The Google Display Network: Everything You Need To Know

Julie Bacchini
Julie Bacchini

The Google Display Network, or GDN as it is often called, is often not used in Google Ads. It’s complex, overwhelming, with lots of bells and whistles.

Google Search Ads are so much simpler.

But done well, the Google Display Network can produce strong supporting results to a robust Google Search Ads initiative.

Search Vs Display

Before you get started with a Google Display Network strategy, it is critical to understand the differences between search (or what is most commonly referred to when talking about Google Ads advertising campaigns) and display.

Search is the most familiar of paid online advertising and the ads appear directly in a search results page – above and below the organic results. Display ads are ads that are shown (displayed) on websites that are not search engines. These ads are often referred to as banner or image ads, although text ads are also part of display advertising.

Both avenues have their advantages and places in a solid PPC strategy.

Search ads are most often used because of their placement on search results pages where user intent is hotter. If someone searches for something and your ad is shown to them right after that query and it is relevant to the query, chances are pretty good that they may not only click on your ad, but possibly also convert.

On the search network, users are in a seeking mode when they are actively searching, which makes their intent to find information about a particular topic, product or service much more direct.

Display, on the other hand, represents a more passive role, as the person being shown the ad did not see it as a result of entering a query into a search engine. Rather, they’re seeing ads on external web sites that they are visiting for some other specific purpose. Exposure to advertising on external, or non-search engine sites, is more like the experience of seeing advertisements in a newspaper or magazine – you are more likely to scan around them or flip past them to access the content you were actually seeking.

This being the case, display advertising requires a different mindset and performance goals than search advertising, due largely to the differences in the state of mind of the user when they interact with the advertiser’s ads.

It’s best to think of it this way when evaluating adding Google Display Network advertising into a your mix:

Search Advertising reaches people who have shown an interest in something you’ve designated as a good match to what your ads are selling, in the moment immediately prior to viewing your ad.

Google Display Network ads are more like background players – they are shown on external or non-search engine pages where a person is engaged in some other type of activity. Depending on the targeting you choose, there may or may not be any type of recognizable connection between your ads and the site being viewed.

Remarketing – The Search/Display Hybrid

And then there’s remarketing… it really is a melding of the search and display experiences described above.

Remarketing, for the uninitiated, refers to a method of display advertising that is only triggered if a person has previously visited your web site or landing page or is targeted for being “similar” to people who visited your site. It can be set up to be very general – show my ads to anyone who has ever visited my site forever and ever.

Or it can be incredibly specific – show an ad to a person who visited your site and looked at boots but didn’t buy them, about those specific boots for 36 hours after the initial web site session.

And, it can be everything in between too.

Remarketing is designed to help capture more of the people who perhaps did not bite as hard as you’d hoped from your search ads.

Perhaps purchases are more considered for your industry, product or services and a person needs more time to think about it.

Perhaps they’re a savvy searcher and have been conditioned to not complete a cart checkout on the first try because they expect to see ads offering further discounts or benefits.

Or, they could just be busy and get interrupted during a process they really did intend to complete.

Remarketing ads can be just the reminder nudge they need to actually finish that converting action.

Getting Started With The Google Display Network

Setting Up A Google Display Campaign

Google Display Network campaigns have definitely been a priority for AdWords to evolve into a system where they can theoretically be created and managed by either business owners or by professional consultants or agencies. The screen you come to after choosing to create a new Google Display Network campaign illustrates this perfectly:

Here’s a look at the start of a Display campaign creation
Here’s a look at the start of a Display campaign creation

The first choice you have to make it to essentially manually create your campaign or use Google’s more paint-by-numbers tools to create a campaign that they think matches your stated objectives.

This lesson is geared more toward those who would use the manual options to set up their campaigns. Notice that the default is to use one of Google’s pre-done options, so you will have to choose the radio button for “No Marketing Objective” to get to the manual setup.

