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Combining Display Targeting Methods

Many advertisers only use search campaigns to reach potential customers, or use display campaigns as well, but only to a small extent. Others rely heavily on display advertising not only as a means to getting greater reach and increasing brand awareness, but also as a performance marketing tool in order to get conversions at a low price. They may get cheaper conversions on the display network, where their efforts are also much more scalable than in search campaigns.

display conversions.png


But display advertising is only scalable and profitable if you use the right features to reach the right user, at the right time, showing the right message and paying the right price (for that impression, click or view).


That is not an easy task, as the Google Display Network (GDN) is a hodgepodge of websites, videos and apps, vast in size and varied in content and quality. Furthermore, the users that are on the GDN amount to 90% of all Internet users. Needless to say, interests and intentions vary greatly, not only between users, but also for individual users over time.


Unfortunately, when users consume content or use apps while on the GDN, they do not or seldom express or disclose their interests and intentions, at least not to the same extent that they do when they write a search query on Google.


So how do advertisers that accomplish to get a lot of conversions and a reasonable price succeed with that? How do they manage to reach the right user at the right time showing the right message and paying the right price? They use the targeting methods, ad formats, and bidding options that AdWords offers, and they skillfully use those tools to customize their own targeting, messaging and bidding.


That is what you also have to do if you want to be successful with your display advertising. Although I can´t tell you what you should do, I can tell you what you can do. I´ll cover the main targeting methods, and I am not talking about the targeting options that you find on the campaign level (geography, device, language and schedule), but the methods and tools you can use within ad groups:
- Keywords

- Placements
- Topics
- Interests
- Remarketing
- Demographics


display targeting.png

Many people assume that display advertising inevitably gives you enormous reach and has low targeting abilities, so you must show your ads to a lot of people who are not at all interested in your offering. That is not so. Sure, all targeting options have great reach. But what reach you get and how relevant the audience that sees you ad is depends on how well you define and narrow your audience using a single targeting option, or multiple targeting options in combination

For example, if you use the targeting method “Placements,” and add YouTube as the only placement without using any other targeting option in combination with that, you will get enormous reach because YouTube has millions of visitors per day. But if instead of YouTube, you add the app “Lullabies for Babies” as your only placement for that ad group, your reach will be much smaller because not many people use that app.


Likewise, if you use the word “music” as a keyword for display targeting (that means it will be used for contextual targeting, finding text with that word on a site to trigger your ad), you have a potentially huge audience. If you instead use the word “abacus,” don´t expect to get many impressions.


For some targeting methods, like Topic and Interest, you have to choose from a set of predefined categories, and most of them are fairly broad and can possibly give you a great reach. You can see some higher level Topics in the image below.


higher level topics.png

As you can see from the picture below, you can also expand broader categories and target only the narrower subcategories, which not only makes your reach smaller, but also makes your targeting more refined. Below is an example of subcategories in the Topic “Business and Industrial”:


business and industrial topic.png

You can also get very specific and targeted with remarketing. Remarketing has a naturally limited reach depending on your website traffic (or list of email addresses, if you choose to upload addresses using the Customer Match feature). You can increase your reach by setting a long cookie duration for your remarketing lists (up to 540 days), and put all of your website visitors on a remarketing list. But you can also limit the reach and get hyper-targeted by creating complex rules for which users will be put on a specific remarketing list. By using the Google Analytics segment builder for this, you can really define and narrow your audience.


Beyond all of these options, you can also customize your audience by combining two or more targeting methods in a single ad group. This is where it gets really interesting and useful for performance marketers.


Let´s say you launched an ad group using only a broad topic, such as “Classical music” (which actually is a third-level category under “Arts and Entertainment"). This means your ad will show on webpages, in apps and in videos that have content about or relate to classical music. However, all people who visit those pages, use those apps and watch those videos will not be equally interested in classical music. Sometimes the content where the ad is shown may only be somewhat related to classical music. 


In order to get better targeting - to be more certain that you reach your audience, increase relevance and decrease CPA - you can add another targeting method to that ad group.


If you add the interest “Classical music,” then the ad can only be shown to people who Google believes are interested in classical music (i.e have consumed such content with a certain frequency in a recent period of time), when they visit pages, use apps or watch videos about classical music. You would need to choose “Target and bid,” not “Bid only” for this combination. This would certainly be more specific targeting (and believe me, I've done just that and seen the results!)


But let's say you are still not really satisfied, because you've noticed that your ad shows on the website, and that one doesn't seem very relevant. Besides that, your CPA for that placement is really high. So you add the site as an excluded placement, and now your ads will not show there again.


After further analysis you also realize that although your CPA is in general low, it is much higher for female users than for male users:

demographic conversions.png


But you don't want to exclude the whole female targeting group since that will decrease your reach and your volume of conversions substantially. What you can do instead is lower the bid for that segment. First you´ll have to enable bid adjustment for that targeting method (gender), and then tell the system to decrease the bid by, let´s say, 25% for females.


Thus, when an ad is eligible to show on a webpage, in an app or video about classical music, for a user who is also interested in classical music, the system will use the default bid of the ad group in the auction if the gender of the user is male or unknown, but a bid that is 25% lower if the user is female.


Adding, combining, excluding and adjusting bids for targeting methods are some of the ways that we can refine and optimize our display advertising. Of course, it's not the only way. We can also use different ad formats and messaging, try different bid strategies and campaign level settings.

But by not combining different targeting methods, you neglect one of the fundamental tools we have to achieve targeted display advertising. It is equivalent to not paying attention to your keywords and match types in a search campaign, and we all know how costly - in terms of wasted spend and lost opportunities - that can be.


Please share any questions you have below.

about David Stockelberg

Self-taught webmarketer with a PhD in Intellectual history (focus on german philosophy and social sciences 1800-1900) Using AdWords since 7 years. Today working as an SEM-consultant. AdWords and Analytics Qualified.