Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new content and links to better serve readers like you. 🙂
Original Publication Date: September 13, 2016
The Google Ads Display Network is like our universe, in that it’s constantly expanding.
New opportunities and new ways to target people who are likely to convert are there for the taking.
But why is it so complex? And why is it so hard to make it work on a consistent basis?
In this post, we’ll break down some of the major things you need to know so you can get the Google Ads Display Network to be a predictable source of valuable conversions. We’ll also talk about some uncommon tactics that you can put to use.
(Side note: To learn where your Display Campaigns are in Google’s recent rebrand, click here).
But before we do that, let’s discuss some of the key differences between the Google Ads Display Network and the Google Ads Search Network.
Difference Between Google Ads Display Network & Search
You and I both know that the Google Ads Display Network is a world of its own. But how different is it from other PPC channels that you’re used to?
To begin with, it’s in a completely different dimension compared to the simplicity of the Google Ads Search Network.
While every PPC campaign is unique, you’ll find that your Search Network and Display Network campaigns are most effective if you expect the following results:
- Higher CPC
- Higher CTR
- Greater Conversion Intent
- Higher Cost Per Conversion
- Lower CPC
- Usually Lower CTR
- Lower Conversion Intent (see PPC Traffic Temperatures)
- Lower Cost Per Conversion
Even though the Google Ads Display Network reaches 92% off all internet users, it’s not always the right type of visitors who are clicking on your ads.
In addition to that, one of the biggest differences between Display and Search is that the visitors from Display are earlier in the conversion cycle than your Search visitors who are searching for what you have to offer.
More importantly, people who hit your landing page or website from the Google Ads Display Network don’t enter your marketing funnel at the same level as your search visitors.
This means that the Display Network acts more like a demand generator by creating interest and curiosity, while the Search Network acts as a demand harvester that connects people with their needs and wants as they’re searching.
Conversion Intent On The Google Ads Display Network
You might find that the call to action (CTA) you’re using on the Search Network doesn’t work as well on the Display Network.
This is because of the difference between the conversion intent of the visitor and the conversion threat of your call to action.
I call this the Ice Cubes & Lava scale, and it’s part of understanding your PPC Traffic Temperatures.
You’ll find that once you’re running your new Display campaigns, you won’t get the same volume of conversions or as high of a conversion rate on the Search network.
When this happens, you’ll want to start optimizing towards micro conversions.
Optimizing for micro conversions helps you get closer and closer to your goal of actual conversions by focusing around your onsite/on page marketing funnel bottlenecks.
Now, once you have everything ready, it’s time for you to have an arsenal of different calls to action, something that I like to call “value baits”.
The goal here is to now find which offers appeal the most to certain types of Google Ads Display Network visitors.
Before you dive into creating your own Display Network campaigns, it’s important that you don’t treat the Google Ads Display Network as brand awareness.
It can be a direct response channel if you know how to set it up correctly, by using the main points we’ve gone over so far.
Create Thought Leadership, Trust, and Value
When I wrote about the difference between the Google Ads Display and Search network on the Unbounce blog, I was fortunate enough to interview a company that uses the Display network with great success – the email marketing company Emma.
Emma uses a good mix of beautiful design and valuable content in exchange for a person’s email address.
I reached out to Cynthia Price, the VP of Marketing at Emma, who gave me the scoop on how they run their Display Network campaigns.
As you can see, the goal for Emma is not to immediately get someone to sign up and pay for their SaaS product.
It’s to build trust and brand equity, with the hopes of giving enough value that a person decides to use their product.
What you end up with is usually a Google Ads Display Network campaign that’s comprised of this logic:
When you use the Display Network as a tool to promote your most valuable content, you’ll see the people will eventually start to reciprocate by converting and taking action.
But you have to ask yourself:
“Is this the best piece of content (design, actionability, ease, fun, etc) on this topic?”
An honest “yes” will put you on a path to succeed quickly.
