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Understanding the Difference Between SERP Ads and Content Network Ads

May 20, 2008
For most of the major search engine marketing platforms, there are two different places to run ads: on search engine results pages (SERPs) and on content pages. Search engine results pages are what you typically think of when discussing pay per click. Your ads are displayed when users search for terms that are the same or very similar to keywords you have specified in your account. Content network sites are non-search engine web sites devoted to some particular topic.

Web sites join content networks in order to monetize their traffic. Search engines split the revenue that is generated by each click of an ad on a content network site. The amount that can be earned for each click is dependent on how much advertisers have bid for the click. Clicks in more competitive industries will cost much more to the advertiser, so those clicks will be worth much more to the web site hosting the ad. Some internet entrepreneurs have made a lot of money building and promoting sites devoted to certain topics just to drive traffic to it so people will click on their ads.

For instance, let's say there is a hypothetical site called EverythingAboutFishing.com that is a member of Google's content network. Advertisers looking to advertise fishing products could choose to bid for clicks from the site, or choose to pay per thousand impressions (CPM). Either way, Google and the fishing web site will split the revenue generated from ads placed by relevant advertisers.

It has been my experience that ads on content sites generate far fewer clicks and conversions than ads on search engine results pages. This makes sense because no matter how relevant a web site is to the advertiser, viewers of the site will not be nearly as targeted as a search engine results page showing search results related to a specific keyword. Following are some of the main reasons you might want to use a content network rather than or in addition to search results:

1. You are on a tight budget in a competitive industry.

2. One of your goals is branding, or getting your business' name in front of as many people as possible.

3. You are in an industry in which there is not much search activity. For example, if you sell a new type of product that no one is searching for (because they don't know it exists), then content can help you drive traffic and increase awareness.

Beyond the exceptions listed above, you will generally generate much more traffic and get better results advertising on SERPs.

There are usually two ways to get your ads placed on sites in a content network. You can have your ads placed on the sites based on content that triggers your ad. This is the quickest way because you can just include the content network as part of your campaign setup. The other way to have your ads placed on content network sites is to run a site-specific campaign. The difference here is that your ads will only display on the exact web sites that you specify, regardless of the content on any other sites.

Content network ads may work well for your business, or they may not. The only way to know is to give it a try. Go conservative with your bidding at first and carefully monitor your conversions. Calculate your return on ad spend or cost per conversion for both search and content and go with the one that provides the best performance. If you just can't generate enough traffic using search alone, then add content to the mix.
About the Author
Jerry Work, president of Work Media, LLC, is an expert in PPC management and search engine optimization.
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