Choose whether you want a marketing objective associated
Choose whether you want a marketing objective associated

Once you make this choice, the next screen is a lot like the initial campaign settings screen for a search campaign. You designate geographic locations where your ads should be shown or not shown, bidding methods, budget, ad schedule, etc.

Note that the default setting for bidding is Manual CPC with the Enable Enhanced CPC option checked. Here’s what that means:

Decide whether you want to use Enhanced CPC Bidding
Decide whether you want to use Enhanced CPC Bidding

You can decide if you want to use this method – it does require having AdWords conversion tracking enabled. I prefer to manually manage my bids rather than having AdWords do it, so I would uncheck this box to keep the bids manual.

Both location and phone extensions are available for display ads as well. It’s up to you whether or not they apply to your business.

The Ad Rotation settings are also defaulted to “Optimize for Conversions”. Again, I don’t like to let AdWords make these kinds of decisions for me.

My preferred setting for ad rotation is “Rotate Indefinitely” even though it comes with a warning that tries to say your ads will not perform well.

Here’s what your screen could look like
Here’s what your screen could look like

If you’re running ad variations, you may need longer than the approximately 90 days offered in AdWords’ next preferred setting of “Rotate Evenly for 90 Days, Then Optimize”.

Finally, a word about ad scheduling – the default is for ads to run 24/7. Depending on what your display ads are designed to do, this may be a perfectly fine setting.

You might even find that your ads find traction at some weird hours that you could have missed out on if you’d limited your schedule. Conversely though, if your ads have a phone call CTA for example, just be mindful of the hours when a call will actually be answered and schedule appropriately!

Ad Formats

In some ways, setting up Google Display Network campaigns is a lot like setting up search campaigns, but there are some important differences.

The biggest difference you will encounter from the start is that there are many different sized graphic ads that can be shown on the Google Display Network.

They range from quite small to large banners. Your best bet is to set up an ad version for every available ad size and format because you can’t know going in which ones will be either displayed and/or clicked on most often. An informal survey of paid search pros did yield some interesting thoughts on the ad sizes to prioritize, if you have limited resources for ad design and creation (your mileage may vary):

  • 728 x 90
  • 300 x 250
  • 160 x 600
  • 320 x 50
  • 300 x 600

Here is a link to the currently available Display Network ad sizes.

Image Ads

You will need to create, or have created, graphics in the ad sizes you want to utilize. Some of the ad sizes are similar to each other (such as 300 x 200 and 336 x 280). I like to create the largest of the similarly sized ones and then make the smaller ones from the larger one. You will probably find that the layout will be similar for all the square ads, banners and skyscrapers.

When you have ad(s) ready to upload, go to to +Ad and choose Image Ad from the dropdown list:

Decide what type of ad you would like to run
Decide what type of ad you would like to run

Once you click on Image Ad, you will see this next screen, which is going to urge you to go the Responsive Ad route. To keep going with uploading your own ad, choose Upload An Ad:

Create new ad or upload one
Create new ad or upload one

Next is where you enter your Display and Final URLs, can add tracking template and custom parameters and even still enter a different URL for mobile:

Set display and final landing page URLs
Set display and final landing page URLs

You do have the option from this screen to upload more than one sized ad, IF you want it to have the exact same URL and tracking parameters for all sizes uploaded together.

You can set URL tracking parameters
You can set URL tracking parameters

Designing your own graphic ads and then uploading them into AdWords will give you the most creative control as to what appears in the ad and how it is formatted. But, if you don’t have resources in this area, Google does have a tool that can create display ads for you, based on existing text ads or through their, for lack of a better word, wizard.

Here is the link to the AdWords display ad generation tools.

Responsive Ads

Beginning in February of 2017, you can no longer create text ads in Google Display Network. Instead, you have to use what they call “responsive ads”. What are responsive ads?

According to AdWords:

“Responsive ads automatically adjust their size, appearance, and format to fit just about any available ad space. For example, your responsive ad might show as a native banner ad on one site and a dynamic text ad on another, as it automatically transforms itself to fit precisely where you need it to go to meet your advertising goals. As such, responsive ads can increase your reach and impact while also saving you time.”

