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First, I would like to state for the record that I am in love with just about anything and everything that Google does. Having said that, I do have a bone to pick with them concerning their content network.

What exactly is the content network? Google’s content network is comprised of hundreds of thousands of sites that allow Google to show targeted AdWords ads on them. This is called “AdSense” from the website publisher’s perspective. Google’s system “contextually” targets these ads by scanning each web page displaying AdSense and then displaying ads relevant to the content present on the page. So, a web page dedicated to golf might show ads relating to golf clubs, balls or vacations.

This allows advertisers to reach potential customers by advertising on websites that they visit on a regular basis, rather than simply advertising in the search results of Google.

Google’s content network is great, and can be a valuable component of a search engine marketing campaign. The problem I have is twofold:

  1. The value of clicks from the content network is less than from the search network; a user on a golfing website who clicks your ad for golf clubs is less likely to purchase than a user on Google who searches for “buy golf clubs”
  2. Google automatically opts advertisers into the completely “optional” content network, without any explanation of what it is, or a disclaimer about the variance in value per click.

Google’s AdWords support site states that “New keyword-targeted campaigns are automatically opted in to distribution on the Google Network, so if you want your ads to appear on search and content sites and products, then you don’t need to do a thing.”

Herein lies the problem; it is not doing me a favor to opt me automatically into the content network. In fact, there is no way to opt out of the content network while creating the campaign; even if the seemingly “optional” CPC content bid field is left blank, I am still opted in to the content network.

I can see this being a source of confusion for many AdWords users, as leaving an optional field blank typically means you are choosing not to opt in, but that is not how it is interpreted here. In order to turn off the content network, you have to go back into the campaign settings after the campaign is activated and turn it off from there.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is extremely deceptive, especially for a company whose mantra is “do no evil”. I create campaigns like it’s my job (it is!) and even I occasionally forget to go into the campaign settings immediately after to turn it off.

I cannot fathom the amount of inadvertent money spent (much of it wasted) by advertisers who have no idea that their money is being spread across the content network. If I am a new advertiser signing up to “advertise on Google”, it is a fair assumption that on Google is where my ads will appear.

Apparently, I am not alone; a few weeks ago Kabateck Brown Kellner, LLP, filed a lawsuit against Google for this very gripe. The suit was filed on behalf of David Almeida and claims that Google is deceiving AdWords users into spending money on advertising they did not explicitly request; automatically being opted in to the content network when the CPC content bid field is left blank is the basis for the suit. The lawsuit states that, “By redefining the universally understood meaning of an input form left blank, and then intentionally concealing this redefinition, Google has fraudulently taken millions of dollars from Plaintiff and the members of the class.” Kabateck has previously taken part in multi-million dollar click fraud settlements against both Google and Yahoo; maybe this is just who we need to put a stop to these deceptive tactics. In the meantime, keep an eye on those content settings!


4 thoughts on “Google’s (Mal)content Network
  1. Great Blog Ali! Speaking on behalf of all consumers, we do not like sneaky tricks!

  2. D-Train says:

    I think it is great for our business. Clients always come to us saying they spent way too much on their own and didn’t get conversions for their clicks.

    This is probably happening because they left the content setting on. Oh and because…they are thousanddollarprofits! Nice relevant topic Ali.

    And thanks for commenting on my blog.

  3. Mike Mothner says:

    Ali I must say… that is a terrifically witty title to complement a great blog. I actually made this same plea to Google directly at their Client Forum last fall, but have yet to see a change.

    The other thing I brought up is that to build a good content campaign, you fundamentally build it in a different way, by using keywords and “themes” that you many times would not include in a search-targeted campaign.

  4. Adria says:

    If we can no longer trust the almighty Google, who can we trust?

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