Everything You Need To Know About AdWords Display URLs

The display URL is an often overlooked element of ad copy. It’s most common usage is to signal to a searcher where the ad click leads. However, the display URL is also a quality score factor and has different editorial requirements than the rest of your ad.

The display URL is also a prime candidate for ad testing. A good display URL can increase your click through rate, increase your conversion rate, and improve your quality score which in turn, causes your ad to show higher in the search results or lets you pay less for your current clicks.

I’ll first discuss the basics of the display URL, quality score impacts and then showcase ways of testing display URLs.

Display URL basics

An AdWords display URL is the 4th line of your ad text. This line of ad copy signals to the searcher what website they will land on after the click. The display URL does not have to actually be a page on your website; however, the root domain of the display URL and the destination URL (where the user actually goes) must be the same.

For instance, if your sent a user to www.example.com/apple/ipod/page23.html, the display URL could be any of these:

  • www.example.com
  • example.com
  • www.example.com/apple
  • example.com/iPod
  • example.com/compare
  • www.example.com/WeSellStuff
  • iPod.example.com

Example.com is the root domain. The user is going to a page within that domain. However, you do not have to put the actual page in the display URL—you just need to make sure that the root destination and display domain are the same.

Trademark concerns

In the US, UK, Canada and Ireland, you can advertise on any keyword you desire. However, if that word is trademarked and the trademark holder has filed an exception request with Google asking that advertisers not use their trademarks, then you cannot use those words in ad copy (More about this restriction from Google).

This is the editorial requirement for ad copy. However, the display URL is not currently encompassed by this policy. At present, while you can not use a trademarked word in ad copy, you could use it in the display URL.

For example, Apple has trademarked iPod. If you were to write the headline:

80gig iPods for Sale

the ad would be disapproved for trademark concerns.

However, if you were to write the display URL:


the ad would not be disapproved for trademark issues.

Whenever you are thinking of using a trademark in your ad campaign, please consult an attorney if you have questions. This article should not be accepted as legal advice.

Editorial concerns

Google made a recent announcement that all destination URLs within the same ad group must now go to the same site. The actual destination pages can be different; however, the root domain must be the same.

This also means that all dispaly URLs within the same ad group use the same root domain. You could use these display URLs:

  • example.com
  • www.example.com/widgets
  • widgets.example.com

as they all lead to the same root domain.

However, you could not use all of these display URLs within the same ad group:

  • example.com
  • widgets.example.com
  • example.widgets.com (different root domain from the above two display URLs)
  • widgets.com (different root domain from the above two display URLs)

The only two major editorial concerns when writing display URLs is that the root domain must be the same in both the display and destination URL and that all destination URLs in the same ad group must go to the same root domain.

Display URLs and quality score

One of the quality score factors is the display URL click through rate within that ad group. The display URL is treated separately from the rest of the ad copy when determining the CTR used in quality score. While display URLs are good to test for increasing CTR and ultimately quality score, they are much better to test for conversion rates.

Testing display URLs

The display URL signals to the user where they are going after the click. It is also part of ad copy, so can be synergistic with the ad copy in increasing CTR and conversion rates.

Should you use a /folder after the display URL?


If your site is small or tightly themed, a /folder is not always necessary. However, if you have a large site such as IBM.com and the user did a search for ‘blade server’, which will lead to a better CTR?

  • IBM.com
  • IBM.com/BladeServer

You probably have an answer by looking at the above options, but it is useful to test these two elements against each other.

Do you need the WWW?

For most searchers, we know that ads lead to websites. However, there are demographics where I’ve seen the ‘www’ increase CTR. This is usually an older crowd where the ‘www’ signals that the click will lead to a website.


This is becoming less of an issue these days, but remains worthy of testing.

Can you create synergies with the ad?

While using a /folder for a product name can be useful for showing someone where on your site they are going to visit, it can be useful to adding a key word from your ad copy into the display URL. In this instance, the ad reinforces a comparison page, which is very useful for consumers that are still early in the buying cycle.


Test different folders for the same product

If you start to run too many words together in a display URL, they start becoming harder to quickly scan and read.


Testing a few different one vs multiple word folder types can lead to finding more readable, and hopefully higher CTR, ads.

To Subdomain or folder?

One more test to consider is determining if a folder or a subdomain increases CTR and conversion rates.



The display URL is one of the least regulated aspects of your ad copy. There are a few editorial requirements that Google imposes upon you; however, beyond a few simple rules, you can have fun testing your display URL.

It is always important to remember that your ad copy is the only part of your AdWords account a searcher ever sees. A searcher has no idea what your keywords, geographic targeting, ad scheduling, or other campaign settings are. A searcher probably has not seen your website. The only part of your account that induces a searcher to click on your ad is the ad itself.

The display URL is part of that ad copy. It’s the part that tells a consumer where they are going after the click. Don’t regulate the display URL to a secondary consideration when writing ad copy. Think about both your ad copy and the consumer when writing display URLs.

A bad display URL can ruin great ad copy. A good display URL can increase CTR, conversion rates, and quality score. It doesn’t take much effort to test display URLs. Are you using a display URL that makes your AdWords spend more profitable?

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 the Founder of Certified Knowledge, a company dedicated to PPC education & training; fficial Google AdWords Seminar Leader, and author of Advanced Google AdWords.

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  • MikeBun

    Hi Brad –

    So one element of quality score is “The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group”.

    Do you know if the display URL is included in this relevance calculation? In other words, your quality score can be improved if you use the keyword in the ad headline or description lines, but does putting the keyword in the display URL count toward this element of QS?

  • http://sydneynetwork.net sydneynetwork

    Totally agree with what is being written here.
    I wrote a couple of articles about testing of ad copies quite some time ago and briefly mentioned Display URL as being one of the components to be tested. I also came up with a simple yet structured approach to systematically test different components in ppc ad copies. Read it here: http://sydneynetwork.net/2009/02/22/systematic-testing-of-search-ad-copies-part-2/


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