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6 Tips to Supercharge Google Display Network Performance

This post outlines six tips designed to help you get the most from the Google Display Network, including how to avoid some common budget drains.

6 Tips to Supercharge Google Display Network Performance

The Google Display Network “GDN” is the largest contextual advertising network available on the Internet. Consisting of millions of websites, advertisers can display their ads to a wide range of audiences using many targeting options. Although it can reportedly reach of 92% of all Internet users in the US, hesitation to use it is not uncommon. For example, when your target audience is browsing websites, they may not necessarily be in ‘shopping mode’, in comparison to when they are using Google Search. So to get the most from your GDN budget, you need to be smart about who you are going to target and how.

In this post, I outline six tips that will help you harness the potential of display advertising (including how to get the most from a limited budget).

1. Remarketing Campaigns

An obvious one, but this is by far the biggest opportunity: if you’re ever going to see any kind of return on the display network, you’re most likely to see it from remarketing.

Remarketing allows you to deposit a cookie via the browser of your website visitors.  You will then be able to display ads targeting those website visitors whenever they visit other sites also on the Google Display Network. It might sound slightly creepy, but it works due to the fact the people seeing your ads are already familiar with your brand. What’s more, remarketing has been proven to deliver lower CPAs, so it’s a great option for advertisers operating on a smaller budget.

Here’s how to setup a basic remarketing campaign to target users that have previously visited your website:

  1. Set up remarketing and add a remarketing tag to all pages of your website.
  2. Set up remarketing lists using the audiences tab within the AdWords shared library:creating remarketing lists via the audience tab
  3. Within a few days, your “All visitors” list will begin to populate. You can monitor this via the audiences tab in AdWords, as outlined above.
  4. Once your chosen list has gained at least 100 visitors within 30 days, you’re ready to start remarketing. To set up a new campaign, click +Campaign and select “Display Network only”:
    new display network campaign
  5. To enable all features, select ‘No marketing objective‘ and ‘All features‘:
    display options
  6. Choose a target location, language, bid strategy, budget, and campaign name.
  7. Click Save and continue.
  8. Name your first ad group, set your default CPC bid. Click Interests and remarketing under ‘Choose how to target your ads’:remarketing
  9. In the ‘Select a category’ drop-down menu, choose Remarketing lists:target remarketing lists
  10. Choose one of the remarketing lists you previously created via the audiences tab. In this example, we will be targeting ‘all website visitors’:target all website visitors
  11. Click Save and continue if you want to create your ads, or Skip ad creation if you want to do this later.
  12. Once your ads have been created, they’re eligible to be served to all previous website visitors whenever they’re browsing sites on the GDN.

There are many useful posts on how to optimize remarketing campaigns, including how to set up appropriate frequency capping and how to monitor performance. If you’re keen to learn more about remarketing strategies, this post from the guys at KlientBoost highlights more than 30 strategic remarketing campaigns.

2. Target Similar Audiences

The Similar Audiences feature within Google AdWords attempts to find people with similar interests and browsing habits as your remarketing audiences. If you have already set up remarketing, I would recommend targeting Similar Audiences in their own ad groups to see if you can boost performance.

To target similar audiences, set up a new display campaign and select the ‘Similar to remarketing lists‘ option within the Display Network targeting settings:

target similar audiences

You should then be able to click the arrows » next to each similar audience that you want to target:

select similar audiences

Similar audiences allow you to increase the reach of existing remarketing campaigns to drive new users to your site who have similar browsing habits as previous website visitors.

Protip: I would always recommend segmenting remarketing lists and similar audiences into separate ad groups to monitor relative performance, rather than grouping them into a single ad group.

3. Focus on Placements

Of all the targeting options available to advertisers on the Google Display Network, the best way of gaining granular control over where your ads are being served is by using managed placements.

If you use targeting methods like interests or topics, Google is essentially guessing which sites are relevant, meaning there’s a risk that your ads may be served on irrelevant websites.

By targeting placements, you’re able to select exactly which sites you want your ads to be displayed on, so it’s a safe option for advertisers just branching out into display advertising.

To set up placement targeting, navigate to the targeting settings of your display network campaign and choose ‘placements‘ from the Ad targeting drop down:

target placements drop down

You can then choose specific placements from the list by searching for keywords or specific websites:

placements list

If you have a list of high performing placements (websites), you can start to separate them into individual ad groups. Then you can more effectively manage your bids on the placements that are providing the best return.

4. Look Out for Mobile Games

Are you using keyword, topic, or interest targeting? Has it been awhile since you monitored the placements your ads are being served on? If so, chances are mobile games are wasting a huge chunk of your budget. This is an issue that has appeared largely due to kids using their parents’ mobile apps, which often leads to ads being clicked by accident.

How to check whether mobile games have been taking up a slice of your display budget: Navigate to your display network campaign, click Display Network tab for the campaign, and then the Placements sub-tab:

placements tab

Luckily, the guys over at Wordstream have written a guide on how to exclude mobile games from your display campaigns, so you’re not wasting your budget.

5. Target In-Market Audiences

In-market audiences are people whom Google has determined to be most interested in what you have to offer based on their browsing behavior and activity. This audience comprises of users who are actively searching and comparing products and services matching those you offer.

To see if in-market audiences are a successful targeting method for you, set up a campaign via the ‘Interests and remarketing‘ tab. Select In-market audiences from the drop down before checking which type of audience you’d like to target:

in market audiences

Protip: To get a true reflection of whether this targeting method could work for your business, make sure you split your in-market audience targeting into a separate ad group. Then pay close attention to the placements report to further refine performance over time.

6. Test Gmail Sponsored Promotions

One of the most cost effective types of display campaigns is Gmail Sponsored Promotions.

Gmail sponsored promotions are ads that appear in a Gmail inbox, above emails. Designed to look like a regular email, once clicked they expand to a full ad.

Here’s an example of how the ads appear in my inbox, before being clicked:

gmail sponsored promotions

Once clicked, the expanded version of the Nike ad looks like this:

gmail sponsored promotions expanded

For Gmail Sponsored Promotions, advertisers must create one ‘collapsed (text based) ad’ and one ‘expanded ad‘. They can be created using custom HTML, per the Nike example above.

Advertisers are charged on a cost per click basis. Note that the click is counted whenever someone expands an ad. Not just when they click through to the website from an ad. Advertisers will only pay for the first click. They are not charged again when a user clicks through to their website.

It’s worth noting that these ads are only eligible to appear in standard Gmail accounts. They will not appear in accounts that are part of a paid G suite business account. For B2B advertisers, it’s worth bearing this in mind, as you’ll only be able to reach business users on their personal Gmail accounts.

In terms of targeting options, you can target (or exclude) using any combination of the following:

  • Display keywords (this is based on content of the last 300 emails a user has received)
  • AdWords customer match
  • Location targeting (one per campaign)
  • Topics (based on the user’s inbox)
  • Demographics (age / gender / parental status)

For more information, I’d strongly recommend checking out this detailed guide from Tara West.


The Display Network is indeed colossal. In order to generate optimal returns, advertisers need to make use of the ever-expanding targeting options to enable them to get their ads in front of potential customers. I would recommend keeping on top of the latest features as well as testing some of the tips outlined above, to see if they can deliver results for your business.

Additional Resources

Image Credits

Featured Image: Kaboom / Pexels
Screenshots by Ben Wood. Taken January 2016


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Ben Wood

Digital Director at Hallam

Ben Wood is the Digital Director at UK based digital agency Hallam, and has previously worked at a well known ... [Read full bio]

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