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Figuring Out How Content Ad Placement Works

PPC as a business began with search-engine placement; ads are placed on search-results pages after someone searches, based on the keywords the person entered into the search engine.

But you can also place ads on Web pages that are content pages, pages that are not search-results pages. In this context, in fact, the term content page pretty much means "any page that doesn't contain search results."

How does a PPC system decide what ads go onto what page? There are a couple of different ways:

  • Contextual placement
  • Selective placement

Because no search keywords are involved, the ads are placed onto the page depending on the context of the page — which is why these ads are often called contextual. That is, the ad is chosen depending on what the PPC system finds on the page. In other words, the PC system reads the page, figures out what the page is about predominantly, and then places ads on the page that match this subject.

Ads can be placed onto a page in another way: An advertiser can choose the type of sites, or even the specific sites, that should carry the ads. For instance, an advertiser might say, "Place this ad on sports pages on a newspaper's Web site," or even, "Place this ad on sports pages in newspapers in Colorado."

Here are some variations on the content placement theme:

  • An ad is placed automatically by the PPC service, based on keywords in the page. An attempt is made to make the ads relevant to the page, with varying degrees of success.
  • An ad is placed on a page, with some degree of relevance. An ad for climbing gear might be placed onto a site related to rock climbing. Google provides a service called site targeting that allows you to do this, for example.
  • A totally irrelevant ad is placed, by choice, on a page. For instance, a mortgage lender places an ad on the local newspaper's Web site, trying to reach residents of the city without regard to what subject area the page falls under. (Such ads have extremely low conversion rates, by the way.)

Industry-wide, the advice you'll hear is this: "Content placement doesn't work as well as search-result placement." So the first reason to beware is that vast combined experience says there's a problem.

One major issue is that the viewer of the ad on a content page is in a different state of mind, a less receptive state of mind. When someone uses a search engine, you can be very sure of one thing: That person is searching for something (and your product or service may fit the bill perfectly). On the other hand, when someone reads an article on a Web site, he may have no desire to go further than the information he is currently reading. When someone uses a search engine, there's a very good chance he's looking for product information (research shows that product research is a very common use of search engines). When someone reads an article on a Web site, he or she may have no interest in purchasing anything. The searcher is a great prospect; the reader is merely a tangential prospect.

Generating results from print advertising is very expensive, often too expensive for any company that has to show a direct result between ads and sales, and indeed this is a real problem in the print world. How do you ensure that people reading an article read the ads? (Though, in many cases, print materials are purchased for the ads; many people buy the Sunday newspapers to peruse the classifieds, for instance.) In any case, what's important is the comparison between content placement and search-result placement, not with other forms of advertising. Search-results PPC is an unusually effective form of advertising because it reaches people when they are seeking something.

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