Google Display Network Exclusion Tactics: Don’t Drink from the Fire Hose

drink-from-fire-hoseOne of the reasons advertisers shy away from the Google Display Network (GDN) is a perceived lack of ad distribution control.

People seem to think that the GDN is like drinking from a fire hose: turn it on and get a ton of traffic. No doubt, your GDN campaign will drown in unqualified clicks and poor ROI if not managed properly.

As a campaign manager you need to control the stream of visitors.

What you target within your GDN campaign is just as important as you what you don’t target.

Building smart, focused campaigns is just half of the success formula. As impressions and clicks accumulate and performance trends emerge, smart GDN managers eliminate irrelevant traffic sources from their distribution.

Within Google AdWords there are number tactics to exclude traffic from your GDN campaigns. These exclusion methods fall within two buckets: behavioral and demographic. The behavioral tactics included within AdWords are much more effective than the demographic.

Within the AdWords interface, the exclusion tools are found at the bottom of the Display screen, as seen here:


Behavior Exclusion

Behavioral exclusions are based on keywords, placements, topics and categories that are specifically generating clicks. They are labeled “behavior” as they are based on user behavior exhibited within your GDN campaign reporting. Behavior exclusions include:

Keywords: Terms That Are Generating Traffic on the GDN

You may find specific terms within your campaign are generating poor performance. You should pause these keywords. However, be extremely careful when adding negative keywords to a GDN campaign; they act very differently than the Search Network.

When you add a negative keyword to a GDN campaign you are telling Google that you don’t want to appear on any webpage that displays that keyword anywhere on the page. This can turn innocent little negative keywords into impression volume killers.

For example, if you are marketing Adidas shoes and (for some reason) add a negative term “Nike” so your ads don’t appear on these pages, then you’ll also exclude pages with content such as, “Adidas shoes are always so much better than Nike!”

In general, you should shy away from negative keywords on the GDN unless you are absolutely certain there is no context for that term that could be relevant for your product/service. Just don’t do it.

Placements: Websites Where Your Ads Appear

This exclusion type is the most straight-forward. If you see a website within your placement performance report that is generating clicks but no conversions, you can exclude that entire website or a specific URL within that website.

Exclude placements at the ad group level for maximum control. Excluding a placement at the campaign level means that no ad group will display ads on that site, and this is a broad stroke for a GDN campaign.

Topics: Web Page Topics Where Your Ad Appears

You can run keyword and placement performance reports within AdWords. However, right now you can’t pull performance report based on topics. Topic-level reporting can be analyzed only if you’re targeting certain topics specifically within AdWords.

Similar to keyword exclusions, you should make sure if you utilize this exclusion method that there is no evident reason why your ad wouldn’t be relevant on these pages.


Categories: Pages are Gathered Into “Categories” as Determined by Google and These Categories can be Excluded

Within AdWords, you can exclude categories at the campaign level. These categories are rather broad but excluding them can help improve your GDN ROI. Here are the categories as they appear within the AdWords web interface:


In the past we’ve seen positive performance from Parked Domains and Error Pages. However, we have few clients that need to display ads on pages even remotely categorized as “Juvenile, gross and bizarre content,” or, “death and tragedy,” or, “Sexually suggestive content.” You may want to test excluding these categories.

Remarketing: Excluding Users Who Have Visited Specific Pages on Your Website

This is one of my favorite exclusion tools. Many people utilize their Remarketing lists for targeting the GDN. However, you can also exclude Remarketing lists from your distribution as well. For example, you may want to exclude individuals from your GDN targeting who have previously purchased from your website.

Demographic Exclusion

Age and Gender

Regarding demographic information on the GDN, the AdWords help section reads: “Some websites on the Google Display Network have demographic information about their visitors, such as social networking sites where users identify themselves by their age and gender.”

Of the millions of websites within the GDN, only approximately 60 sites provide demographic information. The limitation of information renders the demographic tools rather useless.

Interests: Excluding Users by Interest

Again, this is a weaker exclusion method. Google monitors user behavior and determines their interests. There is plenty of traffic when specifically targeting interests, but excluding users by interest is a bit too broad and you may be excluding users who are actually interested in your product/service.


There are numerous methods to avoid the “drinking from the fire hose” syndrome on the GDN. Behavioral exclusions such as placements and remarketing lists are much more effective than demographic exclusions.

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