Setting Up Your Google Ads Display Network Campaign
Okay, by now you know the major differences between the Google Ads Search and Display Network. You also know which types of CTAs and offers work best with your marketing funnel.
Now comes the fun part of setting up your Google Ads Display Network campaign.
Inside of your Google Ads account, you’ll want to select the campaign “Display Network only” – this will allow you to have all the benefits without any restrictions.
Once there, you’ll want to make sure you select the “No marketing objective” radio button on the second screen.
This will give you access to all features (again, without any restrictions from Google).
When your Google Ads settings are complete you can move onto ad group creation, where you’ll set up all your targeting criteria.
Your Google Ads Display Network Targeting Options
Now that you have your Google Ads Display Network campaign shell ready, it’s time to add some targeting criteria to your first ad group.
But before we dive into that, have you had a chance to use some PPC spy tools to see which Display placements your competitors are already using?
A tool like WhatRunsWhere can show you which type of image ads a competitor is using and which placements they’ve found those image ads showing on.
In addition to our PPC spy tools article, you can check out the slides from my “7 AdWords Display Hacks” webinar with Kissmetrics for a different spin on these ideas.
Once you’re in your new ad group, you have some default targeting options to choose from. Here’s each one with more detail:
This is most common form of Google Ads Display Network targeting.
It’s contextual keyword targeting (where match types don’t matter) that use your keywords to find URL placements to show your ads that match the content of that placement.
Let’s say that you’re a landscaping service and you’re trying to use the Display Network to get cheaper leads with the keyword ‘tree stump removal’.
Your contextual display keyword targeting could have your ad show up on what Google thinks is relevant to you, like these placements:
What you might not be able to see in the Automatic placements screenshot is that this advertiser’s ad was showing up on an article about an SUV pulling out a tree stump.
But that doesn’t mean that the person reading the article or watching that video is interested in your landscaping services or your tree stump removal.
This is where regular keyword contextual targeting fails, and more the reason for why you should consider layering multiple targeting criteria on top of each other to get better, more accurate, results.
Placement targeting is direct URL targeting.
This is where WhatRunsWhere comes in handy as you can see the exact placements that your competitors are already targeting.
So let’s say you’re an online graphic design school and you want to target a list of 20 placements that have to do with graphic design tutorials. You can grab those domains and add as targeting criteria and have your ads show up within sub-URLs of that main domain.
Quick Note: You can only target direct URLs that are max three levels down. Example would be: domain.com/1/2/3
Topics are groups of websites that fit into similar categories that Google has already put into buckets. You can choose a topic at a time (or multiple) and Google will let you refine your results to get more specific.
If you get tired of clicking around, you can also search by topic codes here.
This allows you to use your keyboard shortcut of Command + F (Mac) or Control + F (PC) to find the topic audiences relevant to you.
Interests are similar to Topics, but with one major difference.
Topics are related to the content of the URL your ads will show up on. Interests are related to the browsing behavior of the individual visitor.
Categories are then created around visitors who are interested in knitting or DIY projects, for example, where your ads don’t need to be on a site that’s contextually relevant. Google has already determined that the ad impression came from someone whose browsing behavior indicates an interest in what you’re trying to sell.
Affinity And In-Market Audiences
In addition to targeting interests, you have some other options around Affinity and In-Market audiences.
Affinity audiences are groups of prospects who show a liking to brand, figure, person, TV show, etc.
These aren’t super specific audiences, but more about the preferences of blogs a person reads and whether it be more tech related or fashion-focused (as an example).
Custom Affinity audiences allow you to create your own set of audiences based on interests and URLs.
In the example below, I’m creating a custom affinity audiences based around Apple products (interests) and the website 9to5mac.com (URL).
In-Market audiences are people who are ready to pay. (Or at least that’s what Google tells us.)
These are people that Google has identified as entering the price comparison stage or near a conversion.
The audiences for In-Market are very similar to Affinity audiences, but with small changes in the targeting options:
Remarketing On The Google Ads Display Network
There’s a good chance you already know what remarketing is (called retargeting by everyone else, but Google).