Here is the full AdWords article on Responsive Ads.

Now, when creating ads you have two options – create image ads or create responsive ads:

You can create your own image or responsive ads
You can create your own image or responsive ads

Creating responsive ads is a bit different from what you’re probably used to if you’ve created image and/or text ads for Google Display Network.  When you click on the Responsive ad option, here is what you will see:

Add all the details for a responsive ad
Add all the details for a responsive ad

You will need to enter the following:

  • Short headline (25 characters)
  • Long headline (90 characters)
  • Description (90 characters)
  • Business name (25 characters)
  • Final URL
  • Upload images to fill the 3 required visual elements (more below on this)

Optional elements available include:

  • Tracking template URL
  • Up to 3 custom parameters
  • Different mobile Final URL

It is worth noting that not all of these elements will appear in every ad. The long headline and description can both appear in some ad variations, so it is best to not use the same text for both.

Entering the images is a little odd. You can’t save the ad without populating all three sizes. Exact image dimensions are provided only when you click on the Upload option.

Dimensions are as follows for the 3 image sizes (in pixels), all with a maximum file size of 1MB:

  • Landscape image recommended dimensions 1200 x 628, 600 x 314 minimum
  • Square image 1200 x 1200 recommended, 300 x 300 minimum
  • Logo 1200 x 1200 recommended, 128 x128 minimum

If you are going to upload your own images, as long as your images are within the guidelines, you can upload them directly, save your ad and move on to the next steps.

If, however, you want to use images grabbed from your web site or any of the available stock images, things get a little weird.

Choose image ratio and sizes
Choose image ratio and sizes

When you look at this, it seems like you could use your logo as the square image, as they are both listed as being 1:1. I found that I could not do this:

Preview how your image will look with different sizes
Preview how your image will look with different sizes

With my own images, grabbed from my web site,  it would only let me use the cropped version of the landscape image for the square image:

You may be required to crop an image to meet requirements
You may be required to crop an image to meet requirements

The same issue happens if you opt for one of their stock images rather than one of your own, so choose wisely:

Luckily, you get to preview a crop prior
Luckily, you get to preview a crop prior

Bottom line in my book – you should still create, size and optimize your own images for these responsive ads to have the most control over how the images look, particularly the square format image.

You can utilize custom parameters for your ads even without using a tracking template – more on that later…


It’s important to remember in non-remarketing Google Display Network campaigns to keep your messaging very simple. People are not actively looking for what you’re selling when your ads will be shown to them, so messaging could be more branding in nature rather than a harder sell type of offer.

Many Google Display Network ads don’t have a specific CTA (call to action) at all, but are true branding reinforcement ads. Using a CTA is a better practice, but you could opt not to for this type of advertising as well, depending on what your specific goals for these campaigns actually are.

This doesn’t mean that your Google Display Network ads can’t be direct response ads, they can.In fact, you can follow the PPC traffic temperature scale and use your Google Display Network ads to highlight CTAs that are higher up in your conversion funnel.

Resist the urge to cram a lot of text into the graphic ads. There is a reason that Facebook has the 80/20 rule for image to text for their ads. They know that too much text in a visual ad is useless. You don’t have to stick to quite that harsh of a ratio in your Google Display Network ads, but be mindful that you are hoping for brand reinforcement and maybe a low threshold action as a result of these ads – not necessarily completing a sale.

The ad sizes are quite varied as well. And some are easier than others to design well. Take a few minutes to review the ad sizes as you plan your messaging. Be prepared to have one very basic message for the formats that do not lend themselves to including much text.

In particular, the vertical skyscraper ads are tough for text, or images for that matter. The format is very tall and thin. Be flexible within the concept and adjust your messaging to not overwhelm the available space in any particular ad size.

