How To Find Success With Google’s Display Network

Google’s display network is massive, encompassing more than 4 billion daily page views, 700 million monthly users, and reaching more than 80% of the online audience.

Yet, with all this inventory, many marketers fail with display marketing.

The major reasons are they either are trying to reach the incorrect goals or they don’t understand how all the targeting options work.

In this article, I’m going to walk through how to get started with display advertising so you can avoid some of the most common mistakes that cause marketers to fail with the network.

Display Keywords

Most marketers just use Google’s default option for display – add some keywords and see what happens. Often, these are a list of the account’s search keywords. This is a mistake.

For search, Google really cares about your match types for both positive and negative keywords. In display, Google ignores match types. They will use negative keywords to help them with the ad placement, but if you just import thousands of negatives from the search campaigns, often Google will not do a good job serving your ad.

Usually, you want just a few keywords in an ad group; and there will be times you will not even use negative keywords for display, which is a cardinal sin for your search campaigns.

In the past, Google favored a theme based approach to choosing display keywords. Over the past few months, they have been giving a lot more emphasis to individual keywords. This has made it easier to take your search keywords and run them on display, but it’s still not a perfect system.

So, a good starting place for display keywords is to take the broader search keywords (the 2-3 word variations, not the 6 word combinations) and duplicate them in a display only campaign. If you have a few negative keywords you really want to use – feel free, but do not import your thousands of negatives into the display campaign.

Keyword Segmentation

The biggest problem with most search ad groups is that there is no granular organization between the ads and the keywords. This is just as true on display.

When you are creating display ad groups, first determine the ad and landing page for each ad group. After that is determined, then use keywords that match both the ad and the landing page. If a keyword doesn’t match both, it needs to be in a new ad group. This segmentation is good for both search and display.

However, if you just target your display ads based upon keywords, not matter how good the keywords are, then you might find your ad on a large variety of sites. Some might bring you good results, others will fail, but you don’t really know if it’s the site’s traffic or the offer – your ad and landing page.

Placement Targeting

AdWords offers a lot of targeting options for display. One of them is known as placement targeting. With placement targeting, you can choose an ad placement on a site within the Google Display Network and only show ads on that particular site or ad slot.

Using placement targeting takes the guess work out of the main keyword problem: Is it the site or the offer that isn’t converting?

If you use a research tool, such as doubleclick Ad Planner to find placements where your ideal customer spends time online, then you can ensure your ads are only being shown to your top prospects.

The largest issue with placement targeting is some of the best sites have a large variety of traffic and customers. Targeting or will lead to a tremendous amount of impressions, many of which are not valuable for your offer.

With placement targeting, you can target a section of some sites, such as the business section on the New York Times; however, even that section has so many daily page views that most companies can’t afford to run an ad on every page view.

Therefore, what we really want to do is to choose placements where our audience spends time, but also layer-in a keyword filter.

Flexible Targeting

imageThis is where the real magic of display targeting comes into play. With flexible reach, you can easily combine multiple targeting methods together so that you ad is only shown when a user hits certain targeting combinations. This option is still fairly new; but it will one day be the default option.

With flexible reach, you can set your targeting so that the ad is only display if a user is on a placement you choose and the article matches your keyword selection.

With the combination of display keywords and placements, you should be certain that the placement is not the problem if you don’t receive conversions – it’s a hand picked placement.

If you have segmented and chosen your top keywords, then the keywords should not be the problem. However, always check this by examining the actual URLs of the pages where your ads are being shown. If they are not appropriate, then you should refine the keyword list.

So now we’ve taken the variables of placement and keywords out of the equation. Therefore, if the offer doesn’t convert – its probably the offer.

Offer Testing

With the display network, you are not always reaching a user who is far down in the buying cycle. In some cases you will reach users far in the buy process, in other cases you will not.

Therefore, you need to test your offers between hard conversion activities, such as sales, versus soft conversion activities, such as white paper download and email subscriptions, so you can find what is going to work best for your display objectives.

Please note, as you become more sophisticated with display and add additional targeting options, such as remarketing, then you may be running different offers by targeting type or placement.

Before you can get to that point, you need to make sure that you can find the simplest of combinations that will allow you to attract new customers using display targeting.


The display network offers a tremendous amount of targeting options, control, and inventory. However, if you don’t find an offer that works across the display network, then you will end up wasting money and come to the conclusion that the display network doesn’t work.

This is rarely the case. It does happen on occasion that display advertising doesn’t work for a company. However, most companies can find success with display, if they first find an offer that works.

The best way to find what offer will work is to take out the ad serving variables, such as site quality and user interest. By using flexible reach and only targeting articles that match your keywords on high quality sites, you can remove the variables. Once those are removed, what you are left with is the offer.

Then, by doing some simple offer testing, you too can find success with display advertising.

