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Context ads not working

Link: Web search content ads seen falling short

A study from NewGate compared the performance of Google search and contextual campaigns for two clients. Results showed that click-through rates were 14 times to 150 times higher on the search ads than the contextual ads. The cost per lead, or order, was two to eight times higher for contextual campaigns.

Look to your left. See the ads mixed in to my menu bar? Those are what they are talking about. What you see there is based on Google's analysis of the content of this page. If this bloglet were about security, you might see ads for firewalls and other security related products there. However, because the art of analyzing content is pretty rough (especially when you are trying to do it very, very quickly), the very appearance of words that might be found in an article about preventing breakins can cause Google to think that is the context, and therefore those sorts of ads will appear.

When the content is more focused, the ads will be much more relevant. If you visit the more technical areas of this site, you are much more apt to see ads that are right on target. That's to everyone's advantage: if you came here looking for information on RAID controllers, seeing ads from people who make such hardware just adds to the value of what you have found. If the presentation intrigues you enough to click through, the advertiser gets a chance to show their offerings in more depth, and I make a little money. That's a win for everyone.

But when Google can't properly identify the context, or identifies it incorrectly, there are two possibilities: the ads are either just meaningless and you ignore them, or (worse), the ads are annoying, distracting and egregiously inappropriate and therefore adversely affect your experience. That latter isn't pleasant for you, certainly isn't good for the advertiser, and at best doesn't help my income.

Wildly inappropriate ads can be controlled by the web site itself: don't run ads in inappropriate places. I wouldn't place any ads on an article mentioning the death of some prominent tech figure, and there are other places around this site where I don't run ads for various other reasons. Too many sites don't have good control though: they use software they don't understand to serve pages and ads, and actually don't really control what you see: there have been examples of a suitcase ad appearing next to a story about a grisly murder where a body was stored in a suitcase. Such things never needed to happen.

If the context ads aren't effective, advertisers do notice:

Mark Aistrope, president of Ohio-based Meeting Tomorrow, which sends LCD projectors to business travelers, said he would like to pay less for his contextual key words.

Well of course he would. Something wrong with that quote though: with this sort of advertising, you bid for keywords. If you are paying too much, that's your own fault. Lower your bid. What may be the problem here is that Mark needs to bid higher than he should to be seen at all, either because other folks get better results and are willing to pay more or because too many other advertisers are blinking idiots and are paying too much. If it's the latter case, that won't last. It may well be the former though, especially if you look at what he's selling. How many web pages are contextually relevant to what he wants to sell? Travel in general doesn't do it, it needs to be business travel specifically, or perhaps a direct review of LCD projectors. That's the only place his ads can possibly be relevant. Irrelevant ads are ignored, or perhaps clicked on out of idle curiousity rather than real interest; very bad for the advertiser because it is clicks that they pay for. Mark did add that's he's happy nonetheless because he feels he's getting brand recognition, which is a positive aspect even when the context isn't on target.

Reprise Media's Joshua Stylman said contextual campaigns can be very effective if managed well,

The question there is how you manage it. You do have control of the keywords you use, and the bid price. But you can't control whether Google or Overture (the other big player in this area) decide that this page right here is the appropriate place to put your ad for vacation condominiums in Florida. Hopefully nothing that far off base appears in the ads you are seeing, but that kind of thing can happen, and it actually is more likely to happen the more general the web page is.

Maybe the answer is that Google and Overture need to improve their contextual matching and, perhaps more importantly, need to be more selective where ads run. Right now, everybody and their brother run these ads. As I've noted, they can be good for all parties involved when the context is tight, but are useless or even counterproductive otherwise. Google does use non-revenue generating public service ads when it can't identify context, but it probably needs to do that more often than it does. Do the ads you are seeing on this page make sense? I bet at best they are vaguely Unix related, which I suppose is OK, but this particular page is, I think, unlikely to get really appropriate ads, and that's not good for any of us.

By the way, in general I think context ads here work pretty well. Most of what I see does make sense, and is apt to be of interest to someone reading the pages. I see that the click-through rate is around 1% or a little a little higher, and that's good: it means that the ads probably are appropriate in context.

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© Tony Lawrence

Wed Jan 21 23:29:35 2009: 5223   anonymous

Great site.

Wed Jan 21 23:31:22 2009: 5224   TonyLawrence

OK, you are banned..

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