Google, the Media Network, Part 1

For the next few minutes, abandon your tendency to think of Google as a search engine. Focus instead on Google the media company, one that wants to turn the way we purchase online advertising on its ear.

What Is It Called?

Explaining this entity is not easy at all. To begin with, there’s confusion over what to call the non-search side of Google advertising, both within and outside of Google. “AdWords” is associated with PPC (define) Google search engine ads. It doesn’t clearly distinguish search from non-search.

Calling non-search buys “AdSense” is also inappropriate. AdSense is really a publisher term, referring to the program Google developed to share click revenue with publishers in exchange for Google ads appearing on those publishers’ sites. It’s through these publisher relationships that Google has grown its media network.

So what’s the right terminology? Frankly, I don’t even think Google knows. The AdWords Help Center itself mentions “Content Placement” and “Content Targeting” (with subreferences to “Content Distribution” and “Contextual Targeting”). It also cites the “Google Network” and the “Content Network.” Anyone who read ClickZ columnist Tessa Wegert’s great recent column “Lost in Translation” will understand how misleading interchanging this terminology can be.

The Google sales force too seems unclear as to what to call these non-search buys. They refer to the collective as the “Google Media Network.” My vote is with this last designation; it clearly delineates the non-search buy, is an easy phrase advertisers can embrace, and avoids the quagmire of “Content [fill-in-the-blank].” When pressed to define it, however, Google opts for “Content Network.” So for the sake of this column, that’s what we’ll call it.

What’s Google’s Content Network?

Just what the heck is the buying opportunity? The simplest explanation is the Google Content Network allows an advertiser to display ads on Web sites across the Net. Google ads on publisher sites are demarcated by “Ads by Goooooogle,” such as the Google ads on the bottom of the “Health” section page of “The New York Times.”

End of the simple answer.

Types of Content Network Ads

Google now allows an advertiser to set up Content Network campaigns separately from search campaigns. Hallelujah! This wasn’t always the case. By separating the two campaigns, the advertiser can set up different pricing (important, because contextually targeted ads typically underperform compared to search). They can also create different ad messages and separate ad tracking.

Ads within the Google Content Network can be keyword-driven or Web-site specific, the latter being called “Site Targeting.” Both types offer geotargeting. With keyword-driven ads, the advertiser lets Google control where its ads appear throughout the Web. The advertiser enters relevant keywords, and Google matches editorial content with those keywords and displays its top three advertisers’ ads. Similar to search, these ads are purchased on a CPC (define) auction basis.

Keyword-driven ads can be text ads (same specs as search ads) or image ads (graphical display ads comprising five IAB standard sizes: banner, leaderboard, medium rectangle, skyscraper, and wide skyscraper).

Site Targeting returns control to the advertiser. He can handpick individual sites where the ad will appear. Site Targeting facilitates image ad placements. It’s therefore far more akin to traditional online media buying and probably less likely to be handled by a search marketer.

Google’s Site Tool helps advertisers locate the sites that might be appropriate for the campaigns. Advertisers can further narrow placement on a site by “site section,” the ability to indicate sections or single pages of a site on which the ad is to appear. Though Site Targeting also runs off a competitive auction, the auction is CPM (define) based, not CPC based, with a minimum bid of $0.25 CPM.

On any given publisher’s site, keyword-driven and site-targeted ads compete with one another for visibility. Because the two pricing models are different, Google converts the keyword ad’s CPC into an effective CPM (eCPM) and compares it to all other keyword ad eCPMs and to the max CPM prices of eligible site-targeted ads. The highest-ranking ad wins the position and is displayed to the user. In layman’s terms, this generally means the advertiser with the site-targeted image ad must bid at extraordinarily high CPMs for his ads to even display.

It’s complexity like this, as well as topics like fluid auction-based campaign buys, campaign auditing and optimization, use of third-party ad servers, proof of delivery, and agency customer service, that I’ll discuss in part two.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Related reading