Google Allows Separate Bidding on Search, Contextual Ads

Ever since Google launched its contextual network, marketers have wanted to bid for those placements separately from the ones that appear on search results pages. Now, they’ve finally got their wish.

Google last week quietly rolled out what it’s calling “content bids,” letting advertisers “set one price when their ads run on search sites and a separate price when their ads run on content sites,” according to a recently-added AdWords FAQ item.

“If you find that you receive better business leads or a higher ROI from ads on content sites than on search sites (or vice versa), you can now bid more for one kind of site and less for the other,” the FAQ says. “Content bids let you set the prices that are best for your own business.”

Several search engine marketers noticed the new feature had appeared in recent days. Google confirmed it was testing this offering, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Advertisers have reported mixed results on their AdSense campaigns since the network launched in 2003. The consensus has been that the contextual placements increase traffic but offer a lower ROI than pure search listings.

Overture responded to similar concerns about its bid management system nearly two years ago, allowing separate bidding on search and content listings. Google held out however, instead producing a feature called SmartPricing, which promised to automatically charge advertisers less for lower performing ads.

But marketers have continued to clamor for control over their bid prices in each channel. With the introduction of content bids, it appears the company has finally given in to those requests. SmartPricing will continue, however, for advertisers who want to run their ads on the context network but decline to bid separately.

“Given the fixed inventory of pure search impressions, the success of the engines relies on advertiser adoption of contextual and behavioral traffic,” said Kevin Lee, chairman of search engine marketing firm “I join many in the industry in applauding Google’s responsiveness to feedback, even if it took a couple of years.”

Lee noted the separate bidding structure will alleviate some awkward maneuvering advertisers have engaged in to address the issue.

“This does finally open up the ability for marketers to opt into content without having to resort to cumbersome campaign structures which were a solution used by advertisers prior to this change,” he said.

To set separate bids for ads targeted on content, AdWords users must edit their settings on each individual campaign. Unless they select a separate “content bids” box, Google will use their regular bids — adjusted by SmartPricing — for the contextual listings.

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