Expanding Your Adwords Account With The Google Display Network

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When you want to expand your Adwords account, and you’ve exhausted your options in Google Search and remarketing/RLSA, you may want to consider the Google Display Network. The Google Display Network, or GDN for short, can be a great way to generate incremental traffic and sales.

Approach the GDN carefully, though. Ads in the GDN are not search. They’re shown based on the relevance of advertisers’ ads to the content on the website. Users viewing the ads are reading content, not actively asking questions.

That said, the GDN offers high impression volume and incremental exposure for your business.

Targeting on the GDN.

To target your ads on the GDN, you can use keywords, placements, topics, interests and remarketing, or demographics; or any combination of these.

Keyword targeting.

Keyword targeting sounds just like keyword targeting in search. It’s similar, but not exactly the same. Keyword targeting in the GDN enables advertisers to tell Google what keywords represent the topics and interests they’d like to reach. For example, if you sell cookware, you may choose keywords like:

• Gourmet cooking
• Recipes
• Cookware
• Food network

This list of terms seems random, but it’s not. Websites with this type of content will be relevant to your target audience. Remember, users aren’t searching on these keywords – they’re used directionally by Google to help match your ads to site content.


Targeting by placements allows advertisers to choose the websites or placements on which they’d like their ads to appear. In the cookware example above, you might choose placements like:

• Foodnetwork.com
• Cookingchannel.com
• Epicurious.com
• Gourmetmagazine.com

Remember that high-traffic, well-known placements will have significant competition for ad space. If you choose popular websites for placement targeting, be prepared to bid quite high to be able to generate impressions. Still, for advertisers who know where their target audience hangs out, placement targeting can be an efficient way to target on the GDN.


Instead of choosing keywords or placements, you can target ads in the GDN by topic. Here are some of the food-related topics for our cookware example:

You can select as many topics as you’d like. Make sure they’re relevant, of course.

Interests & remarketing.

In addition to remarketing, the GDN also offers interest targeting, based on either affinity audiences or in-market segments.

Affinity audiences are developed by Google, based on long-term behavior of users. For example, the food-related affinity audience is made up of people who frequently visited food and cooking-related sites over time. Here are some examples of affinity audiences:

In-market audiences, on the other hand, are users who Google has determined are actively shopping for a particular product or service. Affinity audiences tend to be focused around high-ticket, high-consideration items like autos and finance:

If you are an auto dealer, think how valuable it would be to serve ads to people who are actively looking to buy a car!


If you took marketing courses in college, you probably studied demographic targeting. Advertisers can target GDN ads by gender, age, and parental status.

You can also exclude demographics; for example, an advertiser targeting business owners might exclude users in the 18-24 and 65+ age groups, as these ages are less likely to be business owners.

Using multiple targeting methods.

If you find that you’re getting too much untargeted GDN traffic, you can combine multiple targeting methods to narrow down your audience. In the cookware example, you could target by placement, and then add keywords to cover the items you sell: cast-iron skillets, saucepans, utensils, etc. This will help prevent your ads from showing on pages that aren’t relevant to what you sell. Combining keywords and placements works particularly well on large sites that cover a lot of topics, such as CNN and YouTube. Adding keywords helps your ads to show only on relevant content.

Be aware that layering multiple targeting options will greatly reduce the number of impressions you’ll receive in the GDN. Try to strike a balance between quantity (impressions) and quality (targeting).

Watch your performance and adjust.

The GDN drives much high impression volume and lower click-through rates than those seen in Google search. CPCs are usually lower than search, as well. But it’s important to monitor performance and exclude any targeting options that are not driving converting traffic. While this is true in any search campaign, because ads in the GDN lack the intent of a searched keyword, it’s crucial to keep a close eye on GDN campaigns to avoid wasting money.

Many search pros avoid the GDN, but I’ve found it to be a valuable add-on for many clients. When targeted correctly, the GDN is an effective way to expand your Adwords account.

For more on the GDN, check out these posts:

3 Ways To Profit From The Google Display Network
Yes, The Google Display Network Can Drive PPC Conversions!

How have you used the GDN successfully? Share in the comments!

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  1. My name is Steve…. and I like the GDN.

    There – I’ve said it. Loud and proud.

    The GDN is actually far closer to the traditional world of print, radio and TV advertising that I cut my teeth on. Where you look to figure out where your target is likely to be – and go there, rather than waiting for them to realise they need something like your product or service and go looking for you.

    You are right – you can spend … sorry, waste… a truckload of budget if you’re not careful, but for every person actively searching for you there are going to be many more who don’t even know they can’t live without you.

    It’s almost strange to think that so many advertisers wait until their prospect is actually sitting at their computer typing in the search term that will bring them a step closer to finding them. If you’ve read ZMOT from Google, you’ll know that probably half the purchase process has already happened at that point.

    Sure, it’s higher up the funnel, but there are fewer competitors – doing it right – up there.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Exactly! For someone to search, they have to already be aware of you. The GDN creates awareness at a much lower cost than traditional media. I like it for that reason. When managed correctly, it’s a great way to build your business.

  2. I love seeing GDN get some love!

    I agree with Steve about it being the “new” print advertising. It does fill a lot of that void, particularly when it comes to awareness and brand recognition building.

    I am a gigantic fan of managed placements, especially for B2B. The clicks and conversions are not in the same league volume wise as traditional search advertising, but you can get your company’s name in front of people when they are in a place where they are business focused this way too.

    Big caveat for GDN too is to use a standard placement exclusion list from the start to not have your ad display on known objectionable or controversial sites. But in addition to that, be prepared to review placement reports regularly if you’re not doing managed placements. People visit some seriously weird sites!

    I also suggest actively blocking games and apps if that is not your target too.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      100% agree, Julie. We also use a lot of managed placements for B2B clients. I recommend blocking games, apps, and adsenseformobileapps.com, in addition to any objectionable sites. Glad to find some other GDN fans out there! 🙂

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