Try to think about these ads in the context that they will be viewed and design accordingly. For instance, if you are an HVAC company, a display ad campaign might be centered around something general, like “available 24/7 at no extra charge” or “never a trip charge” to differentiate you from your competition and solidify in a prospective customer’s mind that you won’t rake them over the coals if they find themselves in need of your services.

Or, the messaging could be something seasonal like a special offer for a heating or air conditioning system check or tune up. Again, something simple that could get filed away in a person’s brain and circled back to when they are ready to book that type of service.

Remarketing ads follow different rules, which we will cover in a later section.

The best display ads keeps the advertiser more “top of mind” for the person exposed to the ads or acts as “low ask” direct response.

Landing Pages

Where you send people who actually click on a display ad really, really matters.

You are paying for each and every person that sees your ad and clicks through, so make sure that there is a consistent message, look, tone and information from ad to landing page.

Having a unique landing page for each offer/CTA you set up is the ideal. By having unique landing pages you can both tailor messaging more specifically and track user behavior more distinctly if you’re not just sending everyone to your site’s home page.

Keeping with the HVAC example – if your ads talk about a special offer for system tune ups, your landing page should detail what your tune up includes and make it super easy for a person to convert whether it be to get pricing or scheduling an appointment.

Remember too that people might prefer different options to complete a task than you (or your boss) might prefer. You might prefer to pick up the phone and call for a plumber, while someone else might prefer to use an online appointment request form, even for emergency service.

A lot of landing page optimization advice will tell you to only provide one thing that a visitor can do on the page. I agree with that advice in that you should not have multiple offers competing on a page, but I also recommend having more than one way to complete the task, if appropriate.

If someone is accessing your ad then landing page on a mobile device, don’t assume that they will only want to call you. Lots of people view things on a phone at a time or place where they can’t necessarily make a call.

If you have to make choices about where to invest outside resources, while I am a huge proponent of designing ads outside of the AdWords tools, if you can only spend money on either ad design or landing page creation/design, go for the landing pages.

One of the most important things you can do in your landing page design, is to have a solid and easily recognizable message match from the content of your ad to the content of your landing page.

It can be tempting to just use the same landing page for different campaigns if they’re somewhat similar. Don’t do this.

By the time a person has hit your landing page, you’ve already paid for them. Make sure you’re sending them to a page that is specifically set up to match your messaging and offers and encourages them to take your desired next step.


For regular display campaigns, there a lot of options when it comes to targeting the campaigns.

Traditional search advertising targets mainly by keyword matching to queries, but direct display can target using keywords, topics, interests, demographics and any combination of these methods.

You also have the option of running only what are called “managed placements” where you specify each site within the GDN network where you want your ads to display. Managed placements are more like what exact match in AdWords search campaigns used to be – your ads only show exactly where you specify.

Managed placements can be a great way to target sites very specifically, that are a great fit for the advertiser. For example, there are a ton of sites out there that provide listings, ratings and information about colleges, universities and trade type schools.

If you’re in this industry, running a Google Display Network campaign on these specific sites can produce some fantastic results. By choosing specialized managed placements, like in this example, you’re effectively bridging closer to a person in more of a search mentality, since the site they’re visiting when they see your ad is directly related to your offering and they are in the act of searching or researching on the specialized site.

User intent is hotter in this scenario than if your ads are showing up on their local news site or a celebrity gossip or sports news site.

Finding managed placement opportunities can be a simple or complex endeavor, depending on how much time and energy you wish to devote to it. A great place to start is to use local citation tools to see where your business is already listed around the web. Examples of tools that find this type of information are Whitespark, BrightLocal or MozLocal.

They all work essentially the same way – you enter in the name, location and a phone number of a business and they will return a list of all sites that have a listing that matches it. You can do this for both your business and your competitors to really build out a great list of managed placement ideas.