Learn More About Display Targeting

SMX East is fast approaching. The day before SMX, I’ll be teaching AdWords marketing for a full day workshop. Part of that day will encompass display targeting. If you’re still trying to find display success, or you want to really ramp up your display campaigns, we will spending some time going over display and some of the fun things you can do with the network. Learn more about the SMX East AdWords Workshop.

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

Related Topics: Beginner | Channel: SEM | How To | How To: PPC | 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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  • Pat Grady

    Excellent! There’s gold in them thar hills!

  • Authority Buzz

    On average, what do you find converts better in display advertising? Text ads or image ads?

  • Sanket Patel

    Great post about te selecting keywords for add group, i think PPC marketers must be know these all points. Keywords are key of generating conversions in this post you described detail explanation about the keyword selection but PPC is not suitable for small business owner.

  • Gatting Roche

    Highly Informative piece of article. It took us deep into display advertising..

  • Brad Geddes

    I find they both convert roughly the same. I often find the difference in display vs text is the CTR. Image ads have a higher CTR than text ads.

    I do find that using lots of images can help with overall branding goals where text ads have so little recall that they usually don’t help with a consumer’s recall value of your brand.

  • Brad Geddes

    For small business I really try out max out search (desktops and mobile) before really getting into display. If their entire budget can be spent on search – I usually do so.

    I find that phone calls for service based businesses can be really hard to generate with display. For autodealers, I’ll try a video and schedule a time to test drive a car (softer conversions). For others, I find its easier to focus on the contact form rather than the call for SMBs.

    This is a very general statement, but overall, I find that display works better for online focused companies & conversions (email, whitepapers, etc) that for getting someone offline.

    I usually find more success with SMBs on display by trying to get the user into your CRM and then have a rep follow-up with the contact or send an email to the contact, etc rather than take a user who might not be in the buying cycle and have them go all the way to commit to talking to someone on the phone.

    That’s not to say you can’t get phone calls from display, I see it in insurance all the time; but it can be more difficult for a plumber and electrician to do so.

  • Justin Sous

    I completely agree. I’ve been focused on this niche for several years now, and I just can’t ustify the move into display quite yet. The ROI and cost per call is great on the Search network, and I just can’t fathom display contributing a similar value. It’s also difficult to convince a client to be a “test subject” and using their money for display. Thank you for your input!

  • Reva Minkoff

    Thanks Brad! Have you noticed the new feature in AdWords where the display network is now crediting conversions to specific keywords? Does that mean Google is moving even more to a theme based approach? (the ad group recommendations, encouraging category targeting, etc.)

  • Brad Geddes

    The stats by keyword (which has always been around if you used valuetrack and tracked it yourself) is Google trying to show that they are putting more emphasis on individual keywords and less on the overall themes.

    I find that both can still work; but its hard to tell for how long they will both work until either individual keywords take over, or you’ll need to use multiple targeting types (keywords and topics perhaps) to reach users with a theme approach.

  • Kunle Campbell -Fuzz One Media

    Hi Brad – great quality article as usual (I actually bookmarked it and finally got around to reading it today).

    I do have a question though.
    When starting out a fresh display network focused campaign, would your Ad rotation settings be:

    1. Optimise for clicks: Show ads expected to provide more clicks
    2. Rotate evenly / Rotate indefinitely
    3. Optimise for Conversions

    And why?

  • Brad Geddes

    I always start with rotate evenly (indefinitely is usually my choice) so all the ads get equal exposure so I can get an idea of what message/offer really is doing best.

    I can’t count the times the higher conversion rate ad had a terrible CTR so little conversions Or the times that the highest CTR ad didn’t convert. So I always like to test a bit first.

    With display, especially if you use images of multiple sizes and text ads, the delivery will not be even. That’s due to the ad sizes available for your auctions, etc. So rotate really only works well if you have at least two text ads and two ads of each size.

    Hope that helps,

  • Kunle Campbell -Fuzz One Media

    Thanks for the response Brad.
    One more follow up question…

    How much time would you test or set up Ad rotation to rotate evenly?
    A couple of weeks?

    Or are your rotation settings *always* on rotate evenly?

  • Brad Geddes

    Unless its a special case (like a publisher who just wants the most traffic as they are selling CPM); I leave rotate on almost exclusively. I’d rather take control over pausing the ads, choosing a winner, etc than let Google do it as they choose highest CTR/CR and I want the highest profits – different goals.

  • Manuel Moreira

    The display network is hard to work with, that’s for sure. I usually do my targeting with keywords only and the less the better (but this really depends on the type of campaign, be careful with that). Weird? Not so. Just experiment, I find this to be the best way. Otherwise, I just get no ad views and thus, no clicks and no conversions whatsoever. Been there and done that.


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