Reactions to Google’s Latest White Paper: CPA Performance Trends on the Content Network

Google has released a white paper touting the benefits of the Content Network. The paper provides the following analysis:

Ads on the Google Content Network can be an effective way to gain additional conversion beyond those you get via search.

  • When used in combination with Search, the median advertiser has a content CPA that’s within approximately 2% of their Search CPA.
  • The Content Network drives nearly 20% of total conversions for the median advertiser.

Conversion rates are higher for advertisers who used either of two AdWords campaign management controls: the Conversion Optimizer and site exclusion.

So essentially, Google is telling us two things:

1) The Content network is just as valuable as the traffic that we generate through Search.

2) Using Conversion Optimizer and through excluding poor Content sites we can expect to have conversion rates improve.

While I am not against using the Content Network (and we often do) I need some of the following questions answered before I can agree that it is just as valuable as the Search Network.


Question 1 – Intent

Over the last year or so, the Content network has been responsible for about 20% of total conversions that come from total Google. However, for any given high volume keyword or theme, the Content network can be responsible for up to 100 times more impressions on average. This comes down to basic marketing 101. Someone that is searching for a specific term (pull) is much deeper in the purchasing cycle than someone who happens to come across an add on a relevant site (push). Often times this variance in searcher intent leads to lower quality visits, more bounces, less time on site, and overall weaker value conversions.

Question 2 – Control

In search I can utilize matching types, different landing pages for keywords, negatives, and a myriad of other tools to control my search campaign. But most of all, I have the ability to choose which keywords I am advertising for. This is simple and impossible to overstate. On the Content network I am building my ad groups by theme and no matter how tight or concise that theme is, I do not have the same level of control as if I was choosing individual keywords.

Question 3 – Tools

This white paper suggests that by using Conversion Optimizer and site exclusion results in the Content Network will improve. Conversion Optimizer is a mysterious little tool that supposedly improves conversion rate in the Content Network by choosing best position for you, ad scheduling, and site placement. I’ve used it a few times and have seen no measurable positive impact. In one instance it actually took a fully functional and ROI positive campaign and reduced its total conversions by over 75% and nearly doubled the average conversion cost. Until we have further understanding and transparency of what Conversion Optimizer is actually doing I can’t reccommend it to any serious advertiser.

Site exclusion is an entirely separate animal and is required for a successful Content campaign. Many sites will be misaligned or poor performers for your campaigns and must be excluded.


The Content Network is in fact a valuable tool for Search Marketers, and it may in fact cost approximately the same to generate a conversion in Content as it does in Search, but I think we need more controls and transparency before we can even estimate the true value of these conversions.

Related Article:

PPC Hero: Highlights from Google’s Content Network CPA White Paper

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Stephanie Weagle — Stephanie Weagle, VP of Marketing, Corero Network Security

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