You can also use tools like the AdWords Display Planner and use the same filtering criteria as if you were using the Keyword Planner. Another tool is WhatRunsWhere that is a PPC spy tool that allows you to find your competitor’s managed placements. What Runs Where is pricey – desktop package is $299/month and desktop + mobile is $399/month. The do offer a one month trial for $1 if you want to test drive it.

Here’s what the interface looks like
Here’s what the interface looks like

Another way to find sites to target for managed placements is to do some good old fashioned manual Google searches for your business and industry and see what comes up in the results. For the example provided earlier, higher education, searches for the general topic or specific schools yield search results chock full of resource sites that are often great for managed placements in the Google Display Network.

Once you have your initial list of desired managed placements, entering them is a snap. In the Ad Group creation screen, simply choose “Use a different targeting method” radio button to access the Managed Placements. From the drop down select Placements (as seen in image below):

This is what it looks like
This is what it looks like

Simply enter in the sites where you want your ads to run and you’re ready to go.

Managed placements can also represent sites where your target customers might likely visit.

For instance, if one of your prospective customer personas are moms, you may wish to consider some managed placements on mommy blogs or parenting sites. You can also capture these types of interests by targeting topics or interests within the Google Display Network.

One method that can be fruitful is to run two campaigns simultaneously – one using keyword, interest and/or topic targeting and one using managed placements. The managed placement campaign, if setup as described above, can have a surprisingly good clickthrough and conversion rate compared to more general Google Display Network placements.

For broader reach, try running a more traditional type of Google Display Network campaign and get more granular over time from there. You can go very broad when targeting based on a topic or interests.

I like to think of this type of targeting as being more like broad match for keywords in AdWords search campaigns – anything that is even kind of related to the term/topic/interest will generate a match or in this case, display of your ad.

The main disadvantage of running a non-managed placement campaign is the time required to sift through the placement reports. It’s like reviewing search term reports, only worse because you often have to click through to terrible sites to review of them.

You can exclude sites individually or categorically in the Google Display Network. Right from the start, it’s a good idea to explore the categories of sites you can exclude. There are quite a few that should be excluded for most businesses, including topics such as adult, legal or political types of sites to name a few. Nothing is worse than having your ads displaying on a site that you find wildly inappropriate. Being proactive in exclusions can go a long way toward preventing this scenario.

To exclude categories from the start, you will want to navigate to the Topics tab under Targeting:

Here’s what that looks like
Here’s what that looks like

Here are some examples of the types of categories you might wish to just exclude completely:

Some of these may be where your target audience is though
Some of these may be where your target audience is though

Also, if you don’t want your ads showing in apps, be sure to use as an excluded placement.

I know my family is personally responsible for many, many toddler clicks on ads, so I am a huge advocate for blocking these placements for almost all situations.

Here’s a look at how you do that
Here’s a look at how you do that

You actually set up your targeting by ad group for the Google Display Network, and you can choose any number of combinations of ways to target people.

Keywords work a lot like they do in traditional search campaigns, although all terms are broad match in the Google Display Network. Using the mommy blog reader target audience, here is how initial keyword targeting input might look:

You can add longer tail keywords too
You can add longer tail keywords too

Keyword targeting is not my favorite targeting method for Google Display Network, but it feels the most familiar relative to traditional search campaigns and is a perfectly fine way to target.

I like to start with a pretty small keyword list and see what kinds of placements and traffic volume they produce before introducing more keywords to the list. The screen below does offer an option for suggested keywords that you can add individually to your campaign.

The suggestions are about on par with what you find in the Opportunities tabs in search campaigns:

Here’s what those suggestions look like
Here’s what those suggestions look like

Once you have added the keywords to your ad group, you’ll see estimates of expected weekly volume (which may or may not be terribly accurate so be careful in sharing these numbers and creating expectations around them).

This is what the available impressions look like
This is what the available impressions look like

The disclaimers for these estimates and how your mileage may vary can be found on the official AdWords site here.

