How To Win At The Content Network – Think Vis Write Up

  • 0
  • September 21, 2009

Following on from my presentation at Think Visibility a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d do a write-up of my slides because lets face it, the content network doesn’t get enough love. If you came to see me on the day (hello!) this might be a bit of a recap – I did miss a couple of things out of my talk however that I’ll include below.

First, here are my lovely slides, designed by The Floating Frog.

Who I Am And What I Do

My first couple of slides are about who I am and what I do. I’m a big believer in having a brand identity and using it wherever possible, which is why my slides all mirror the strong design of my personal website, It’s also important for everyone to know that I work at Branded3 – at Branded3 I get to do awesome stuff like talk at conferences, write on Blogstorm and work on some really cool clients.

My work work, and personal projects cover SEO, Adwords, Blogging, Linkbuilding and Blogger Relations. I don’t think these should be split up into different jobs – I think by doing several, you get a really good overview of a client and there’s always crossover. In this write-up we’ll see how Adwords can actually help your SEO and linkbuilding strategy.

What Is The Content Network?

Skipping to the main bit of my presentation (round about Slide 9), we can see what the content network actually is.

In short, the content network is any website that shows Google ads.

So, if you’re logged into Googlemail and you see some text ads, you know you’re on the content network. If you’re on a blog showing text ads, you’re on the content network. If you have a blog opted into adsense, you’re part of the content network.

It’s a bit crazy the sort of sites that actually show Google ads. The Telegraph do for example, so they’re part of the content network. I bet you wouldn’t normally associate The Telegraph with adsense but there you go.

The final category I wanted to point out is parked domains. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone – how many times have you stumbled across a parked domain full of text ads? It’s pretty annoying, but what is surprising is that (in my personal experience), parked domains actually convert quite well. I always assumed people click onto a parked domain and click straight off again, but my adventures in the content network suggest a good number click through adverts and buy stuff instead.

Why could this be? Well, a lot of parked domains are exact-match, or themed to a particular niche. Frustratingly for SEOs they also often rank. If your ad is well-matched to a particular domain and the traffic converts, should you be worried it’s a parked domain? I don’t think so.

Why Should You Use The Content Network?

The content network always used to be crap. When I first started using Adwords two years ago the bidding and reporting was awful. I used to spend loads of money with no return whatsoever and abandon campaigns in disgust. Not any more! Google have changed and improved the content network management tools almost beyond recognition. Managing a content network campaign is now really similar to managing a search network campaign – it’s not scary any more.

You can use CPC bidding, you can track your conversions, you can see where your ads have shown, you’ll find less competition than on the search network, and you’ll find it cheaper than the search network. These are just some of the reasons you should be using the content network.

Campaign Structure

Creating your content network campaigns is a little different to the search network, but once you’ve got it right the rest will fall into place.

Basically, you want 2 main campaigns and 1 optional campaign:

1) Auto Campaign

In your first campaign, use Automatic Placements. This lets Google decide where to show your ads, so you have the whole content network at your disposal and let Google do all the hard work.

Keyword Theming

Google decides where to show your ad based on keywords you choose. Just like you add keywords to a search campaign ad group, you add keywords to a content network campaign ad group. Instead of the keywords triggering your ad however, they help Google decide what sort of website to show your ad on.

You need to choose your keywords based on ‘theme’. Use a small group (5-6) keywords, and make sure they’re similar, e.g.

‘cat clothes’
‘cat clothing’
‘clothing for cats’
‘clothes for my cat’
‘buy clothes for my cat’

Google will look for pages in its network that match this theme, and show your ad on them.


Once your campaign has been running for a week or so, you can start using your reporting tools. All you need for this is the ‘networks’ tab – all your reports are in here. If you choose ‘see URL list’ you can see the exact URL your advert was shown on.

Here you need to exclude domains or URLs that don’t convert. You also need to make a note of domains and URLs that convert really well, as this brings us to our second campaign….

2) Top Converting Sites

Create a new campaign, but this time select Managed Placements instead of Automatic Placements. Take all your top-converting domains and URLs, and create a new ad group for each one. You already know these sites perform well, so you can invest a bit more budget and effort in them. You might want to write an advert just for that website, or even create a special landing page for traffic from that domain.

Be Sneaky

What’s even better, if you know that traffic from a website converts, why not contact that website direct? You could set up some new advertising, submit some editorial content or get some other form of sweet deal. Use your SEO imagination!

3) Managed Placements

I’m not a fan of this third campaign, but for the sake of completeness we have to include it just to use the Placement Tool. Google pushes it when you’re setting up a campaign and it actually has potential to be useful. Just like Campaign 2, you want to select Managed Placements when you create this Campaign 3, but this time instead of typing in URLs that you know convert, you can try Google’s shiny Placement Tool.

The Placement Tool is meant to suggest websites on which to show your ads. You can either browse categories, type in keywords that describe your offering, or type in a URL you think is relevant to your campaign. Google gives you back a list of websites you can advertise on.

People tend to use the Placement Tool if they want to keep total control over their campaign. Maybe they already know where they want to advertise – they’ve seen competitor’s ads on a certain website and want to match them. Maybe they just don’t want Google showing their ads willy nilly. In my opinion however, the Placement Tool isn’t that great.

Why Is The Placement Tool Crap?

For one thing, Google gives you no estimate as to the traffic and cost you can expect. All it tells you is the number of impressions your ad may get (with such vague figures as 0 – 10k/day). What bugs me is we don’t even have to bid by CPM (cost per thousand impressions) any more, we can do CPC bidding, so these figures are completely irrelevant.

I think Google does have better data about the websites it suggests. I just think it doesn’t share it yet ๐Ÿ˜‰

Secondly, Google suggests these same placements to lots of people. I’m speaking from personal experience again, but I always find that Placement Tool sites are more expensive and you need a larger budget just to get your ads to show. This isn’t a good thing.

Test, Test, Test

Just like for Campaign 1, you need to use the reporting tools to test sites, test budgets and refine both. If a website isn’t converting don’t be afraid to get rid of it and look for something new. If you do find a really good website, move it over to your Top Converting campaign, or contact the owner directly to set up a different deal.


When it comes to the content network, you don’t really need to worry about the sort of websites your advert shows on. Whether it’s a parked domain, a blog or one of Google’s own properties, what matters is the traffic it sends. Use conversion tracking, and use the reporting tools regularly – for me the content network is all about numbers. If you find a site that converts well, or converts cheaply, invest more in it. If you find a site that wastes money, get rid of it.

From an SEO point of view, the content network is a goldmine of partnership opportunities. When negotiating an advertising deal or even buying a domain, have you ever had so much info at your fingertips? In fact, if you’re thinking about advertising on a certain website, why not use the content network to test it cheaply first? Like I said, use your imagination :)

Zoe Piper

About Zoe Piper

Like what you see? Talk to an Expert