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Marketing Watchdog Journal
  May 2010, Issue 75

Jim McKinley  
Bulldog Content Network
Search Marketing
Hit a Search Home Run:
Major League Baseball and the Content Network

By Jim McKinley, Principal, 360Partners

The rites of summer have officially begun: baseball season. It already looks like it may be a long season for the Astros, while there could be some new teams besides the Yankees and Red Sox coming out of the American League.


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Surprisingly enough, there are some fundamental principles that make Major League Baseball (MLB) successful that can be applied to Google's content network.

The content network is the world's largest advertising network, capturing almost 80% of all online audiences. Because it is so expansive, it's easy to get your business in front of people. But, buyer beware. Larger audiences and little knowledge of how to manage the content network can make for a disastrous combination. Many marketing budgets have dried up with little success as inexperienced marketers blindly create content campaigns without proper strategies for making them work.

Major League Baseball and the Minor League System

Major League Baseball has a robust system for developing talent. Essentially, MLB has created a hierarchy of different player levels. Players with a lot of raw talent but who have not had time to refine their skills might be assigned to the "rookie" or Class-A leagues. As players get better, they might progress to AAA or even the major leagues if they are good enough.

The current minor league system looks like this:

ClassPlayer typeAvg. Salary
Major LeagueMost proficient athletes$249,000/month
Triple-AGood enough for the major league, but held in minors due to circumstance$2,150/month
Double-AUsually players who will be in the majors by the end of the season$1,500/month
Class-ALess experienced players with issues to better develop$1,050/month
RookiePlayers fresh out of high school or college$850/month

At these different stages, the players can get the most playing time, which is critical to their development. This system is always changing because evaluation of players is ongoing. Coaches and scouts meet regularly to discuss performance of players at each level. If players improve, they are called up or promoted to a higher level. Players can also be demoted to a lower class team or even released from the system entirely if they don't play well.

Well-developed minor league systems ensure that the major league team is fully stocked with the world's greatest talent—both for today and tomorrow.

Applying the principles of the minor league baseball farm system to your content network campaigns can greatly improve your results. A high-performing content campaign usually produces more volume at a lower cost, something all businesses want. This article aims to outline seven principles of developing a robust minor and major league system for the content network.

Applying Major League Baseball to the Content Network

Tip #1: You have thousands of players on your content network team.

Major League Application: Consider these thousands of websites as if they were individual players drafted onto your team. All have the potential to drive more traffic to your site. However, all of the "players" will have different skill levels in their ability to deliver customers to your business.

Tip #2: Let Google manage your farm system while you manage your major league system.

There are two types of targeting options in the content network: automatic placements and managed placements.

Automatic placements place the responsibility on Google's algorithm to find relevant content throughout its vast partner network. Essentially, the advertiser lets Google find the websites and places your ads on them.

Managed placements put the responsibility of finding relevant sites on the advertiser. The advertiser specifies which websites they'd like to advertise with and have complete control over the advertising experience.

Major League Application: Consider the automatic placements as your minor league farm system and Google as your "Director of Player Development," whose responsibility it is to find the next wave of relevant sites where you can advertise your product.

Consider the managed placement as your major league team. Consider yourself the manager of the team. You control the lineup, the pitching changes, everything.

Tip #3: Don't give out $1 million contracts to minor league players.

There are many websites that you have never seen before. Due to the matching algorithm and how you've put your content campaign together, there are going to be both good and bad sites where your advertisement shows. Because of this, 360Partners recommends bidding at 70% or less of what you'd normally bid on a regular search campaign.

Major League Application: Your farm system is filled with good and bad talent. Make sure you don't give them million-dollar contracts when they haven't proven themselves to be major league talent.

Tip #4: Release your bad players.

In order for your content campaign to be successful, 360Partners recommends that advertisers regularly run placement reports and remove bad sites. This step is critical to making the content network a success.

Major League Application: Regularly visit the talent of your farm system. Your Director of Player Development has invited many players into the system. You need to release the poor performing players in order to give the better players more opportunity to grow.

Tip #5: Give your players enough playing time before you decide if they are good or bad.

Allow your automatic placements to accrue enough data to make a valid determination of whether you want to regularly advertise on those sites. This may take weeks or even months. These sites may have poor performing days combined with good performing days. Make sure your decision is statistically significant before you promote, demote or cut altogether.

Major League Application: Give your players enough pitches and at-bats. Don’t make decisions if they strike out the side or go 3 for 4 in one game. After you've given your talent time to shine, make the recommendation. You may recommend batting them higher in the lineup or moving them up to a higher minor league team.

Tip #6: Call up your best players to the major leagues.

After enough data has been collected from a specific website, you can make the decision as to whether or not the site is ready to be managed on a more granular level. If you decide to target the specific website, you add them to your managed placement campaign. You bid at the website level and monitor performance towards your defined business objectives.

Major League Application: You've evaluated your player and determined that he is ready for the major leagues. The player is called up and given major league treatment.

Tip #7: Find other ways to use your best players to generate revenue for your team.

Continue to give the website specific attention. If it performs well, take advantage of every advertising opportunity presented. This includes text and all image ad spaces available. Increase and decrease your bidding based on performance, seasonality, time of day, day of week, etc.

Major League Application: The player has the major league contract and you should leverage their ability to maximize your team's performance.

Long-term success in marketing is an ongoing, evolving process. Channels and techniques that work today may not work tomorrow. Top marketers are always evolving and trying new things. Search engine marketing is no different. Traditionally, search marketing has been an excellent use of marketing budget because it is measurable and delivers a high ROI. Businesses consistently find it to be an effective and cost-efficient method to acquire new customers.


There are valuable principles that Google's content network can leverage from America's favorite pastime. 360Partners firmly believes in the potential of content networks as a way to expand volume. When properly managed, they are a strong asset for any marketing initiative. If you feel like your business could benefit from a well-structured content campaign, please reach out and let us know how we can help your business grow.

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Jim McKinley is principal at 360Partners.

Marketing Watchdog Journal is a monthly newsletter from Bulldog Solutions, an online marketing agency that changes the way BtoB companies define demand-generation strategy, engage prospects and convert leads to customers. We welcome your feedback on this newsletter's content and design, and encourage you to share your ideas for topics you would like us to cover in future issues. Please send your comments or questions about Bulldog Solutions to Amy Bills, director of Field Marketing.

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