On all the screens where you are selecting targeting options in the Google Display Network, at the bottom you will always see options for Google to find you additional audiences:

Like this view above
Like this view above

I leave these options unchecked when starting a new campaign. They can add a lot of volume for you later, but when you’re starting new campaigns, keeping data clean of influence that’s not from your targeting makes the most sense. So uncheck this box at least initially.

If you wanted to just target by keyword, click Save and Continue and get on about creating the actual ad group.

If you want to layer on additional criteria, click on the Narrow Your Targeting Further (optional) link and you have the choice of adding layers that are Interests & Remarketing, Topics, Placements or Demographics.

Interests and remarketing apply to the following scenarios only:

Target past visitors, email subscribers, or interests
Target past visitors, email subscribers, or interests

Interests are based around people’s browsing behavior, not necessarily the specific website they’re on at the time they see your ad.

Topics are exactly what they sound like – topics that people might be interested in that offer varying levels of subcategories:

There are tons of topics
There are tons of topics

You can preview the full list of topics and subtopics officially from AdWords here to plan your choices more easily.

Topics are buckets of websites that fit a certain category.

AdWords also offers options to target by Demographics. A word about this targeting method – demographics can be a really powerful way to target your advertising. It’s important to keep in mind when using demographic targeting in AdWords that their actual available demographic data is more limited than a platform like Facebook.

So if you want to add demographic targeting as a layer, do so knowing that the way your ads are matched demographically may not be too exact, especially if you follow Google’s advice and let them also show your ads to people who are in their Unknown designation for each category.

If I were targeting moms, as in earlier examples, and I wanted to add demographics as a targeting layer, I would choose settings like these:

As an example
As an example

Don’t Over Target

With Google Display Network targeting, as with many strategies, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

Running ads on the Google Display Network can be about reach, visibility, or top of funnel direct response. Each layer of targeting you add has the potential to decrease your chances for greater visibility or higher direct response volume.

It’s important to be very clear about exactly what your goals are for any campaign and then make appropriate targeting decisions.

My preferred method, when using any targeting method besides managed placements, is to start broad and narrow from there. You can start more narrow and broaden, but I generally prefer to do it the other way.

By going more broad to start with, you’ll get a larger data set to comb through and also will often find areas that are good targets and areas that are poor targets. Starting broad allows this process to happen faster.

Remember, Google Display Network is a different animal from traditional search ads.

It’s easy to become so ingrained with how you do traditional search ads that it can be hard to break out of that mindset to set up successful display initiatives. Google Display Network by its nature is more shotgun, so try to use that to your advantage and not fight it with too restrictive of targeting.

The estimated available traffic figures can be helpful in this regard too. While they are by no means an actual projection of how many impressions your ads will actually receive, they can be helpful in showing you proportionally how your possible available traffic changes as you add targeting layers.

Now, Start Running Your Campaign

Now that you have everything set up as you want it, it’s time to set the campaign to Active status and let it roll.

Then you will switch into management mode. Much like combing through search term reports, you’ll find yourself having to look through the list of sites where your ads were displayed (called “Automatic placements”) and make decisions about whether to continue to display them there.

The list can be extensive, so I like to sort by clicks to evaluate sites where people are clicking on ads first. If you don’t know how to change the view this way, simply click on the column header of Clicks in the placement report and it will order the sites in descending order by number of clicks.

View clicks in the Placements Report
View clicks in the Placements Report

Looking at the data in this order accomplishes two things – first, you’re looking first at sites where your ads were clicked on and also as you progress through the sites you then get to all the sites where your ad was never clicked. You can decide on a site by site basis which sites to keep in your mix and which to exclude.

When you see your first automatic placement report, you might start to understand more why I like managed placements so much. But, much like search term reports, time invested can be useful not just for this campaign, but also for future campaigns.

Inevitably after your first campaign, you will find things that you will apply to subsequent campaigns that will make them more efficient from the start. I find it very handy to create a text file with sites I decide to manually exclude.

