In my last blog, “Build­ing Your Brand with SEM,” I talked about three dif­fer­ent ways to improve brand aware­ness and rep­u­ta­tion using SEM tools. One of these ways is run­ning con­tex­tu­ally tar­geted ads on con­tent net­works. There are many con­tent net­works, some run by the Web’s biggest names in search. In fact, you can opt in to some con­tent net­works just by check­ing off a box when set­ting up your SEM for cer­tain search engines. Con­tent net­works are direc­to­ries of con­tent providers (e.g. the New York Times web­page for news, or C|NET for prod­uct reviews). Con­tent net­works split these con­tent providers and their sub­se­quent web­pages into cat­e­gories by affin­ity. Com­pa­nies can thus adver­tise con­tex­tu­ally rel­e­vant ads on con­tent provider web­sites via con­tent networks.

The One Draw­back of Search

While SEM is cer­tainly timely and tar­geted, its one draw­back is that you can’t make peo­ple search for what you want them to. This seems obvi­ous, but SEM ads, unlike print ads, com­mer­cials, or bill­boards, rely on what the searchers search for. Using con­tent net­works, you might be able to par­tially over­come this draw­back while still main­tain­ing con­sumer rel­e­vance. Search mar­keters often use con­tex­tu­ally tar­geted ads on con­tent net­works as a way to expand their search net­works. Con­tent net­work ads can­not replace SEM, but mar­keters should use them to aug­ment the reach of search.

Con­tex­tu­ally tar­geted ads do not rely on the searcher, but rather on the web­site con­tent. Web­sites that have con­tent that relates to an ad might fea­ture this ad, although what ads the con­tent provider fea­tures is based on the ad’s rel­e­vance and qual­ity score—which is based on click­through rate among other things. Con­tex­tu­ally tar­geted ads are a way to intro­duce new things to peo­ple who might be inter­ested in them, but have never heard of them. Just like a com­mer­cial that intro­duces a new prod­uct to con­sumers who would oth­er­wise not know about it, con­tent net­work ads can show new prod­ucts to peo­ple who would oth­er­wise never search for them. The rel­a­tive advan­tage of con­tent net­works is that these peo­ple have already expressed rel­e­vant interests.

The Value of Con­tex­tu­ally Tar­geted Ads

Like I said before, you can’t replace search with con­tex­tu­ally tar­geted ads. Not only is the reach lim­ited, but also the con­sumers are not nearly as qual­i­fied as they are in search. So what is the value of run­ning ads on con­tent net­works? The great­est value of con­tex­tu­ally tar­geted ads is increased brand aware­ness. Typ­i­cally, ads on con­tent net­works get lots and lots of impres­sions, but only a minis­cule per­cent­age of those users actu­ally click on these ads. Of those who do click on the ads, con­ver­sion rates are decent, but not usu­ally as good as they are in SEM.

With con­tex­tu­ally tar­geted ads, you get lots of impres­sions, a low click-through rate (CTR) and a decent con­ver­sion rate. This is prob­a­bly because, although tar­geted, ads on con­tent net­works are not nearly as rel­e­vant to the searcher as ads in search. Also, ads run through con­tent net­works typ­i­cally run in rem­nant space, (the space left­over after con­tent providers sell their ban­ner ads) which is not prime web­page real estate. So while con­tex­tu­ally rel­e­vant ads may get a lot of views, view­ers don’t often click on them. The value still exists though, in dri­ving aware­ness and increas­ing brand recognition.

Are Con­tent Net­works Worth It?

Search mar­keters often avoid adver­tis­ing on con­tent net­works because of the pur­ported inef­fi­ciency and the typ­i­cally low CTRs. But the point of using con­tex­tu­ally rel­e­vant ads is not the same as the point of using SEM. Use con­tent net­works to build up your brand aware­ness, or when you release new prod­ucts. Plus—with con­tent net­work ads—you only pay per click, so no need to fret about the low CTRs. Think of con­tex­tu­ally tar­geted ads as a way to spread your SEM reach, and a way to intro­duce your prod­ucts to new poten­tial customers.