The act of having your ads follow your prospects around based on a cookie they got from visiting your site or landing page.
We wrote a super beefy blog post around remarketing that highlights 33 different types of remarketing campaigns you can run.
This type of targeting allows you to create multiple audiences that show different intent to then target specific ads to them for a specific amount of time through the Google Ads Display Network.
You can create your remarketing audiences in Google Analytics to import into your Google Ads account. You can create them within your Google Ads account’s Shared Library too.
Want to just target people based on their gender, age, and/or parental status?
Then pure demographic targeting can be your way to go.
Are you an eCommerce company with a ton of products and don’t have the time to create individual ad sets for each product? Then you’re going to love dynamic remarketing.
Because it’s more than just that.
Dynamic remarketing allows you to create audiences and automated ad creative at scale without having to create everything from scratch manually.
Dynamic remarketing works for other types of businesses too (travel, hotel, membership sites, etc.). You can add custom values to the remarketing tag that lives on your website and landing pages.
You can read more about the specifications in the remarketing code here.
Similar Audiences is a new audience that Google created as a clone off your current remarketing audiences.
Much like Lookalike Audiences within Facebook, Similar Audiences tries to find people who share the same interests and browsing behaviors as your current remarketing audience.
You can then choose to target these Similar Audiences in their own ad groups. The results can help you determine if your conversion volume and performance increases when you tap into an audience that should be interested in what you have to offer but doesn’t know you yet.
This type of targeting starts with you uploading a list of email addresses to Google. Google can match those email addresses to email addresses that people use to login to Google services.
This is remarketing, but without the need for a cookie that eventually expires.
Just like you create an audience in your Shared Library, you do the same by uploading your email list to then see the match rate that Google finds between your list and Google users.
The higher your match rate, the more people you’ll be able to target.
The only downside about Customer Match is that you can’t use it as regular remarketing targeting. It has to go through Gmail Sponsored Promotions (more on that here in a few), YouTube, or as Remarketing List for Search Ads (RLSA).
You can read more about it here.
Display Campaign Optimizer (DCO)
Think of DCO as your automated robot butler that goes out and finds profitable new placements for your ads to show up on.
It’s almost as easy as it sounds, but you should be aware of a few things before you get started:
In addition to that, you should follow these best practices. DCO is more of a programmatic solution compared to regular Display targeting.
You can learn more about this type of campaign directly from Google here.
Gmail Sponsored Promotions
Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP) are one of my absolute favorite types of Display campaigns to run. (And not just because they’re extremely cheap.) GSPs target the Gmail inboxes of your prospects via competitor domains, keywords, topics/interests, remarketing lists, and demographics.
Here’s a sneak peek at the ad creative:
Across multiple client accounts, we’ve found that targeting competitor domain keywords works best in conjunction with a low threat offer that’s easy for the visitor to convert on.
There’s a ton of stuff you can do to target your prospects, like having your lead gen form live within Gmail or making a click-to-call ad that doesn’t require the visitor to leave Gmail at all.
We wrote a hefty guide on how to use Gmail Sponsored Promotion ads, so check it out after you’re done with this post.
Ads in Apps
This is one that not many advertisers use effectively. With “Ads in Apps” targeting, you can target an individual app or a category of apps for your text or image ad to appear in.
As you’ve probably guessed, the cost per clicks here are really cheap since your competitors probably don’t know how to target them effectively. Further, there isn’t much demand to drive up costs, since many advertisers are advertising their own apps and can’t afford high cost-per-install prices.
Luckily for you, you don’t have to be advertising an app to use this type of targeting.
Quick Note: Most advice online tells you not to target apps as they’re default Automatic placements. But that’s if they’re Automatic placements, not targeted placements.
Here’s a look at how to target apps individually:
iTunes has numerical package names, while Google Play uses text based package names.
