Make the Right Impression with Google Display Network Campaigns

Display Off Mentality

Years ago, long before the advent of Enhanced Online Campaigns, before adCenter even existed, and back when Yahoo! actually had its own paid search platform, it was relatively easy to optimize a Google AdWords account. We’d look at keyword lists, tweak some match types, and make sure the ads all went to the right place. Oh, and one more thing… we’d turn off the Google Content Network (the predecessor to the Google Display Network), which would default to an “on” position. We’d make that change, and ROI would improve – Often instantly. It was easy, and we’d look like heroes to our clients. The “display off” mentality would last for many, many years.

Display Today

Fast forward to present day, however, and the landscape has changed. We have Facebook offering interest-based targeting, major growth in RTB display networks, and a search landscape that’s become extremely cluttered with ever-rising CPCs, a SERP that’s crowded with video ads, Product Listing Ads, and SiteLinks, and more competition than ever before. So how do you break through the clutter?  For more and more advertisers and agencies, the answer is quickly becoming an investment in display. In fact, by 2016, online display ad spend is projected to eclipse PPC ad spend.

So what happened? Well, just as the paid search landscape has changed, so too has the display landscape. The Google Display Network, which we had always associated with low quality traffic, click fraud, and wasted budget dollars, has undergone a massive transformation with enhanced transparency and new targeting options. While I’ll admit that in the past, I was the first one to turn off the display network for my clients, these days, I’m turning into the network’s biggest advocate. If used correctly, the GDN could be an amazing way to grow traffic and conversions. Like anything else, however, you need to use it properly. I’ll walk through three key concepts to keep in mind.

Choose the Right Targeting Options… and Layer Them

The GDN offers many ways to target your users: Contextually, by interest, by geography, by in-market characteristics, by device type, etc, etc. While any of these targeting options alone will give you massive reach, just as we’ve seen with Facebook advertising and PPC advertising, it’s better to be everything for someone, rather than something for everyone.

Imagine your client is a jeweler, looking to target soon-to-be-married couples with an offer for wedding rings. You could start the process by selecting some relevant keywords in your GDN ad group, and adding them to the campaign:

choose how to target ads

You’ll notice that the audience is absolutely huge, with an estimate of 4 billion impressions per week. Sure, that reach is impressive, but how targeted are those impressions likely to be? The answer is not very targeted at all! So the next step is to drill down and add in additional layers of targeting:

taregt ads drilldown

You’ll notice that I’ve now sliced and diced my audience, to target folks who view websites about marriage, who are in a very specific age range, and who are females without children. Look at what happened to the potential reach – It went from 3-4 BILLION impressions per week to just 2.5-3 million impressions per week – a huge change. While the reach is much lower by adding in the additional layers of targeting, think about the implications of this – I can now have uber-targeted ad creative for different segments – that is, I can show an ad containing a younger female to the females, and an ad containing a male to the male audience. Much more relevant, right?  The key is to serve the right message to the right person at the right time, so continue to segment your audience to zone in on laser-tight messaging.

Look at the Right Metrics

Paid search has trained us to be extremely conversion-centric. While display definitely can drive conversions (with the proper setup, of course), you need to take a step back and consider the role of display versus the role of search. When a user does a search on Google, there’s an incredible amount of intent being shown in the query at this “Zero Moment of Truth” – After all, the user is actively looking for something. To put it another way, search advertising is capturing demand that already exists. When a user is consuming content on the web, however, there in a different state of mind – They are not actively looking for anything at that time! When you hit folks with a display ad, you are essentially knocking them out of what they were doing. They may not be ready to convert right now. So, you need to look at display a bit differently than search. This is not to say that you shouldn’t look at conversions… You absolutely should, especially on an attributed basis.  But you also should consider some other factors that really help to tell the full story:

  • CTR – Being that you’re creating new demand amongst an audience who is explicitly not searching for what you’re offering, ads that have a high CTR are doing their job in terms of building awareness and getting people excited about what you’re offering.
  • Engagement – Once you’ve gotten the user to click, take a look at what they’re doing on your website – How long are they staying, how many pages are they viewing, are they taking any microconversion actions, etc. I really like to segment the audience that came in from a display campaign, and then look at the return frequency of those visitors – Are they coming back multiple times? If so… It’s a good indicator that you’re building the proper audience.
  • Branded Volume – It’s a known fact that serving up targeted, precise display ads to the right audience drives search volume, especially on your branded terms. Take a look at changes in impressions and clicks on your branded keywords. If more people are searching for them both during and after your display push, it’s a good indicator of success. Granted, there could be other externalities that drive these changes in branded search volume, but you’re looking for correlations here. You can also use a tool like Google Trends for Search to measure increases in branded volume.
  • View Through Conversions – This is probably the most misunderstood yet most important display metric of all. Essentially, the View Through Conversions column in the AdWords interface measures the number of conversions that occurred post-view of a display impression. In plain english, this means that the metric counts the number of people who saw a display ad (image ads only), didn’t click it, but then ultimately converted anyway. We know that display ads have low CTRs, so this metric really captures how effective the ads are at getting people into the funnel who come back via some other means to take a desired action. While the value of View Throughs is one of the most hotly debated topics in the industry, I typically like to count 50% of them in a new user prospecting campaign, and a smaller percentage in a remarketing campaign, where the odds of a visitor who has already been to your site coming back are much greater (I’ll cover this topic in much more detail in my next blog post!)

Test, Test, Test

Like anything else in the advertising world, making GDN campaigns work requires a lot of trial and error. With so many levers to pull (keywords to target, placements, audience, etc), you’ll need to try different combinations to find the winners. You’ll also need to test different ad creative to find the message that works the best. When testing GDN for a new client (or for a client that hasn’t done display before), I typically like to put the GDN campaigns into a separate budget group, and then segment out display from search in my reporting, so that I can make sure that we’re optimizing things properly.

By leveraging all of the targeting options of the GDN together, and by looking at the right metrics, it CAN actually work to drive positive results. As is the case with anything new in online advertising, I encourage you to start small, prove the value, and then scale up. Do this properly and the first thing that you’d typically disable in an AdWords account may just become the first thing that you actually turn on.



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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