In December 2016, I wrote about an exciting new release from Google called Display Content Keywords. content keywords had just been released from Beta, and although early results were promising, it was too early to fully evaluate the performance of content keywords vs. more traditional GDN targeting methods.

After a few more months of testing, I’m pleased to share some insights into Display Content Keywords performance, using 2017 data from 2 different ecommerce advertisers. For each advertiser, I created one campaigns for content keywords, as well as separate campaigns with more “traditional” GDN targeting methods, like traditional keywords, interest audiences, topics, etc., and a campaign with managed placements selected to show ads only on our best performing website placements.

We did see a bit of a mixed bag for performance of content keywords. On one hand, content keywords generally drove stronger CTRs than the competition, but revenue and conversion performance was mixed. Whether you choose to use content keywords, and how much you choose to invest in them, will likely depend on your account goals.

Google Content Keywords Example #1

Chart with Content Keywords, Keywords & Topics and Managed Placements.

Google Content Keywords Example #2

Second chart with content keywords, targeting overlays and managed placements.

Google Content Keyword Performance

Overall results of testing content keywords returned a bit of a mixed bag. In the two accounts we tested, content keywords consistently drove higher CTRs, but lower ROAS and conversion metrics.

In both instances, content keywords drove significantly higher CTRs than the more traditional targeting. In Account #1, CTR was almost double that of keyword and topic targeting, and 3x that of our managed placements campaign. This high CTR, combined with a scan of the automatic placements report, indicates that content keywords generate highly-relevant placements and show ads to a qualified audience.

In terms of direct return, results were mixed across accounts. In Account #1, content keywords drove a better CTR and ROAS than the traditional targeting campaign, with 12% more revenue per 1000 impressions. While direct return has thus far been much lower for content keywords in Account #2, high CTR and low CPCs has driven significant site traffic at a low overall cost.


In this post I evaluated both the direct ROAS return of content keywords, as well as the relevance of the targeting based on placements and CTR. It’s important to note, however, that while you can drive direct revenue through GDN Display campaigns, the GDN is most impactful for new customer acquisition, and the indirect performance improvements it drives in your other marketing efforts, such as by contributing to increased brand searches and direct traffic. When evaluating your own Display campaigns, it’s important to keep your goal in mind – do you need to drive direct sales, or can you invest in filling the sales funnel?

The strong CTRs and highly-relevant placements that content keywords achieved indicate that our ads reached a highly relevant audience. Even if they didn’t purchase immediately, this audience is likely to return to make a purchase down the line.

While results vary advertiser to advertiser, these results suggest that you should at least test content keywords as part of any GDN effort.