If you make a file(s) like this you can just cut and paste during the setup of a new campaign and save yourself some time from excluding sites you’ve already deemed to be not right for your ads (or any ads for that matter).

You can also house those exclusions in a negative placement list that lives in your Shared library in your AdWords account.

Set a negative placements list of exclusions
Set a negative placements list of exclusions

Adjusting Targeting

What happens if you don’t have the traffic or impression numbers you thought you would with your initial targeting?

Sometimes when you set up your targeting parameters, as I mentioned earlier, you can end up making them too specific. The great news is that you can really easily adjust your targeting at any time. For managed placement campaigns, you can add or delete placements individually, which is straightforward.

For campaigns using other targeting methods, if you’ve layered them, you might want to remove a layer and see if it moves the traffic into a better zone for you. If you have keywords and topics and demographics selected, remove one of them and see what it does for your traffic.

Each situation will be different, as far as exact goals for a display campaign, but generally the idea is to just have exposure to ads, which will can put impressions in a higher priority position than clicks. This type of situation is also a departure from traditional paid search advertising, in that traditional search tends to be more often about finding that perfect sweet spot of impression level, clickthrough rates and conversions. This does not mean that you should not be monitoring ad performance though…

Ad Performance

The great news here is that monitoring ad performance is exactly like traditional search advertising! The interface will be familiar, as is the process you would use to test ad variations.

Since there are so many ad formats in the GDN, I usually start with only one ad per size running. You could start with two variations from the beginning, but I like to run just one for a bit to get a sense of the types of ads that are getting any type of traction.

Once I have an idea of which ad formats are (a) being seen the most and (b) are getting clicked on, at this point I will start creating ad variations and seeing how I can move the needle with different ads.

Depending on your available resources, this process can be more cumbersome than traditional search advertising too – with the many graphic ad formats. If you rely on someone else to create the ad files, it’s wise to have multiple variations created at the same time, even if you begin running them at different times.

Unlike traditional search advertising, where you are only really evaluating ads truly against each other, in display you are evaluating format right alongside design and content. Layer on top of that placements and it is more complicated.

Figuring Out Which Ads Are Running Where

Sadly, there’s not an easy way to do this natively within AdWords.

But, with a little creativity, you can get a little better sense of which ads are displaying on which placements (sites). It takes a little work on the front-end to come up with a list of custom parameters that you will use in your ads’ Final URLs. You can use custom parameters without using a Tracking Template.

I like to keep parameters short and if possible a bit coded so that I can know what they are, but a person seeing the URL won’t necessarily.

For instance, a taxonomy might look like this:

Text ad = txt

Skyscraper = sky

Small square = ssq

Horizontal banner = hzb

You get the idea – use short codes that will mean something to you (or that you can reference from a cheat sheet!). To see these in your Placement stat screen, add the Custom Parameter column (located under Attributes) to your column set.

Set Custom Parameters under Attributes
Set Custom Parameters under Attributes

NOTE: This will not work with responsive ads, as the URL used is the same for all variations of the ad, including any custom parameters.

The other way to try to access this data is in Google Analytics. This will involve a little more manual work, but here is one way you could tackle it. In order to view specific ad creative IDs for non-responsive ads in Analytics, you will have to add the custom parameter of {creative} to your ads’ URLs:

Set custom parameters for your URLs
Set custom parameters for your URLs

You will want to do this for all of your non-responsive ads. With this parameter in place, the actual Ad Creative ID for each ad will get passed into Analytics. When you’re ready to look at the data in Analytics, simply:

  1. Go to Acquisition >> AdWords >> Display Targeting
  2. Select a Secondary Dimension of Ad Creative ID
  3. View specific placements

You will have to have a cheat sheet of some kind to match up the Ad Creative IDs to the ads themselves and their associated formats.

To find your ads’ IDs, go to the Ads tab and click so that you are looking at your ads (either for all campaigns or by campaign or ad group, depending on how large your campaigns are). You can add Ad ID and Ad Type in the Modify Columns option.

