that show the CTR (define) and conversion rate data for each site, you can fine tune each site’s maximum CPC to achieve acceptable (or hopefully great) ROI for each site.

Yet another huge advantage: placement-targeted text ads get stretched and enlarged to fill an entire ad unit — the mythical, seldom-spotted expanded text ad.

If a publisher has specified that a strip of four AdWords ads should appear in a banner at the bottom of a page, placement-targeted ads will muscle the other ads off the ad unit and be displayed big and bold.

Next week we’ll pick up with more advice on getting the most out of placement-targeted campaigns, including some surprising news about quality score (define).

Until then, we’ve recently started a Content Advertising discussion thread in the Search Engine Watch Forums. Drop by to chat with me and some of the brightest stars in the Content Advertising universe.

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.

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