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Automating Display: Preview of Automation Guide eBook

Having an automated solution to manage bids and budgets for search is only half the battle. Optimizing your strategy for display campaigns is equally important.

Display ads are notorious for having the lowest click-through rates in the digital ad space, which can make them difficult to optimize. To help tip the scale, certain aspects of display can be automated to optimize performance.

Display advertising expert, Lee Goldberg, President of Vector Media Group, discusses the best practices for automating display campaigns and how his award-winning agency uses the Acquisio Trading Desk to automatically manage bids and budgets for display to help them save time and improve performance.

When to Automate

Determining when to automate campaigns and when to use bid rules and run them manually is determined on a case by case basis, but the main factor is scale.

Campaigns that should be automated include:

  • Those with a sufficient volume of clicks and/or conversions on the GDN
  • Those with a clear structure – either fully placement targeted, fully contextual KW targeted etc.

When you run groups of complex contextually-targeted campaigns with potentially thousands of keywords and placements that each need to be managed, a manual process to manage the bids and suppress the keywords that are not driving clicks is not a fun option.   

Using an automated solution is a major time saver.

Working with automated solutions, like BBM, the main philosophy behind the algorithms is to suppress and reward.

The algorithms can assess which campaigns within your campaign structure are high cost and which ones are performing best, from either a CPC or CPA basis. The algorithms then work to systematically reduce the cost and suppress the CPC on higher cost display ad campaigns and  reward the campaigns that are doing well and driving the most clicks and conversions.

The best part is that the automated solution is able to do all this in real time, automatically.

A Mix of Manual and Automation

The best strategy we have tested so far is a mix of manual and automated practices, for the more complex display campaigns.

It’s crucial that you don’t automate the strategy and design of your campaigns – that should be done manually. If you do the hard work to build the right campaigns, then automating the bid and budget aspects will be more effective. If you automate campaigns with the wrong creative or the wrong message, it’s useless. Focus on the fundamentals first and build a really good display campaign. Do the hard work first, then rely on automation.

Why Use Acquisio Trading Desk (ATD)

At Vector we run display in different ways, including managing our own campaigns using the Google Display Network and Facebook Exchange. We have also worked directly with major DSPs like AdRoll. Yet we have seen the most success with the Acquisio Trading Desk (ATD).

The reason for using ATD is twofold:

1)     ATD is a full service managed solution with a real-time bidding process. Leveraging Acquisio’s automated bid & budget management solution, we bid in real time for the right audience at the right time and at the right cost. This works for display, video, social and more.

2)     The campaigns we run with ATD get imported directly into Acquisio’s cross publisher platform, where adding keywords, changing targeting and other campaign alterations can be easily applied. The real value of using a third party vendor to manage our display information is the attribution function that comes along with it. 

Success Story

Using ATD, we managed the display campaigns of a well-known publishing company with the goal of improving brand awareness and brand lift.

We created brand-heavy display creatives and partnered with Google for 30 days, who attached a brand lift survey to the campaign, which helped with our success metrics.

Once we launched, we saw a very high number of impressions, averaging around 1.5 million impressions per day. The CPM was low but the CPC was high. Mid-way through, we started the campaign on the automated bid & budget management solution.

We structured a few different campaigns, including a placement targeting campaign, a keyword convention campaign, and an interest targeted campaign, all running on Acquisio’s BBM.  

With BBM, we saw the CPC drop by 40% while the number of clicks remained the same.

Measuring lift on the company’s brand name in search, we saw a 27% lift on the search value for the brand as a direct function of the display campaign.

It was a hugely successful campaign once coupled with the automated bid and budget optimization tool.

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Best Practices for Display Automation

Depending on what type of display ad you are running, here are some of the best ways to get the most out of an automated solution like BBM.

Prospecting and display banners:

Split everything up into smaller, more manageable campaigns to get more accurate results.