Add columns you want to show up
Add columns you want to show up

Here is a condensed view of what it looks like after you add these two columns to the view:

This is how it will look adding two new columns: Ad Type and Ad ID
This is how it will look adding two new columns: Ad Type and Ad ID

If you had set up the custom parameters described in the first method, you could also create segments within Google Analytics to key off of those variables either as a group or separately to track user behavior from clickers of different ad formats.

If you just want to see text versus image type ads, by placement you can do that via the Dimensions function in AdWords, but only when you download the data. To get this report:

Download and schedule a Dimensions Report
Download and schedule a Dimensions Report
    1. Click on the Dimensions tab
    2. Select “Automatic Placements” as the metric
    3. Click to download the data
    4. Add a Segment and select “Ad Type”
    5. Download the data
    6. When you open in Excel you will see the placements and a designation of text, image or responsive for the ad type that was shown

A Few Words About Remarketing

Remarketing is a specialized type of advertising within the GDN.

It differs from “regular” display advertising in that you are targeting people who have been to your website or landing page.

Remarketing audiences (as they are called) can be generated via AdWords or from Google Analytics. Either way, the concept is the same – show display ads to someone who has at least been on your site.

Like any search advertising method, remarketing can be done very generally (show this ad to anyone who has been on the site, forever and ever, amen) or very specifically (show an ad about a specific product to a person who viewed that product but did not buy it for the next 5 days, no more than 5 times per day).

You can see up to 38 different retargeting campaigns you can.

As a marketer, I’m so intrigued with the possibilities of remarketing. When done well and very thoughtfully, it can be so powerful. When done hastily though, it can do more harm than good.

Consumers are becoming more and more aware of ads “stalking them” around the web. So if you want to start a remarketing initiative, start small and be highly deliberate in what you’re choosing to put in your ads and to whom you choose to show them.

I generally recommend getting comfortable in the Google Display Network space by running “regular” display campaigns (or at least one campaign) first before trying your hand at remarketing.

Many of the same principles of display advertising apply equally to remarketing. But, and this is a gigantic but, the only targeting you need is the remarketing criteria you establish for a list.

Key Take Aways

    • The Google Display Network has tremendous reach. That being said, monitoring placements and performance on placements is an important part of ultimately running successful GDN campaigns.
    • GDN also has a lot of flexibility in how you can target your advertising. Don’t overcomplicate your targeting – depending on your goals you may want broader or more limited targeting in place.
    • It’s ok to start small – start with one idea for a campaign and get in there and learn your way around!
    • If resources are limited, Google Display Network offers a responsive ad option that will create ads for you based on information you input (proceed with caution if your client is particular about messaging and/or there are regulatory or legal issues for your industry!).
    • Don’t neglect your landing pages. Unique landing pages are a good idea both from a messaging continuity standpoint, but also to be able to use in Analytics to drill down into user behavior after the click.
    • With a little effort in your campaign and ad set up, you can create data points that will help drill down into which ad versions are running on which placements.

Some Final Advice

Try your best to stay up to date with changes to AdWords – responsive ads/end of text ad creation was rolled out while this piece was in development and it had to be updated! The Inside AdWords Blog is worth a follow, as it is the official blog for AdWords. Twitter is a great place to stay in the know about changes to platforms too. A lot of PPC pros are active on Twitter and post pretty frequently about things they are seeing and their take on them as well. You could also follow the #ppcchat Twitter hashtag to quickly see what industry pros are talking about.

Chapter 3:
Google Display Ads

What You’ll Learn: Take advantage of cheaper clicks with unknown strategies many people don’t use when it comes to the Google Ads Display Network.

Chapter 4:
Google Shopping Ads

What You’ll Learn: Get more people to buy from your store, increase your average order value, all while spending less on acquiring new customers.

Chapter 5:
YouTube Ads

What You’ll Learn: Unlock the power of video advertising to drive conversions in all different parts of the funnel that ultimately lead to more sales for you.

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