Web Marketing Today

Understanding the Google Display Ad Network

Most people think of Google as a search engine, where they type in keywords, looking for information. That’s where Google AdWords appear, of course, next to the search results. But Google also has a huge display advertising network with robust ad and targeting options for advertisers.

Who Should Use the Google Display Network?

Any AdWords advertiser can create Google Display campaigns. But the Google Display Network is very different from search, for the following reasons.

  • Relevancy. Matches ads to websites using a variety of factors, including the content of the site on which the ads appear, advertiser-specified targeting options, and other elements.
  • Differing formats. Accepts both text and image ads, including rich media and flash.
  • Lower click-through rate. Generates high impression levels, but a lower click-through-rate, than search
  • Higher impressions levels. An effective means of generating awareness due to the high volume.
  • Results vary. Can generate high click volumes with no conversions or, alternatively, a high conversion volume at a good cost.

Advertisers who are interested in creating or increasing awareness of their products and services, and who’ve clearly defined their target audience, can benefit from the display network.

There are a few things you should do before you launch a new display campaign.

Set Goals

Goal-setting is important for any pay-per-click campaign, as I wrote about in PPC Basics: Part 2. Keyword Research.” But it’s a must for display. What are you expecting to see from the display network? Is it sales, leads, awareness, click-through rate, or something else? Give this question serious thought.

Many advertisers successfully use the display network to generate awareness of a new product or service, or to reach new markets that they weren’t able to reach through search. Remember, display ads appear on many different types of sites across the web. They’re not triggered by search queries. Therefore, the user intent is less clear with display than it is with search. Instead of responding to a search query, you’re saying, essentially, “Look at this image. It’s important to you.”

Identify Your Target Audience

In search, the audience is anyone who types in your keyword. But in display, consider the visitors you’d like to reach. Who are they? What types of websites are they likely to visit? What topics are they interested in? What are their interests and behaviors?

The more clearly you can answer these questions, the more success you’ll have with display. Untargeted display campaigns are likely to perform poorly, because many of the people who see the ads won’t fall into the target audience. For example, if you’re selling enterprise database systems, showing ads on an entertainment website geared toward teenagers won’t generate many leads.

If you have a Google representative that you work with regularly, ask him or her to help you identify display network targeting options. Google representatives have access to website targeting information that’s not available in its advertiser toolset. They are trained to help advertisers choose the right audiences in the display network.

Even if you don’t have a regular Google representative, it’s worth calling the general support number to see if you can get assistance with this task. In the U.S., that number is 1-866-2GOOGLE.

Create Both Image and Text Ads

The display network works with text and image ads. Image ads likely perform better than text ads. If you don’t have an in-house digital design person, it’s worth it to hire a freelancer to create a few ads.

Alternately, you can use Google’s Display Ad Builder, which is an AdWords tool that pulls images and logos from your website and allows you to create basic image ads with a WYSIWYG editor — a What You See Is What You Get editor. While the ads are rudimentary and not as polished as professionally designed ads, it’s a good option for those who don’t have design resources.

Measure and Test

Not every goal in display advertising is immediately measurable. For example, if you desire to build general awareness of your company and products, you may not care if visitors click on your display ads.

But if your goals are immediate clicks and conversions, use success metrics and testing similar to other PPC campaigns. Test different ad variations to see what works. Carefully monitor your placement reports and eliminate low-performing sites. Track conversions and adjust bids accordingly, as I wrote about in “PPC Basics: Part 8. Evaluating Data.”

With well-crafted goals and a watchful eye, you’ll find that display can be a good source of incremental leads.

Resources for Further Reading

To learn more about creating and optimizing display campaigns, here are some resources.


Melissa Mackey
Melissa Mackey
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