Intro to AdWords (Part 3): Buying PPC Ads on Google "Search" or "Content Network"?

When buying traffic (paid advertising) through Google’s Adwords service, there is an important distinction to be understood between buying traffic on Google’s well-known search results pages, and buying traffic on their Content Network.

For many businesses, ONLY advertising on Google’s search pages is the mainstay of their paid traffic strategy.

However, the Content Network is workable for other businesses.

Google’s Content Network includes all the websites that host ads for Google, and whose publishers are paid when their visitors click on the ads.

One advantage of the Content Network is that ad costs are lower than on the search pages.

But since traffic from the Content Networks comprises a different mindset in relation to viewer interest in such ads, these ads not only necessitate a different copywriting strategy, they may simply NOT be workable for a given business.

Of course, in both circumstances, the ads are displayed only when they are contextually relevant. For example, if you are paying to advertise motorcycles, those ads will only show up for people who are searching for motorcycles (for the search page ads), and they will only show up on website pages that have content that has to do with motorcycles (via the Google’s Content Network).


The thinking underlying the difference between buying ads on search pages and buying ads on the Content Network could be summed up as follows:

  1. Paid ads that are displayed on the search pages represent ads that are relevant to what the searcher has actually indicated they are looking for “right now.” So the ads have a greater potential tendency to engage visitors. (Someone searches for “motorcycles” and sees search results for “motorcycles” as well as ads for “motorcycles.”)
  2. Paid ads that are displayed on the Content Network, however, are presented to viewers who have already gone to a website for information, and the ads “may” be deemed more of a distraction. However, the ads are still contextually relevant, in the same way they are on the search pages. (Searcher arrives on a website that has an article about “motorcycles” and sees ads about “motorcycles.”)

As an example, let’s say someone is searching for information about “buying a motorcycle.” When the searcher is reviewing the displayed results of his/her search, he will likely also see paid ads from advertisers who are selling motorcycles. Depending upon where such a searcher is in the process of possibly buying a motorcycle, he may, or may not, be interested in advertisements to buy motorcycles at that moment. He may only be interested in free information about the process of selecting motorcycles.

If that same person then clicks on a search result and goes to a website page that has an article on selecting the best motorcycle, the searcher has found something they are interested in. If that website ALSO happens to be hosting Google’s paid ads (as part of the Google Content Network), then the searcher may once again see ads on buying motorcycles. So, an important question would be, “Is this searcher more inclined, or less inclined, to click on an ad about ‘buying motorcycles’ on the web page he/she has visited, as compared to the search page?”

Market testing will provide the answer for any given product or service.

The distinction is significant enough to recognize that if you are interested in maximizing the performance of your ad budget, ads should be tested on the search pages and ads should be tested on the Content Network separately.

On the other hand, the different mindset of the searcher/visitor on the Content Network “MAY” represent a lower cost media opportunity and even a better quality lead. To continue the example above, let’s suppose the searcher elects to read an article on the process of buying motorcycles and as a result of reading the articles, discovers that there is much more to know about this subject than he/she originally considered.

And then let’s suppose this website visitor sees an advertisement for a book on selecting motorcycles.

At this point, such a person may be considerably MORE inclined to click on such an ad, even if the same ad were displayed on the original search results page. And to further emphasize the different mindset that could be established after a searcher lands on a website, what if that same article about the process of buying motorcycles also recommended the reader buy a book?

You can probably imagine your own scenarios where the Content Network could be a better or worse media. Hence, they need to be tested separately.


Bear in mind that Google charges less to advertise on their Content Network because it is not as effective for most advertisers. However, not all advertisers are savvy enough to test DIFFERENT ads on the Content Network, so these advertisers are missing out on a potential opportunity to generate more leads/sales for less money. The fact that some advertisers simply choose NOT to advertise on the Content Network because their results are not as profitable, is part of why the price is lower. But if they never tested DIFFERENT ads on the Content Network, they never actually found out if there is a real opportunity or not. (And again, for some products/services, the testing may confirm that the Content Network does not present an opportunity).

To establish the most fruitful pay-per-click ad testing, it is best to run such ad campaigns independent of each other: Conduct one series of tests on the search pages and another series of tests on the Content Network.

Depending upon the resources you have available to devote to testing, you might even test each area one-at-a-time, instead of concurrently, for the sake of simplicity.

Click here to view the current Introduction to Google Adwords series, and check back to see more as the series continues to expand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *