Google Content: New Strategies and Options

Most marketers treat AdSense for content in the Google content network as if it were search advertising, particularly when the ad being served is a text-link ad. Reality is, contextually targeted text-link ads — or even behaviorally targeted text-link ads — aren’t true search ads. Plus, the vast majority of advertisers who have tried Google content have only run text advertising within the network.

Although display ads will outperform text ads within this network, many advertisers are reluctant to test the contextual targeting network with display ads because Google hasn’t allowed non-Google ad serving. (I hesitate to use the term “third-party ad serving” because it assumes that neither the publisher nor advertiser owns the server.)

The lines between search (including keyword-targeted text links) and display media (keyword-targeted display advertising) are blurring. Will marketers classify graphical media running in the Google network as less search-like than text ads currently running there? I’m not sure, but advertisers most likely to take advantage of Google’s display ad opportunities will be those who currently take advantage of both search and contextual text advertising — which is why I’m covering this issue today.

While many advertisers have some banners that might be appropriate for the AdSense network, Google’s policy on using external ad servers (previously called third-party ad servers) has limited their use. This restriction is disappearing, however, according to an announcement on the Google blog. Unfortunately, it appears the transition to non-Google ad serving will progress far more slowly than most of us in the industry would prefer.

Google will know certify “third-party” ad servers. Currently, only two traditional display ad servers certified to run in the North American content network: DoubleClick DART (no surprise here) and ValueClick’s MediaPlex. Notably absent is Atlas, the Microsoft-owned ad-serving platform. Several rich media ad-serving companies whose platforms could also serve non-rich media are listed separately, including Eyeblaster, EyeWonder, Interpolls, PointRoll, and Unicast. The rationale for certification wasn’t particularly clear in the announcement, which cited “a certification process that ensures the highest level of advertiser service and user experience.” That’s a bit vague, and clearly other vendors have similar levels of infrastructure and perhaps even lower ad-serve latencies.

I hope to see additional display ad servers certified to run within the AdSense network. Actually, Google should have waited until at least a couple more traditional display ad servers were certified. Most ad networks or major online publishers (which have much more of a reputation to protect in regards to readership and fast ad load times) have a far greater list of ad servers deemed acceptable for advertiser use. Major marketers and agencies who aren’t currently using DART or Mediaplex aren’t generally in a position to change ad-server technologies, nor would they be likely to change only to gain access to the Google content network. It looks bad for Google to have a policy in place that seems exclusionary and pro-DART.

If you choose to experiment with the display ad network at Google, take note of another interesting policy that’s a bit strange and unlike those of other ad networks. This policy specifies: “The keywords that trigger your image ads must relate to the content on your destination URL,” just like text ads.

So if BMW wants to target golf, investing, or parenting keywords under the assumption that its target audience has a very high affinity for this kind of content, the company would be in violation of AdSense policies unless it built out relevant landing page content. This policy will also limit an advertiser who wants to find creative ways to target contextually without having the banners and landing pages always match or mirror the content on the publisher page.

Consumers don’t have an expectation that the advertising they see on a site is directly associated with the content. But I understand how establishing this policy will make ad approval more automated. In the same way that Google spiders landing pages for PPC (define) search to assign a landing page Quality Score, Google could spider display-ad landing pages to validate that the content fits the ad group’s keywords. Over time, this policy may change, providing for interesting uses of content-only campaigns and allowing marketers and agencies to use psychographic affinity keyword targeting methods that help the marketer reach the right consumer.

Next week, I’ll cover best practices in Google content for text-link advertising using all the techniques at your disposal. Often what works best in search isn’t right for contextual text-link ads.

Join us for SES Search Engine Marketing Training on June 4, at Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile.

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