You can target or exclude apps individually by using this targeting snippet for iTunes: mobileapp:1-(9 digits go here)
And this for Google Play: mobileapp:2-(package name)
You can also target categories of apps to later narrow down your targeting to the individual app if you’d like. This will help you get more data, faster.
YouTube is such a humongous channel with multiple targeting criteria that it deserves its own blog post.
But for the sake of this post, it’s important to know that YouTube is part of the Google Ads Display Network and that you can easily get up and running without video creative (although I don’t recommend it).
To advertise on YouTube, you don’t actually need a video. You can target individual videos or channels with a static text ad or a 468×70 image ad.
But, if you want to take advantage of extremely low cost per views and quick ROI windows (depending on your funnel), then investing in video collateral can pay off handsomely.
From this starting point, you can create new remarketing audiences based on YouTube metrics:
In addition to that, you can get creative with different types of ads and targeting options:
Very straightforward. If you want to target all people within a city or other geographic area, then this could be an option for you.
Combine Targeting Options
Okay, so now you have a long list of different types of Google Ads Display Network targeting options. The cool thing is that you don’t have to choose just one.
You can use all of them individually, but you can also mix and match. Combining targeting options can refine and segment your audience for a more specific approach.
You can also decide on which devices to target per campaign.
And if you want, you can start by targeting all devices and then narrowing down after you see the individual device performance.
Ad Group Level Targeting
With the targeting in mind, it’s important that specify your targeting at the ad group level.
Because we love granularity so much here at KlientBoost and think the Iceberg Effect is certain death when it comes to Google Ads strategy, we break things out that work well to isolate them even further to then be able to double down on their high performance.
Keep that in mind as you find higher performing Automatic placements that you can extract.
Your Google Ads Display Network Ad Options
You have your baits, and you have your targeting options. Now it’s time to get creative with your ads.
The Google Ads Display Network is known to have unlimited amounts of ammunition to use when it comes to ad creative, so the quicker you can test, the faster you’ll find what works.
More common for the Google Ads Search Network, text ads see huge impression volumes on the display network since their sizing and dimensions can be manipulated to fit different areas of a publisher’s site.
This allows you to pair your display efforts with text and visual ads combined.
You’ve seen banner ads before, which is what you can call all visual display ads. But did you know how many different pixel dimensions you have at your disposal?
Here’s a look:
- Wide skyscraper: 160 x 600 pixels
- Half-page: 300 x 600 pixels
- Large leaderboard: 970 x 90 pixels
- Large mobile banner: 320 x 100 pixels
- Billboard: 970 x 250 pixels
- Portrait: 300 x 1050 pixels
- Vertical rectangle: 240 x 400 pixels
- Mobile leaderboard: 320 x 50 pixels
- Banner: 468 x 60 pixels
- Leaderboard: 728 x 90 pixels
- Square: 250 x 250 pixels
- Small square: 200 x 200 pixels
- Large rectangle: 336 x 280 pixels
- Inline rectangle: 300 x 250 pixels
- Skyscraper: 120 x 600 pixels
All these ads can max be 150 KB in file size and be one of these file types:
Quick Note: Curious to see which image ads your competitors are using? Use WhatRunsWhere that’s covered in our PPC Spy Tools article. You can see who your Google Ads competitors are by using the Audience insights report.
Similar to static image ads, animated ads have movement and are created in the GIF format.
They adhere to similar pixel dimensions, but follow more restrictions compared to static image ads, like being disapproved for strobing or flashing.
Rich Media Ads
These types of ads involve movement, video, and sometimes other types of movement and interactivity.
Beyond being animated and interactive, Rich Media Ads can also have multiple layers that work together or carousels of images/products.
You can get some inspiration from Google’s own Rich Media Ad gallery here.
Gmail Sponsored Promotions Ads (GSP)
These are the ads we covered earlier that you can use to target people’s Gmail inboxes.
You’ll have multiple creative options to choose from, with the static image ad being the fastest to get live.
