Why Google AdWords Site Targeting Usually Does Not Work

5 Comments Written on June 25th, 2008 by
Categories: Contextual Advertising, Google Adwords

When you buy ads direct from a publisher they usually charge a premium rate above what that ad inventory would sell for if it was sold through an automated ad auction. When Google launched site targeted AdSense ads years ago it was a cheap way for advertisers to buy specific audiences. Perfect for brand advertisers, but not as good for direct marketers. Why?

Advertising in Deep Dark Corners

It turns out that when you buy site targeted ads you typically first get exposure on the least valuable pages and least valuable ad units within a site. It makes sense that if all you want to do is advertise on a particular site then of course Google is going to sell you the inventory they struggled to monetize with their traditional keyword targeted PPC ads. So if the site has an offbeat category, or an AdSense ad block that is below the fold in the right column, those are the ad positions you are buying first.

Overpaying for Premium Exposure

You can buy your way into the more premium positions on the best pages too, but in order to do so you must bid high, which means you end up bidding at premium rates on the best pages, and you end up bidding too high for the backfill / remnant ad inventory on the least valuable pages. Not only are you losing money buying that off targeted backfill inventory, but you are competing against the most targeted ads on the most valuable pages, so it is hard to make money from buying site targeted ads unless they have a small niche site or are in a category where the ad market is exceptionally inefficient.

How to Buy Site Targeted Ads

There are some hacks around the issue of wasting money on site targeting though. The easiest of which is to look for footprints (URL, footer text, author name, etc.) on a site or the section of the site you want to advertise on and bid on those related keywords. If there is a section of the site that is irrelevant you can look for related footprints that are specific to those pages and use them as negative keywords.

>> Subscribe to our blog posts via email to get more great posts like this one!

5 comments “Why Google AdWords Site Targeting Usually Does Not Work”

Great points. The other issue for us has been volume. You’re just not going to get much traffic from being in the remnant inventory and getting the typically low CTR.

I don’t remember there being any ads we’ve site targeted that have been worth the effort (yet). Have you had any successes – or least campaigns that have been worth the time to setup with site-targeting?

I have not done well with site targeting, but have done some decent conversions by bidding on author’s name, URL, and then name of some of the more popular pages/articles on their site.

Nice tips Aaron.

I’ve used the reports in Adwords to find those backwater sites that are doing me no favours and I just block them.

By careful pruning of useless sites, tweaking keywords and also looking at the when ads run (cheaper times balanced against conversion rates) you can sometimes stumble across of goldmine.

Of course it never last and what was once a winning strategy on one website loses momentum and you need to move on.


“bidding on author’s name, URL, and then name of some of the more popular pages/articles on their site”

you mean in the content network (not placement), right? are there any good articles out there about effective bidding in content or targeting in clever ways to get the most exposure?

thanks for the tips. the author thing sounds like a good idea.

I believe if keyword relevance and sites that are connected but not competing with each other are most suitable for site targeting ad distribution.
What you highlighted about the poor quality of the advertising product on low value publishers cannot be correct in all aspect. Advertise where relevant for car rental website advertise advertising on a hotel blog or holiday makers blog should not be determined as low value as these two areas are highly relvant to each other.
Where advertising is published on relevant websites then the two should complement each other, this what the advertiser must look for. However if your advertising campaign is general then what you have described in your article would certainly be what is expected.

Leave a Reply