Devil’s Advocate – In Defense of AdWords Content Targeting

As per Scott Hendison – Search Commander, in a recent SEMpdx blog post.

“In my experience the content network is the fastest way possible to blow the largest amount of money in the shortest amount of time, while still getting the lowest amount of conversions. If somebody wants to show me any figures that say otherwise I’ll gladly look at them, but I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face that it’s pretty low value.”

First – Scott knows his stuff, plus he has wit and a great sense of humor which makes digesting his advice so much easier.

Second – Scott’s main beef in this post, is that Google is heavy handed in funneling people into Content Targeting. I couldn’t agree more, shows that despite their corporate creed, Google has some dark spots, evilish even.

Third – Without care, Content Targeting is indeed a monetary sink hole.

Fourth – In the interest of saving me some time, getting client permission, etc, I am going to speak from general experience, and sidestep the “figures” challenge.

Fifth – Mainly what I am pushing back against is the idea that Content Targeting is worthless at all times in all situations.

Here it goes:

I too once condemned AdWords Content Targeting outright.
Until I ate some crow.

I started seeing a pattern to these crow eating situations. Content Targeting has a better chance of out performing (lower cost per conversion) keyword search when the conversion strategy is early on in the buying cycle. In other words, the conversion isn’t a purchase or a direct lead.


Simple Opt Ins: (free membership, newsletters, etc)
Downloads: (white papers, widgets, link bait, etc,)
Reputation Management: (views of Message, Point of View, another side of story, etc)

It is widely written that content targeting is a lousy direct response channel. Doesn’t mean it has no value in the larger value chain. I believe there is an AdWords bubble right now, for a lot of reasons. Mainly advertisers bidding on clicks without good valuation systems in place (conversion tracking, analytics), and then doing a poor job with that traffic once they have paid to get it to their site. Because of this bubble, give Content Targeting a second, careful, look.

Mind you it is still a tool with some built in peril. Placement Reports, site exclusion, super-tight ad groups and the like are all important in making Content Targeting work. But it can work.

Here are two examples where I found content targeting to be just as valid, if not more valid, than keyword search targeting.

A cross-platform chat widget: conversion goal – downloading the widget
A beta social site: conversion goal – signing up for an account

Wrap up analogy: Content Targeting is like a chain saw: if not used properly, you are going to bleed, badly. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a useful tool under the right circumstances.

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Tom Hale
Internet Strategist – AdWords Specialist