Want to advertise your ads on YouTube or throughout the Display Network?
Video ads have a higher upfront cost, but they can pay off in the long term for your business.
Since not many of your competitors use YouTube, it’s a good way for you to invest in different types of video ads by creating TrueView YouTube campaigns and granular ad groups.
Want to target mobile devices without getting desktops and other computers involved?
Then this type of ad creative will help you out.
Designed for people on the go (or slouchers on the couch), mobile ads have their own set of best practices you can read here.
Here are their recommended dimensions:
- 320 x 50 pixels
- 300 x 250 pixels
- 336 x 280 pixels interstitial
In the same family as mobile ads, tablet ads have just a few different ad pixel dimensions compared to mobile.
- 300 x 250 pixels
- 728 x 90 pixels
- 468 x 60 pixels
- 336 x 280 pixels interstitial
These types of ads adapt to their surroundings by keeping the content of the ad fluid, along with its dimensions.
Responsive ads are perfect if you’re in a time or resource crunch to create multiple ads. And even if you aren’t in a hurry, responsive ads should be part of your testing list.
These types of ads take your images, videos, and other creative assets to create interactive ads for visitors to play with.
Lightbox ads are used in conjunction with the Google Ads Display Network campaign marketing objectives of “Engage with your content” or “See your ad”.
Here’s a “gorgeous” lightbox ad that I spent a few seconds on 😉
Flash ads are a thing of the past. If you still have them, Google has a sweet article on what you can do to update them here.
HTML5 ads are the new kid on the block. They load more quickly, inhabit smaller files, and work across multiple browsers and devices more easily than Flash.
You can watch a 10-minute tutorial on hand-coding HTML5 ads here. Or you can use one of the following tools to create them at a much faster pace:
Display Ad Builder
The Display Ad Builder tool is already available in your Google Ads account. To get to it, open one of your Display ad groups. In the Ads tab, click the red +Ad button to get started.
From there, you’ll want to click on the Ad Gallery selection and select “General purpose ads”.
This will take you to a “Blank template” or “Ad ideas” where you can have Google scan your website/landing page for inspiration like I’ve done below in the GIF.
Google Web Designer
If you want a more hands-on solution with more creative freedom, then the Google Web Designer will help you out in a big way.
Google Web Designer is a standalone product that you can download here. With it, you can create “engaging and interactive HTML5 ads that can use motion graphics”.
Once you start using the Google Web Designer, you can actually link it directly to your Google Ads account for easy import and usage of your new ads.
Some other great tools that may be a bit more robust and offer more than the Google Web Designer include:
Your Google Ads Display Network Optimization Options
You probably feel like George Clooney and Sandra Bullock floating around in space not knowing what the heck is going on.
But now that you have your campaigns and ad groups, your targeting, and your ad creative, you’re ready to launch and start collecting data.
The next step for you is to use that data to improve your performance to get rid of the waste and double down on what works. Here are the things you should keep an eye on:
This report will be your bestest friend. It shows the publisher sites and mobile apps that your Google Ads Display Network ads have appeared on.
Unless you’re targeting placements directly, you’ll use this report (found in the Dimensions tab) to exclude certain URLs and mobile apps like you would with adding negative keywords on the Search network.
You’ll find that your remarketing campaign is rife with random placements that you shouldn’t necessarily exclude. (It doesn’t much matter where visitors go after they’ve been on your site or landing page.) But you should extract if those placements are contextually relevant to what you offer.
In addition to pruning placements from your Automatic placements report, it could be wise to create a Campaign placement exclusions list in your Shared library that works just like a negative keyword list.
That way you don’t have to manually add the negative placements to each campaign every time you find new placements to exclude.
Already know of placement categories that you’d never want your ads to show up on?
Then you can exclude these categories at the campaign or ad group level.
But be careful.
It’s very easy to go ahead and exclude a lot of categories, but many times, some of these categories can work for you.
As mentioned earlier, it’s common advice to exclude all mobile apps.