Contextual targeting:

If you have a lot of keywords,  run multiple contextual campaigns, using one ad group and campaign for each different set of keywords. The key is to separate campaigns so you can have different budgets associated with each campaign. Once you have them separated, BBM can work its magic.

Placement Targeted Campaigns:

Split your campaigns up by target, such that you have one set of targeted placements in one campaign, and another set of targeted campaigns in another.  In case you haven’t caught on yet, segmentation is key for accuracy when it comes to automated solutions. The more organized your campaigns are, the more accurate the results will be.


Think about your audiences, and split your campaigns by their value. One audience could be users who started checkout and abandoned their cart. Another audience could be users who bought something from your site and you want to sell them something else. With remarketing, the best approach is to set up separate campaigns by audience or remarketing list. That’s because the two audiences described above are totally different. The conversion rates are different and you’re likely to bid higher for someone who already converted and knows your brand than you would for someone new to your brand. Setting up retargeting campaigns for separate audiences and relying on BBM’s automation to figure out which segment converts better will allow you to bid up for the high performing group and bid down for the other.

Step up your Display Game

There are three easy steps to step up your display game and improve campaign performance:


Whether you automate display or not, the most important thing is to have the right metrics. Set the right metrics from the get-go to evaluate performance, meaning, know whether to look at conversions, cost-per-acquisition, click-through rates or some other metric.

Where most marketers go wrong is they try to treat and optimize display the way they optimize search, but the two are very different. In search, people actively look for something and see an ad related to their query. For display, the marketer is the one creating the demand and showing an ad. The odds of getting a conversion are much lower than when a user searches, so it’s crucial to understand what metrics indicate success for display.

Rather than looking at conversions or CPA, you may want to look at frequency, click-through rate, reach, on page engagement, time on site, bounce rate etc. Those are better metrics for display than conversions and CPA, because the reason for launching a display campaign may not be just to get conversions but for branding purposes, in which case impressions would be of value.

With display, the focus is to build up brand awareness, get people in your funnel and use other channels like search and retargeting to move them through the funnel.


Having a good attribution model in place is crucial. Don’t just optimize for clicks, you want to consider attributing other conversions as well. For example, with post view conversions, what credit is given to different display ads? You can decide which attribution model is used, and how each of the different touchpoints in the consumer journey is weighted.

With Acquisio Tracker, you can see the percentage of credit display ads get and their conversion rates, which is essential for understanding and quantifying the success of your campaigns.


Launch your display campaigns, let them run, get a baseline and then let automation go to work. We’ve had more success launching and managing campaigns manually for a week or two, making some changes, then letting BBM optimize the bids and the budgets, so that we can focus on ad creative, messaging, and targeting


To set a mobile bid, as you would with search, you need to set a mobile bid multiplier, which means you need to set your desktop bid first then set a modifier anywhere from -90% to +300% (-100% to opt out of mobile ads).

The best approach for mobile bid modifiers is to look at the relative conversion rate.

For example, if display ads on desktop perform 20% better than mobile ads, set the mobile bid modifier to -20%. By using relative conversion rates to set the initial mobile bid, the automated bid and budget management system kicks in and optimizes from there, continuing to base the cross device strategy off the relative conversion rate.


Cross device attribution becomes key for mobile. With ATD we are able to do cross device remarketing effectively, and the strategies ATD uses to buy display can optimize for cross device conversions.

For a Google Display Network campaign, Google has a conversion type called estimated cross device conversion, which also works well.

The industry as a whole is trying to figure out how to really measure cross device attribution, and without an automated solution fueling campaigns, it’s difficult to measure attribution across devices.

To learn about other automation solutions, covering bid and budget management, ad testing, creative and more, download the full ebook.




Lee Goldberg is the Co-Founder and President of Vector Media Group, a NYC-based digital agency focused on Search Engine Marketing and Website Development. Having worked with firms ranging from local startups to Fortune 100 companies, Lee specializes in Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Analytics consulting, Conversion Rate Optimization, and Paid Search Management, with a particular focus on campaign attribution.

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