Google’s Content Network provides the potential to advertise on sites based on category, keywords, URL, demographic, or combination of keywords & URL. Advertisers can utilize Google’s network to display banners and text ads on hundreds of relevants sites from a familiar interface without having to look at rate cards, negotiate with salesmen, or commit to spending contracts.
But, Google does not do it for free.
Google is the middleman between advertisers and publication sites. Google connects their expansive network of sites with their expansive network of advertisers. In return, Google takes a bloated paycheck, skimming dollars from both sides.
For testing purposes, this setup makes sense. No marketer wants to commit to advertising on a site until she knows that advertising will pay off – that display advertising on the site will generate ROAS. Using AdWords Content Network, marketers can readily test hundreds of relevant sites and identify which sites will consistently provide sales or leads. This approach takes advantage of the network.
On the other hand, regularly spending a large amount per month on a small set of sites, is more in Google’s best interest than yours. Once you have identified strong-performing placements, it is time to cut out the middleman.
If you are unclear on which placements are worth pursuing, run a placement performance report within AdWords. Sort by monthly spend by domain, and weed out non-converting or poor performing placments (better yet, add these as negative placements). What you should be left with is a list of top-performing domains arranged by monthly spend.
Most likely, some of the top spend sites will include large social networking or publication sites. For this client MySpace, gmail, about.com, and Plenty of Fish (on a side note, do not go to plentyofish.com) all appeared in top placements by spend report. Typically, these sites are not relevant enough to pursue banner advertising with, and so they can be eliminated from consideration.
Once you have identified the sites that you would like to target, you are going to want to go to negotiations with the knowledge of what you currently pay per thousand impressions, per click, and on what pages your ads are showing on. This gives you a leg up when talking with the sales folk.
If you can readily provide what you are paying on AdWords (montly spend, CPM, and CPC), you put yourself in a position where the salesperson will have to beat it. From the sites perspective, it is also in their best interest to deal with the advertiser directly (and cut out Google altogether).
In the end, all should be happy (minus Google, but I doubt they will really care).
Furthermore, media buyers using Quantcast or other service to identify where to buy display ads should also consider using online ad networks instead. Ad networks can be used as a sandbox to inexpensively test potential sites. So rather than just compare demographics, reach, and cost, media buyers can measure how the display ads actually perform.
Just remember that once you have identified productive sites, ditch the middleman.