A Search Marketer’s Guide To Google Display Advertising

Google has been hard at work again on the AdWords interface to the Google Display Network (GDN), adding all sorts of new feature and interface updates. Take a quick glance at the AdWords help files online and you may be surprised at how many of the GDN targeting help pages have been updated just within the last few months.

Today, we’ll highlight a few important recent targeting updates you should be aware of, and in the coming months, we’ll drill down even more deeply into the art and science of working inside the GDN.

Google’s approach to display advertising – to make it accessible to search marketers not skilled in traditional advertising – continues to push the industry forward towards ever better targeting and accountability.

The Art & Science Of Display Advertising

Display ads, both online and their offline counterparts, print ads, have been around much longer than Google of course, but what Google has done is give paid search managers the ability to get into the game and run display advertising campaigns with ever-increasing precision.

Whatever paid search managers may lack in knowledge about the traditional art and science of display advertising, they can compensate for it by applying their working knowledge of paid search targeting and by pointing and clicking their way into pretty reasonable display ad campaigns.

Getting started in display advertising on Google is certainly easy enough, but to really master it, inside and outside of the Google GDN bubble, is a full-time job.

If you’d like to take your display advertising game up a few notches, spend time over on Marketing Land, where you can learn from seasoned experts such as Shelley Ellis who wrote this highly useful ‘how-to’ article on successfully managing GDN placements just a few weeks ago.

Targeting In The Google Display Network

As Shelley points out in her article, finding the right placements and focusing in on them is the key to success on the GDN. It’s all about the placement. Once you find a website that converts for you, a section on that website or even a single page on that site, you want to milk that placement for all its worth.

Our process for creating a new campaign is to start simply with a few dozen ad groups and a few promising-looking websites to target as placements.

After a few weeks, when we’ve found some sites that show promise, we then try to refine the performance of our best looking placements by playing around with gender, age and topics targeting, and then go looking for other placements by testing out new keywords and topics in auto placement campaigns.

Recent Changes To Keyword Targeting Functionality

As search marketers, we are generally very comfortable with using keywords as the starting point for any targeting we do on the GDN, but over the years, the way keywords are used has changed.

The best practices have changed a few times over the years as Google algorithms worked out ways for advertisers to connect with the most relevant placements defined by themed groupings of anywhere from 5 to 25 keywords.

How keyword targeting works has changed once again; this time and it promises to truly simplify things. Google believes it has figured out a way to make individual keywords the elemental component for finding relevant placements.

We no longer have to worry about defining themes to describe the sites we are targeting – all we have to do is create small, tightly focused ad groups just like we do for search. And, because Google now targets based on individual keywords, we can also see how individual keywords perform, and bid them up or down accordingly. That’s huge!

Be aware, however, that all the keywords in your display ad group are treated as broad match. That means that single term keywords can be very dangerous, just like they can be in search. It’s best to use keywords with 2 or 3 terms. If you want to try broader terms, go for it, but make sure to use negative keywords and site exclusions to make sure you aren’t blowing a lot of dough on non-relevant sites.

Speaking of negative keywords, you need to know that negatives work differently in display than on search. In Display campaigns, Google only considers a maximum of 50 negative keywords for any given ad group.

So, even though you may have thousands of negatives that control traffic for your search campaigns and ad groups, when you port them over to your display campaigns, Google will ignore all but 50 for any given auction.

If you have more than 50 negative keywords (total of ad group + campaign) Google will consider no more than 50 – and will select what negatives to use randomly. Yes, you read that right.

If you have more than 50 negative keywords, you have no idea of what negative keywords will apply in any given auction. That is not new, by the way, that is the way it has always worked, evidently, which would explain a few odd things we’ve seen over the years.

The reality of this little peculiarity may not be quite as dire as it first appears because in the GDN you can use Topics as a negative targeting tactic. That’s something you can not do in search. A few well-chosen Topic exclusions can do the work of hundreds of negative keywords.

Google offers around 2000 Topics and Subtopics you can select to help control where your ads will show, as shown below:

Topics Targeting on Google Display Network

Google offers roughly 2000 topics/subtopics to help advertisers target or exclude sites for their GDN campaigns.

New Ad Group Level Targeting

For all new Display campaigns, Google has introduced “flexible reach” targeting, which moves some targeting that had been stuck at the campaign level down to the ad group level. In general, flexible reach targeting will give us greater control over targeting and the ability to play with targeting combinations more easily.

While I suspect that many advertisers will want to implement and manage targeting options at the ad group level, it is very interesting to note that Google will not force advertisers to adopt flexible reach targeting automatically; existing campaigns will all retain their current targeting and bidding selections.


Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is President and founder of Find Me Faster a search engine marketing firm based in Nashua, NH. He is a member of SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England), and SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization as a member and contributing courseware developer for the SEMPO Institute. Matt writes occasionally on internet, search engines and technology topics for IMedia, The NH Business Review and other publications.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.vanwagner1 Matt Van Wagner

    Thank you, Mark, glad you enjoyed it. I took a look at your preso – lots of great info there. Maybe between the two of us, we’ll get “Art and Science” trending up on Google…

  • http://twitter.com/TylerHakes Tyler Hakes

    Matt, thanks for this article. I’m pretty seasoned with search campaigns, but just getting into GDN. This is a nice little introduction — and I appreciate the links to Shelly’s articles as well.

    Planning to track my progress in this new area on my blog as well – hopefully my learning will help others learn. I’ll drop a link to your post.



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