Content Networks: Core to the Query?

By Mike Kowieski, Program Coordinator

Resolution Media’s QueryMatrix serves many purposes: strategic roadmap, company vision, even fashion accessory. We’re focused on targeting consumers through digital, query-driven, and non-interruptive strategies. But what happens if a certain tactic fulfills some of those criteria, but not all? Do we still embrace it even if it’s not safely and squarely encompassed in the all-important QueryMatrix?

Each of the big three search engines offers some form of content syndication. Google, for example, has a content network that encompasses hundreds of thousands of websites and blogs, from The New York Times to Google then sells advertising on this vast network in the same auction-style format as they use for their search engine results pages. So it’s digital and (arguably) non-interruptive, but is content network advertising really query-driven? We’ve had some interesting internal discussion about this topic in the past, and I’d like to share my two cents.

John Battelle believes that our search history represents our “database of intentions”, which is another way of saying that we search on what we’re interested in. If I search on, say, “Kermit the Frog”, there’s a good chance I’m interested in purchasing an item related to that search (even more so if that search term is “buy Kermit the Frog puppet”). Matching advertising to queries results in tremendous return on investment for marketers and is at the heart of what we do at Resolution Media. Advertising on content networks is a bit different – it’s not query-based, but rather contextually-targeted. The search engines are constantly scanning and updating the index of web pages within their content network, and then matching the content of each page with relevant advertising. So when I’m browsing, I’m seeing Google text ads related to Wimbledon and USTA leagues. Some QueryMatrix purists might balk at the idea of opting into a content network because it’s not purely query-driven, but I believe a properly built content campaign can still perform just as well as a traditional search campaign.

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If you do decide to utilize an engine’s content network, don’t simply opt an existing search campaign into the content network. While you may choose to go this route if you’ve received some last-minute incremental funding and need to boost traffic, you’re generally going to see steep declines in click-through rate and conversion percentage. Instead, content campaigns should have very tightly themed ad groups of no more than 15 keywords each, and an extensive negative keyword list. You can also use placement or category targeting settings to further narrow your scope. Placement targeting allows you to bid on certain sites that you specify, while category targeting generally focuses on a collection of sites within the same vertical industry. The key to building a successful content campaign is to err on the side of being too specific in scope, because if your keyword list or ad group structure casts too wide a net, you’re going to quickly accrue clicks and blow through your daily budget before noon each day.

So that’s my take; I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Content network advertising may not be core the QueryMatrix, but if built and managed correctly, you’ll still realize positive returns.


Aaron Goldman said...

Good post Mike. You're right about contextual listings living in the grey area of the QMx. From my standpoint, what makes a platform something we (RM) can/should handle for our clients is how the targeting works. In the case of contextual, the ad is targeted to a keyword, not a demographic or section of a website. This differentiates it from other forms of media placement like TV or banner ads. We are experts at understanding intent based on keywords and matching relevant brands to that inferred intent. Other agencies are experts at targeting consumers based on demo's or other attributes of media properties. So, while contextual listings may not be proactively initiated by a consumer (like pure search listings are) they are still digital, query-driven, and non-interruptive. In the case of contextual, "query-driven" refers to the way the ads are targeted, not how the consumer comes across them.

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