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Mastering Google AdWords Marketing: Contextual Advertising

Separate your Google AdWords search advertising and contextual advertising. Why?
  1. The target audiences could be different
  2. Content ads don't perform as well (in most cases)
  3. Track separately to see which type works for your situation
  4. Add clarity to search stats
  5. Google has a "site exclusion feature" for contextual ad campaigns
  6. Isolate budgets for search and content ads
How? When creating an AdWords ad campaign, you will be given this choice:

Show ads on Google and the
search network
content network

Create two separate campaigns, one with only the search network box checked and one with only the content network box checked. The target audience for search ads and content ads (contextual ads) can be quite different. Let's call them searchers (active) and browsers (passive), respectively. Searchers are actively typing the keywords you are bidding on. Browsers, who see your ad triggered by a contextual advertising system, are more passive in the sense that they didn't type specific keywords into a search box.

UPDATE: This article was originally written in 2005. Since then, Google has introduced 2 more checkboxes: 1 to opt in or out of Google itself and 1 to set separate bids for content ads. Check the Google and Search network boxes for your search campaign and the Content network box for your content campaign. You don't need to check the content bids box. That is only necessary if you are blending search and content ads in a single campaign but want to bid separately for the content network. Any other updates to this article based on the evolution of the AdWords platform will be indicated by striking out the old text.

Create separate ad campaigns with these distinct types of visitors in mind. For example, suppose you're selling organic coffee beans online and you have the following keywords in both a search advertising campaign and a contextual advertising campaign (note that a real Google AdWords campaign would include broad, phrase and exact matches as opposed to simply broad matches):

organic coffee
organic coffee beans
coffee beans online
fair trade coffee
organic fair trade coffee

Let's argue that a high percentage of people actively typing "fair trade coffee" into a search box (searchers) are interested in buying fair trade coffee. (Enticing them to actually buy from your site is a topic for another article.) Suppose a Google AdSense publisher has written an article covering the certification process for fair trade coffee. People reading this article (browsers) are likely not predisposed to want to purchase fair trade coffee. They could be more interested in the economics or politics of fair trade. Track your Google content ads and, if you receive too many clicks without sales, either modify the text of your content ads, reduce the bids or focus the keyword list. For example, if the keyword list above was originally incorporated into both a search ad campaign and a contextual ad campaign, the keyword list for the content ad could be altered to something more along these lines:

buy fair trade coffee
order fair trade coffee
purchase fair trade coffee
fair trade coffee online

This way, the search and content ads can diverge. The ad copy and/or keyword list and/or bids could evolve in different directions over time. If they are lumped together in the same AdWords campaign, a change in reaction to poor performance because of a single AdSense content page could severely limit a robust search ad campaign. Conversely, in some cases, a content ad might perform better than a search ad. Again, it's useful to monitor the campaigns separately and to evolve them discretely.

Note that when creating a Google AdWords advertising campaign, displaying ads on Google itself is not an option but a given. Therefore, when you create two campaigns, they will, effectively, be competing against each other on Google's own site(s). Consider always setting the bids lower, then, for one of the campaigns. Since contextual ads are usually not as effective as search ads, consider setting the bids (and the budget) lower for the campaign with the content network box checked. Also, if you have created the ad copy with a contextual advertising audience in mind (for browsers), that ad might not be appropriate as a search ad on Google (for searchers) itself. Additionally, if you have created separate tracking urls for the two campaigns (highly recommended for whatever web analytics you use), it will be confusing to see ads with content tracking show up for Google searches.

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