Google’s Display Network, Part 1: Best Practices & Myths

Just last week, I had a call with one of our Google reps. He was quite knowledgeable, and made several helpful suggestions on Adwords features we could try for our Fluency Media clients. While I was aware of most of the features already, he explained them in detail, and suggested which clients should try which features.

One of the features he brought up was the Google Display Network. The conversation with our rep reminded me that many new advertisers don’t know how to use the Display network, which then prompted me to outline some of the best practices and myths.

When Google launched the Display network about 7 years ago, it was like the Wild West: the network was full of MFA sites, and there were none of the great features like site exclusion that we have now. It was a huge gamble to even thinking about running ads there.

Thankfully, Google listened to advertiser feedback, and made huge improvements over the years. Still, though, the Display network can be a money pit for advertisers who don’t follow best practices.

Best Practice #1: Realize that Display isn’t search.

The first concept to understand is that Display isn’t search. Ads aren’t served based on keywords typed into a search engine. Instead, ads are served on websites where the content matches the content of the ad. Because of this, Display campaigns should always be separate from Search campaigns. Although Google allows advertisers to run ads in both Search and Display in the same campaign, don’t be tempted to take this shortcut. It’s not unusual for ad groups & campaigns to perform very differently in the two networks, so you’ll want the control you get with separate bidding for Search & Display.

Best Practice #2: Use small, tightly-themed ad groups.

This is good advice for search campaigns, too, but is critical for Display. It’s your job as an advertiser to make it abundantly clear to Google what your ad group’s topic is, so Google can show it on appropriate pages. Using tightly themed ad groups will accomplish this.

Best Practice #3: Make heavy use of the placement performance report & site exclusion.

Probably the best thing Google did to enhance advertiser performance in the Display Network was to create the placement performance report. I remember literally whooping with joy when this launched – finally, advertisers would have the transparency to see where their ads were being served, and what the results were on a site-by-site basis! Use this feature to your advantage. The report is easier than ever to run in the new Adwords interface – just go to Networks, set your date range (I use All Time to give the largest data set, and start excluding.

There are a few myths out there about the Display Network that advertisers should be aware of, as well.

Myth #1: Display is an inexpensive source of traffic & conversions.

OK, so this isn’t a total myth. Frequently, Display is a great incremental source of conversions at a very low cost. However, this is by no means always true. Click costs can rival those in search – in fact sometimes CPCs are higher in Display than in search, depending on the vertical. So if you’re looking for a quick way to grab incremental conversions, Display is definitely not the answer. You’ll get traffic, but it may not be inexpensive, and it may not convert.

Myth #2: Display is for everyone.

Again, this isn’t a total myth. We have several clients who get as good or better results from Display as from search. But it’s not a given. For every client who gets great results in Display, we have at least 2 who got horrible results, despite our best efforts to optimize. I firmly believe that there are some businesses for which display is just not a good fit. But you wouldn’t know this from talking to Google – every time I talk to a Google rep, including the conversation last week, they try to pitch me on trying Display for every client.

Myth #3: Site targeting in the Display network is easy.

First, a brief explanation. There are a few targeting options in the display network: keyword targeting, interest category targeting, and placement, or site, targeting. With site targeting, an advertiser can choose exactly which sites they’d like their ads to appear on. So if you want your ads to appear on about.com, you can target that site using site targeting.

Sounds simple, right? It’s not. First of all, there are thousands upon thousands of sites in the display network, so choosing the right sites is a daunting task. Secondly, advertisers tend to gang up when site targeting – everyone wants to target the same popular, high-traffic sites. And what happens when inventory is short and demand is high? You got it – the price goes way, way up. So not only is it challenging to figure out what sites to target, it can be challenging to get conversions at a good cost when the bids are so high.

In Part 2, I’ll share some display network resources that will help you make the most out of the network.

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  1. […] and display campaigns together, then you certainly will lose money. The two are not the same and optimization tactics are totally different. But if you’re running distinct campaigns in display, then you […]

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