PPCGoogle Display Network Campaigns: Most Common Mistakes Search Marketers Make

Google Display Network Campaigns: Most Common Mistakes Search Marketers Make

The days of writing off the GDN or approaching it with a search mentality are long over. Search-only marketers need to evolve, or they are missing half the game. Here’s why what you tried before didn’t work – and here’s how to change your outlook.


You live search. You breathe search. You eat negative keywords for lunch and cook up scrumptious ROIs for dinner. The best part of your day is getting knee-deep in the AdWords interface – except for that tab on the far right. You’ve tried once or twice, but you don’t think too much of that Display Network business.

Here’s why what you tried before didn’t work – and here’s how to change your outlook.

1. Stop Duplicating Search Campaigns

It’s still amazing to see marketers taking an AdWords account, duplicating a search campaign, turning the campaigns setting to “Display only,” then considering their GDN work done.

This approach is bad for many reasons. Here are a few major ones:

    1. Search campaigns have lots of negatives to fend off irrelevant searches – but what’s irrelevant in search may be relevant in display. For example, suppose you sell “mp3 player.” You may neg “free” from search (you should, in fact), but it’s more than OK to have a “free” word in a mp3 player review page. Negging that term would slice off a decent chunk of your GDN opportunities.
    2. Search ads are made specifically for targeted keywords – for example, a good search ad for “California power of attorney” should have California ad text and should go to a California landing page. In the GDN, however, because the matching is broad, the California ad will get matched to general “power of attorney” or even “california attorney” pages, and thus, a very targeted search ad becomes far less relevant in broad-matched content.
    3. The GDN-via-search-duplication creates a poor marketing practice of keyword pigenholing. When you recreate a search campaign into the GDN, you’re only using one form of targeting: keyword targeting. But in the GDN, there are seven ways of targeting:
      • Keywords
      • Topics
      • Interests
      • Demographics
      • Placements
      • Retargeting
      • Display Campaign Optimizer

By duplicating the search campaign, you’re ignoring six perfectly good options. Imagine you are trying to sell “car insurance.” How many content pages are about “car insurance”? And how many consumers are reading those pages? I bet most of those pages are content farm sites trying to make money through AdSense. If you’re targeting only by keywords on the GDN, you are pigenholing your reach – and you might be targeting poor pages anyway. Have a consumer product for everybody? Go for all targeting. Don’t be pigeon-minded!

2. Throw Away Your Search Mentality

For a long time, the GDN has been a secondary setting within search, so the vast majority of marketers are search-minded when they use the GDN. This is the root cause of most major GDN mistakes.

Even marketers who create GDN campaigns separate from search campaigns (which is to say, not merely duplicating the search campaigns) can cling to a search mentality. They may start with brand keywords and embark on a process of discovery of non-brand keywords, all the while being careful not to cast too wide a net and build up empty (and costly) clicks.

You should completely forgo search-mindedness in structuring and building GDN campaigns. The GDN campaign’s structure and maintenance are completely independent of search, and the targeting options are such that you can – and should – cast a tremendously wide net as long as you also cut aggressively.

Start by cutting for gender and age (for instance, keeping car insurance as the example, exclude everyone under 18 and over, say, 85). Launch the account, get enough data to make some decisions, and cut by placement, time of day, and geography. This approach cuts waste (as long as you keep an eye on things!) and ensures you won’t prematurely cut anything potentially viable.

3. Don’t Stand Pat

This brings me to my next point: for a GDN campaign, you can never just let things be.

Well run search campaigns tend to stabilize. Why? Consumer search behavior tends to be constant, and Google’s auto-suggestion feature drives the majority of consumers to a finite number of predictable keywords. So, search tends to be far more stable and predictable than the GDN.

With the GDN, there are new sites coming out every day. And even for existing sites, there’s new content produced every day.

On the flip side, there are sites dying every day and existing sites recycling old pages every day. On top of that, there are content farms and AdSense manipulators causing random spend spikes. And on top of that, there is the emerging Ad Exchange, which channels new placements and exchange bidders into the GDN.

Compared to the nice, clean search landscape, the GDN is the Wild West. The impression-sculpting process noted above (aggressive cuts by placement, time of day, and geo) must be undertaken frequently to minimize wasted spend.

4. Don’t Skimp on Creative

The most important element in the GDN is the creative itself.

In search, our ad is a “reaction,” designed to appeal to a strong manifested user intent. Even with new features like sitelinks and ad extensions, search ads are straightforward to design and make. This isn’t the case in display.

The GDN is populated by users browsing the web randomly and carelessly. The user intent is weak or non-obvious, so the creative needs to be strong and bold in order to be proactive – to arouse feelings of interest, love, fear, vanity, exclusivity, temporal urgency. The GDN creative is an art.

Use professional designers for your GDN ads. Weave your deep knowledge of the product and the user into your design. Don’t be cheap, and don’t be fast, because whatever money you saved on cheap and fast, you will pay dearly in marketing spend over the long run.

5. Don’t Write off the GDN Altogether

Search marketers who live by statistics like direct conversions and CTR might take a while to get comfortable with the nature of the GDN (and display in general), but they should give it a real shot before dismissing it out of hand. Here are a few quick reasons:

  • General consumer products with broad appeal often merit as much spend in the GDN as on search and perform similarly in profitable conversions or return on ad spend (ROAS).
  • Innovative products that have not yet been broadly searched can spend more on the GDN than on search – it’s the old demand-creation vs. demand-fulfillment dynamic for new products.
  • Retargeting is universally good – and, working in tandem with a good search campaign, can drive qualified traffic right on down through the funnel.

The days of writing off the GDN or approaching it with a search mentality are long over. Search-only marketers need to evolve, or they are missing half of the game.


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