Getting Started with Google Display Network Advertising: Targeting Placements

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Google Display Network logoThis is the first post in a series on using the Google Display Network. Although I have plenty of experience with AdWords — I even became Individually Qualified last year — advertising on the Display Network is mostly uncharted territory for me. So, I’ll be walking through the learning process and sharing it here, along with resources that I found useful.

A lot of companies are probably inclined to think that the Google Display Network is “out of their league” in terms of advertising — simply too big of a pond for a small or even medium-sized spend. But, with Google’s advanced placement targeting, precise bidding system, and daily budget control across a massive network of diverse content, the truth is that it can be an effective solution for nearly any size and type of advertiser.

On a high level, you should expect a few major differences between a search campaign a display campaign. Generally, you’ll see an increase in impressions and a lower click-through rate.

But, that doesn’t mean you’ll see less clicks overall — in fact, because your average cost per click may well be much lower, it’s possible that you’ll actually generate more traffic with a well-optimized Display Network campaign.

The key to being successful on the GDN is understanding how to optimize your placements and bidding. If you’re used to targeting search like I am, then you may imagine it’s nearly an identical process. But, if I’ve learned anything it’s that there are some huge, key differences from marketing on the Search Network.

One of the first big differences that you run up against is targeting where your ad will show up across the network. While keyword targeting can be complex, targeting on the Display Network is a nuanced beast all its own. I’ll focus this post on the different methods of targeting and how to achieve the best and most-relevant placements for your ads.

Graphic showing which targeting methods apply to which type of placement targeting.

This is how each targeting method lines up with how it affects where your ad will be shown on the Google Display Network.

There are five kinds of targeting on the Display Network:

  1. Keywords
  2. Topics
  3. Interests / Remarketing
  4. Demographics (Gender / Age)
  5. Managed placements

I’ll walk through each one here and discuss how to best use them for your campaign.

(Note: These methods apply specifically to targeting placements on the GDN. You still have campaign-level control for targeting based on location, device, and language, which works the same way as with the Search Network.)

Targeting Keywords on the Google Display Network

Keyword targeting seems nearly identical to targeting on the Search Network, and it works in generally the same way. Google will use your keywords to try to target relevant content — at the page level — for your ads. But there are a number of differences to keep in mind.

First, all keywords on the Display Network are used as broad match keywords. This means it’s much harder to target specific topics as Google’s broad match can be quite liberal. This also increases the importance of using keywords along with other types of targeting to ensure that you reach the best possible audience.

Secondly, it’s important to consider the types of content that will truly target the right audience for your campaign. This isn’t always as straight-forward as with targeting on the Search Network and often requires more consideration to match your ads to relevant content.

For instance, if you’re running a campaign to sell books about acting, it’s likely that in a search campaign you would simply use keywords like “acting books” to reach people looking for your specific product. But, that may not be the most relevant keyword for the Display Network (especially with keywords being used as broad match). Instead, you may consider what types of articles or content someone who would buy an acting book might be reading. Rather than reading specifically about books, it’s likely that your audience would be looking at more general articles about their craft, such as “acting techniques” or “learning how to act”.

Before you simply apply the same keywords from your Search Network campaign to one for the Display Network, step back and rethink who you are trying to target and what content is most relevant to that user.

Another note — which may come as a shock to seasoned search marketers — is Google only supports up to 50 negative keywords for any given ad group and campaign (combined). Oddly enough, if your campaign has more than 50 negative keywords, Google will choose which ones to exclude at random (literally). So, it’s important to use other types of exclusions (e.g., excluding certain topics) to pinpoint your specific audience.

You can use Google’s Contextual Targeting Tool to see which sites will be targeted based on your keyword selection.

Targeting Topics on the Google Display Network

The second most-broad method of targeting your campaign is through topics. Topics allow you to run ads only on specific sites — or sections of a site — that have content about various subjects.

Google has a list of thousands of topics and subtopics that you can choose from when setting up your campaign and ad groups. For instance, you can target broad topics such as Autos & Vehicles or you can choose subtopics within this broad category like Classic Vehicles.

This is fairly straight-forward, but again there are some important things to note about using topics. For one, you can also choose to exclude topics from your targeting, which works similarly to adding negative keywords to a search campaign. This allows you to more-precisely define which subjects are relevant and which aren’t.

Another important note is that parent topics, by default, include all of the subtopics within it. So, if you choose a broad topic but don’t want to include some of the subtopics — for example, you choose Autos & Vehicles, but your campaign isn’t relevant to  Campers & RVs or Motorcycles — then you’ll want to exclude those subtopics specifically.

Keep in mind that the key difference between topics and interests is that topics allows you to restrict your ads to only appearing on those sites or sections of sites that are immediately relevant to that specific subject. So, when using topics, your ad about car care products wouldn’t show up on a page of the New York Times about sports.

Targeting Interests on the Google Display Network

Like topics, Google provides a huge list of possible user interests that you can target for your campaign.

Google uses its anonymous tracking and cookie data to catalog and track user interests across its network. Using interests to target your ads is a way to expand your reach to relevant audiences even when they aren’t looking specifically at content that’s relevant to your campaign.

Here, your ad for car care products may well show up alongside sports content if that user has visited sites (or fits certain demographic criteria, depending on the interests you choose) about cars frequently in the past. But, your campaign won’t be restricted to content that pertains to a specific subject, like when using topics.

While targeting interests may show ads when they are less immediately relevant, but it allows you to reach a specific audience more frequently.

If you have your Google Analytics account linked to AdWords (you should for added conversion tracking and cost data), you can also use Google’s remarketing feature to target users who have visited your site in the past using the interests targeting method.

Targeting Demographics on the Google Display Network

You can also choose to target an audience by using demographic information on age or gender. Used alone, this type of targeting can be useful for very broad product campaigns, or it can be used in conjunction with other targeting types to further refine your audience.

This is also helpful when optimizing your campaign. For instance, you can test to see whether your campaign that is already targeted by topic or interest converts better with males or females.

An important note here is that Google doesn’t always know the exact demographics of each particular user. You can imagine a scenario where a computer is shared by multiple members of the family and it is impossible to determine which person is using it at any given time. Further, Google will infer demographic information about specific users based on their previous browsing habits.

Targeting Managed Placements on the Google Display Network

The final way to target your campaign is at the placement level using managed placements. This is sort of a separate umbrella from the other targeting methods (which are considered automatic placements). You can tell Google specific domains or sub-domains within their network where you want your ads to display.

Use Google’s Placement Tool to identify specific sites you want to include or exclude.

Choosing the Right Kind of Targeting

So, which of these five methods is right for your campaign? The answer is probably a combination of multiple targeting methods.

Within each campaign and ad group, the targeting that you choose is compounded. So, you are free to target more liberally (e.g., all content within the Autos & Vehicles topic), or more specifically by including other types of targeting, such as specifying that your ad should be shown to just males, age 21-35, who are browsing content within your chosen topics.

When it comes to targeting on the Google Display Network, carefully consider which combinations will provide the best exposure for your campaign.

And, as always — test and optimize. Google allows you to bid and track performance for any specific targeting that you choose. Use this data wisely.

Other Resources

Here is a list of other articles that I found helpful in learning about different types of Display Network targeting:

Have thoughts or strategies to share? Leave a comment down below or reach me on Twitter @TylerHakes.

About me

My name is Tyler Hakes. I'm a digital strategist in Des Moines. I write and tweet about marketing, strategy, media, and technology.

More to read

comments powered by Disqus