No matter what industry you are in, or how large of a budget you have, there are some standard rules I like to stick by when running campaigns on the Google Ads Display Network. Yes, no two accounts will perform the same, and the way we approach our strategies should be unique to each goal.
But as long as I have been running awareness campaigns on the Display Network, I’ve been seeing the same mistakes pop up again and again. The worst part? These common mistakes are easy to avoid. Here are the six top Google Display Network mistakes that you need to avoid, plus how to do that:
If you believe in marketing to the top of funnel and want to immediately run display campaigns in your Google Ads account, you are already a friend of mine. But make sure you are keeping your display campaigns completely separate from your search campaigns. You may be thinking, “Why would these two different networks be combined in the first place?” That is a good question. When creating a brand new campaign in Google Ads, Google will automatically opt your search campaigns into the Display Network to help expand reach.
I honestly consider this option as either a convenience to smaller businesses who do not have time to manage a lot of campaigns or as an afterthought for marketers who really do not know what they are doing. That second opinion may sound harsh, but hear me out. Think about the user intent.
People going to Google.com and searching specific queries show a much deeper intent than someone seeing an ad on a random website. Odds are you will see noticeably different CTRs, CPCs, conversions, conversion rates, and CPAs on these two networks. If that is the case, separate them out every time. Yes, someone on both networks may be unfamiliar with your brand. But remember, it goes back to their intent. Capitalizing on deeper funnel users will need different strategies than expanding your reach to a new audience and let’s keep it this way.
The message you put in front of someone who has already interacted with your brand should be different than the message a brand new user should see. With remarketing, you most likely want to be a little bit more aggressive with your sales message to encourage the user to perform a specific action. With a top-of-funnel display campaign, you might have to pump the brakes a bit and not be a used car salesman for a change. This is exactly why I like to segment out my audiences in separate campaigns.
I typically see an audience of new users and an audience of users already familiar with my clients’ brand perform completely different. And since budgets are controlled at the campaign level, I can control performance a little bit more when I use separate campaigns. To try and keep these users as segmented as possible, I also like to implement as many remarketing audiences as I can as exclusions in my pure awareness campaigns. If I’m creating ad groups in my remarketing campaigns targeting user actions, YouTube engagements, page visits, etc., I want to exclude these users from my new user campaigns. On top of remarketing audiences, I’m also going to try and add customer lists and audiences from certain conversion actions to try and keep these campaigns as segmented as possible. This allows me to better control my creative, landing pages, and budgets in a way that better helps my clients’ meet their business goals.
We just talked about excluding remarketing audiences from your top of funnel awareness campaigns, but now I want to dive into exclusions a little deeper. When creating your display campaign (or if you are updating your current campaign’s settings), you can set content exclusions. These are default content category options that will help advertisers keep their display ads on content best suited for the brand and desired target audience.
Brands can try and exclude their ads on websites, YouTube videos, or apps related to specific types of content. If you look at the middle column in the image above, you can see the sensitive content options are selected but grayed out. This is because sensitive content options can be excluded at the account level if you prefer. You can find this setting by clicking “All Campaigns” then “Settings.” Then choose “Account Settings.” Look at the options you have, and feel free to proactively exclude them from your display campaigns before going live. You may save yourself a lot of money—and possibly even a PR mess down the road.
And now, you can save time with placement management through Google Ads dynamic exclusion lists.
Yes, we just talked about being proactive with your category exclusions at the campaign level. And this tactic will help your ads appear on placements better suited for your business goals. This does not mean, however, that you are free from constantly checking your placement reports. Set up a consistent schedule to review where your ads are being shown if you are not using managed placement targeting.
When in the Placements Report, advertisers can choose to review “Where Ads Showed.” If you have not proactively implemented higher level category exclusions, you may see broader (and potentially underperforming) placements showing up frequently in your reports. You will then have the option to either exclude placements individually, or you may find themes of placements underperforming to justify adding category exclusions at the higher levels we already mentioned. And since you are a diligent PPC marketer who is always testing new targeting options (stay tuned), you may have to go back to the Placement reports more frequently to see how placement performance has changed since your last optimizations.
Another rut I see companies get in with their display campaigns is using the same targeting options for long periods of time without ever testing anything different. Even if you find basic targeting options within Google Ads that consistently work for your goals, you still can put in the effort to try and do better. Display Planner may be gone, but creating Custom Audiences in the Audience Manager tool can help you come up with many different ideas to test.
Custom intent audiences have been a favorite targeting option of mine for both video and display awareness campaigns. Custom intent audiences for the Display Network also come with an added bonus. Google gives advertisers creating these audiences for display a list of recommended keywords we can choose to add to our audiences. This feature does not show up when creating custom intent audiences for YouTube.
If you feel like you have run out of new custom intent audience ideas to test, or you might not know where to even begin, Google might have even more options for you. When researching audiences to add to your ad groups, Google may have already compiled a list of auto-created custom intent audiences for you to test. These audiences can be built off of your remarketing lists, Search Network campaigns, website content, user behavior, and more. Auto-created audiences have worked very well for me in several accounts when I have run out of new ideas to test, so give them a shot if you are running out of new ideas.
Testing out new options from broader targeting categories like Topics, Affinity Audiences, etc. may still work. I always like to try and start as specific as possible with my audiences before expanding my reach. If you find certain targeting options that work, that is great! But do not get complacent. Keep testing new audiences to reach your target customer, and custom audiences are an easy way to keep testing going for display.
I already talked about the differences in user intent between the Search and Display Networks. If you agree with that statement, then hopefully you are not reviewing performance between the two networks exactly the same. Yes, we can get plenty of direct conversions from our display campaigns if you find the right mix of targeting and engaging creative. But many industries may not see direct conversions from their display campaigns. This happens for several reasons but some examples include very long sales cycles or high-priced items. Just because users are not converting after seeing your display ads one time, it does not mean your display ads are not working.
Switch up your columns in Google Ads to see if users are eventually converting. Two columns that easily come to mind are the View-through conversions and Cross-device conversions columns. View-through conversions occur if an impression on your display ad occurs, the user does not interact with the ad, but they convert later on down the road. Cross-device conversions occur when a user interacts with an ad on one device, but they convert later on through a different device or on a different browser.
Your display ads could be having a much bigger impact instead than you realize. So if your metrics for success rely solely on direct conversions, you most likely are missing the entire story. Most people are not going to see an ad one time, click on it, and convert. If you believe in using display to nurture users to eventual conversion, then you have to rethink the way you evaluate their performance.
I completely understand that no two accounts are alike. I also have no problem admitting not all of these recommendations may be applicable to every account. But I do endorse using these recommendations to give your Google Display Network campaigns a good foundation to use when setting up your campaigns. You can then use the data you see to make the optimizations you feel work best to hit the account goals you are looking to achieve.
Joe Martinez is the Co-Founder of the Paid Media Pros YouTube channel. He is a regular contributor to WordStream and Social Media Examiner. He has also written for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, PPC Hero, SEMrush, and more. He has hosted webinars for SEMrush, Unbounce, Quora, and Microsoft Ads. He regularly speaks at conferences and organizations such as SMX, HeroConf, Inbound, Pubcon, SMXL, and more. Finally, he was named a Top 25 Influential PPC Expert by PPC Hero in 2017-2021.
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