PPC Contextual Ad Tuning: Avoid Creative Burnout

In traditional marketing, “ad burnout” describes a decrease in ad effectiveness over time as ad exposure frequency exceeds certain milestones. Ad burnout has been measured both around specific creative units (the same TV or print ad) and individual marketing messages (this is why soft drinks change their general ad message every few years).

Ad burnout has never really been a problem in PPC (define) search marketing. User behavior generally limits the number of times searchers are be exposed to an ad. Even if you run a combination of generic and specific keywords in a campaign, chances are your creative is slightly different to take advantage of searchers’ differing states of mind, as expressed through keyword choice. You might even have the opportunity to expose searchers to a tuned ad message several times during their prepurchase research.

Yet, text link ad burnout will become an increasingly important factor over the next several years. Perhaps it’s already an issue for you. Emergence of contextual networks in the PPC engines running parallel to the search networks raises the risk of ad burnout.

Google, for example, uses the same ad creative for search and contextual listings (AdSense). Yahoo split Content Match into its own tab within the Direct Traffic Center (DTC), and in Yahoo, bids and creative can be separately controlled.

Like many power AdWords users, we use a trick to allow us to tap into Google’s AdSense network while retaining return on investment (ROI) for clients. The trick is to clone more critical, higher volume campaigns and select the extended contextual network for the second campaigns but bid at a lower level to allow Google’s system to pick from the right campaigns based on the options selected.

Of course, bids on the campaign should be determined by client objectives and contextual traffic’s relative performance. This cloned campaign structure also allows for a content-centric creative strategy. The usage environment for contextual ads is quite different from search. So though the campaign structure for search and contextual campaigns may be identical, the best creative may change.

Many search marketers and clients already use this technique to broaden reach and control costs, volumes, and spending across Google’s ever-expanding network. Make certain you don’t get into a situation where the match types favor your search-and-contextual campaign over your search-only campaign. According to Google, the AdWords system always looks first for an exact match type within a specific client account before looking for a phrase or broad match. If a campaign isn’t correctly structured, you may find an ad not running in search because the match type in the search-and-contextual campaign was set to “exact” while the search-only was set to “broad match.”

I’ll cover the complexities of AdWords categorization in another column. Suffice it to say it’s worth double-checking for obvious problems when setting up campaign structures.

It’s too early to predict what MSN’s plans are in respect to search syndication and potential contextual syndication. Yet, it’s impossible to discount rumors circulating among the financial and marketing communities that MSN is planning to be a serious SEM (define) contender, as well fight in the behavioral and contextual media markets. Many believe MSN was seriously interested in acquiring Claria but was spooked by press and public reaction when its interest was leaked. None of the rumors addressed whether MSN is still interested in pursuing the contextual or behavioral network it would have acquired with Claria. MSN’s site, which includes Hotmail, represents a significant inventory opportunity. There’s ample opportunity for MSN to experiment with auction-based contextual and behavioral PPC inventory once the search product is up and running.

Back to the issue of contextual versus search creative. As the percentage of media you buy (clicks, not impressions, assuming you pay by the click) goes up, it’s more important for you to test whether the same creative is right for both audiences. If you target high-inventory contextual markets, your ad may even be seen dozens of times by the same person. A blog that’s updated multiple times per day may run contextual ads, resulting in very high frequencies, for example.

Rotating creative is a win-win. Constantly test for the best creative and avoid burnout. Search and contextual marketing are clearly converging in the engines. That doesn’t mean your creative and marketing strategy should be identical. Think about what differentiates a searcher from a surfer, and plan accordingly.

Meet Kevin at Search Engine Strategies August 8-11 in San Jose, CA.

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Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.