If you’re tracking people who have converted into new audiences, then it can be wise to eventually exclude these people with a 540 day max cookie expiration so they don’t convert on other offers in the future.
You can create negative audiences just like standard audiences and add them to the appropriate campaign and/or ad group.
Are you using the Dimensions tab to see which geographic areas are performing well and which are performing poorly?
You can use the Dimensions tab to see if certain cities or states within your overarching geographic targeting are performing better or worse.
And with that information, you can add in geographic bid modifiers to reduce or increase bids.
You can also remove geographic locations completely by excluding within your campaign settings.
Day of Week Exclusions
Also in the Dimensions tab, you can view the Day of Week performance and see what changes you need to make there to get a better cost per acquisition (CPA) or more value/ROI from your specific budget.
Time of Day Exclusions
Similar to the point above, are the hours from midnight to 3 AM bad for you to advertise during?
If so, lower your bids or remove them from your targeting altogether.
When you segment your campaigns by device, you’re able to see the performance difference between Computers, Tablets, and Mobile Devices.
Lucky for us, we can set bid modifications at the campaign level to lower bids by 100% or raise them by 300% at the specific device.
Pixel Specific Ad Groups
Once you’re up and running with ad groups that have individual targeting criteria, it will get very easy to be overwhelmed with how you go about split testing image ads that all have different pixel dimensions.
Since you have a lot more impression volume potential on the Google Ads Display Network compared to the Search Network, you’ll find that it’s quicker to test ads based on CTR, Conv/Rate, and CPA.
So to help you out, try granulating your ad groups out even further by only having one image ad pixel dimension per ad group. For example, all 300×250 pixel image ads could live in one ad group.
This gives you easier oversight to pause the underperforming ads instead of going through 50+ image ads that are all different pixel dimensions in that one ad group.
Because in this scenario, the only apples-to-apples comparison is between ads with the same pixel dimensions.
Your Bidding Options
The Google Ads Display Network allows for much more creative styles of bidding compared to the Search Network.
Want to know what your best performance is in conjunction with the daily frequency rate that a visitor must see your ad in order to convert?
Then add in the column of “Average impression frequency per cookie”. To add that, do this:
- Make sure you’re on the Google Ads Campaigns tab.
- Click on on the Columns drop-down menu
- Select “Modify columns”
- Click on “Reach metrics”
- Add “Avg. impr. freq. per cookie”
- Click Apply.
This will show you how many times an average visitor sees your ad per day for that specific Display campaign.
Are you going the extra mile to make sure your ads aren’t clicked in heavy volumes by suspicious IP addresses?
If not, then you should at least attempt to.
Tools like ClickCease help you track IP addresses, and with that information, you can exclude IP addresses at the campaign setting levels of your Display campaigns.
Closing Thoughts On The Google Ads Display Network
You’re a champ.
You now have the starting masterplan for an extremely successful Google Ads Display Network campaign.
But you’re far from done.
What happens after the initial conversion is just as important as all the leg work you’re doing to get that conversion.
Strengthening your marketing funnel to shorten the time gap from one successful action to the next is in your best interest. This will make Google Ads Display work for you on a more consistent basis.
Also, you want to get ready for high momentum testing = high quality audience finding.
Once you’re done with that, you want to make sure that you have a new value step for your Display visitors to take.
Since you probably got people to convert on a low-threat offer (remember our Ice Cubes & Lava scale?), your next step is to have them convert to something that’s higher up the value chain.
But remember, don’t offer your visitors more of the same thing.
Offer them something complimentary to what they converted on before.
As a PPC agency, if we got you to convert on a PPC guide, then another PPC guide probably wouldn’t be as interesting to you. You’d be more likely to convert on something new, like a landing page guide.
That way, we’re helping you learn how to convert that PPC traffic into money.
Finally, keep in mind that money made ≠ speed in the world of Google Ads Display.
You need to nurture your visitors and be patient enough to understand what they need to take the next step in your conversion process.