The Five Commandments of Content Advertising

Last week I discussed tactics for writing great content ads. I hope it’s clear that content ads must be written very differently than paid search ads. Content ads aren’t being explicitly sought and they need to compete with the site’s “main attraction” — content.

If you followed my previous advice, you’ve switched off content campaigns that haven’t been performing well. Now that you know how to write great ads, is it time to switch content campaigns back on?

Don’t Pull That Switch!

Not yet. First you need to understand how content matching algorithms (define) really work — how Google and Yahoo match your ad groups to appropriate pages of site content and display your ads. Content algorithms operate in ways that are counter-intuitive, and to some extent different than the search engines‘ explanations imply.

The truth: Google and Yahoo’s content-matching algorithms are inefficient. They don’t do a very good job of accurately matching your ad groups to appropriate site pages. As a result — and this is often the main reason content campaigns perform so poorly — your ads appear on pages and sites that are completely unrelated to your ads/products/services.

Pickled Britney Spears?

So, for example, if your company sells pickled broccoli spears, your ads could appear on sites with content that describes Britney Spears ringtones, or worse.

That’s one of the main reasons content campaigns garner such poor CTRs (define). Many ads are displayed on irrelevant sites that get heavy traffic. Ad impressions go sky-high while the number of clicks is proportionately very low.

Advertisers’ Database of Intentions

Despite ads that appear adjacent to content completely unrelated to the intent of the advertiser, some small percentage of site visitors will click on the ads. As you might expect, most of these clicks will not result in conversions. If ads appear on many high-traffic irrelevant sites, the result will be large numbers of expensive, non-converting clicks.

We’ve seen examples where advertisers were spending thousands of dollars per month on clicks from ads on such sites. Almost all that money was wasted, since the clicks resulted in so few conversions. On average, conversion rates were so poor, advertisers concluded they were just unable to attain reasonable ROI (define) from content campaigns.

Sound familiar?

The good news: with a proper understanding of how content matching algorithms work, and how to control how/where ads are placed, content ad campaigns can produce the same kind of good results — CTRs, conversion rates and ROI — as paid search campaigns.

The Five Commandments of Content Campaigns

Over the next several columns, I’ll describe best practices for structuring and creating content campaigns. I’ll go into detail regarding each of these overall guidelines:

  1. Run your content campaigns separately from your search campaigns — i.e., don’t simply run one campaign that displays ads on the search and content networks, even though that’s the default option when you set up a new campaign. Although search engines allow separate content bids in such hybrid campaigns — don’t do it. Create separate search and content campaigns instead.
  2. Separate content campaigns into small ad groups — each with, ideally, 20-40 keywords — never more than 50.
  3. Don’t bother using different match types — e.g. phrase and exact match in Google. Match type is ignored by the content matching algorithms.
  4. Don’t bother with separate bid prices for each keyword — these too are ignored, and the search engines operate based on the ad group’s default bid.
  5. Create ads and keyword lists that, taken together, will match a particular theme or category.

Create Separate Content Campaigns

With Yahoo, you can do this while creating new ad groups — simply uncheck the sponsored search checkbox when creating ad groups.

With Google, it’s a little less straightforward — you’ll need to edit the campaign’s settings after creating a campaign. Simply uncheck the Google search check box, and check the content network one.

We’ll pick up next week with an important, detailed discussion of guideline number five — matching ads and keywords to themes and categories — which will help you avoid displaying your ads on the wrong Web sites.

Join us for SES Chicago from December 3-6 and training classes on December 7.

Related reading

Simple Share Buttons