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How to Optimize Display Network Campaigns beyond Branding?

Google Display Network (GDN) is literally huge in terms of its reach – it allows one to target up to 94% of the web in USA and to 89% of Internet users globally, according to ComScore.


Ironically, while on the one hand this very fact means more and better opportunity for the majority, on the other it seems to frighten a certain segment of advertisers.


There’s a common belief among new advertisers that Google Display Network is for branding only. I usually come across many advertisers saying GDN works when you do not care for leads/sales but only branding. If you need leads, you should not use it.


Is it actually true?


Well, while I would agree that GDN has got better potential for branding specific strategies, it does not mean that it’s only for branding and it cannot work for conversion-oriented campaigns.


Yes, I will repeat that - GDN works and can work for action-oriented and leads/sales specific advertising goals as well.


Let me start from the other end of the rope. Let’s first understand how GDN is different from Search Network and how it may impact advertising strategies…


Understanding Google Search Network

Search Network, with search partners or without it, allows you to be exactly where your potential customers are actively searching for the products or services you are offering.


It means you do not need to formulate strategies to filter out your audiences based on their interests in your industry, products or services. They all are already interested and that’s why they are searching Google for.


To be more precise, you can say that you are getting to target people who are already looking for your offerings. Thus, they can better be termed as qualified targets, and the traffic that you generate thus, is also qualified.


Understanding Google Display Network

But when we talk about Display Network, story is a bit different and overwhelming. Here, you have the whole world before you.


Yes, the whole world - almost over 90% of Internet population.


Thus, you need to be more specific about who you are going to target and how. If you are able to do that, GDN can be equally or even more rewarding.


You would agree that there are thousands of websites on GDN which already have active readership of the people who are highly interested in exactly what you offer. They are actively looking for information, suggestions, advice, and guidance to make their purchase decisions. There are thousands and thousands who are already raring to jump into your conversion funnel, and most importantly – with qualified interests and in the middle of their path to purchase.


Only you are missing!


How to go about it?


The need is to think beyond the almost-traditional belief about GDN. What you need is customers, and they all are there on GDN as well. Interestingly, they are spending more time on browsing websites than on making searches on Google. 


Yes, we search for something and go to websites; we do not stay on the search page itself. This is where GDN becomes more important. You only need to get to target the right segment of people.


No doubt, there’s a lot going on there, but you need to bring in cocktail party effect in your marketing strategy. If you are able to do it, GDN is going to surprise you with what it can do for your business, yes in terms of lead generation as well.


How to set targeting on GDN when you aim leads/sales?


Google Display Network offers a lot of targeting methods. You can go by contextual targeting by making use of keywords, you can target by placements, topics, interests, and demographics as well.

But the question is – What to choose when you need leads as well?


I personally do not go by keywords alone; rather I use a combination of keywords and placements, topics, or interests.


I am sure you must already have tested all these targeting methods individually or as a combination. But, thankfully it is not all.


Apart of this approach of combination, my personal favourites are here –


In-Market Audiences

It’s the group of people are actively searching for and comparing certain products or services. So, when it is about leads/sales, this segment of targeting is more prone to work better.


Let’s take an example. Mr. X wants to upgrade his mobile phone. He starts his purchase journey today. How?


He searches for different makes/models of mobile phones. He visits different websites and starts short-listing a few of them which he is more interested in. Next follows the search for professional reviews and recommendations online. He reads various reviews, suggestions, social media posts, existing users’ reactions about certain brands/makes. He also gets engaged in the activities like comparing prices, features, specifications, designs etc.


Now it all continues for a few days/weeks depending on his extent of urgency.


His purchase journey is on and he gradually moves from the beginning channel position of his path to purchase to the middle. The more he reads, researches and analyzes, the closer he gets to the end stage of the funnel.


The beauty is that most of his activities are within the reach of GDN.


Hence, you as advertiser can reach such audiences using In-Market target method.


How does Google categorize such audiences?

Google’s Audience algorithm tracks in-market behaviours of users across GDN and then specifically puts them into relevant In-Market segment till he is actively looking for products or services.


In my personal experience, I view such audiences as interested in a particular product/service for a comparatively shorter period of time. Referring to the previous example, Mr X would be moved out of In-Market segment once he completes his journey successfully, or not successfully. Once those behaviours stops from such users, they would be taken out of the In-Market audience. However, if they are frequent buyers they would be more likely to stay in there as long as they engaged in those activities.


Hence, I would say that targeting such audiences are more likely to bring conversions as the people in this segment are already looking for the products/services you are offering.


Is it all about targeting in-market audiences?

No, it’s not all. This targeting setup must be backed with certain optimizations to work better. I will share these tips towards the end of this article.


For now, let’s talk about what potential do Affinity Audiences have got to impact conversion-oriented campaigns.


Affinity Audiences

Affinity - a natural liking for someone or something.

As the meaning goes, Affinity Audience consists of people who have a natural liking for certain segment of products/services.


Let’s see what Google says on it –


Affinity audiences consist of aggregated consumers who have demonstrated a qualified interest in a particular topic. Take advantage of broad passions depicting a consumer's lifestyle rather than niche curiosities to reach your perfect audience and achieve reach and frequency within that group. - Source


I have underlined a few terms in above – qualified interest in a particular topic, board passions rather than niche curiosities.


All these underlined terms make me to conclude that Affinity Audiences should be taken as a segment of people having a long-term/innate/behavioural liking/passion for something.


Now the question is –Can such audiences actually benefit you when you aim some sort of conversions besides branding?


My answer is – yes, because this category of audience has a comparatively long-term liking for a type of product/service. So, they can be expected to take actions on your ads if they relate to their likings.

However, I agree that this segment is broader in comparison with In-Market segment. But, it can be customized to filter the audiences who would be more likely to convert. How?


By making sure that you are segmenting them as close to your actual categories of products/services as possible. But, it is not always possible using the default categories/segments that Google presents us with.


This is where you can use Custom Affinity Audience to make sure that you have excluded those not-so-relevant segments of audiences and have defined considerably more targeted categories of audiences.

Here’s a screen shot from one the campaigns where I target Custom Affinity Audience –



Optimization Tips

Simply getting to target In-Market or Affinity Audience is not enough, you would actively need to work on it to actually get better conversions.


Here are some of the optimizations tips which I have worked on personally and found them useful –


Mind the exclusions – There might be cases when you do not need traffic from certain placements (websites/apps). You may be aware of it based on your previous experience and past performances. Get ahead to exclude such placements…


An example can be – if I am advertising a beauty product, I would exclude gaming websites, sexually provocative categories etc. Some of the other exclusions can be 404 pages, parked domains etc.   To be more restrictive, I can also get ahead to exclude below the fold placements.


Keep an eye on placement tab: If I am an automobile enthusiast, it does not necessarily mean that I would not be visiting a website that talks about foods and recipes. Accordingly to Google’s audience algorithm, I may be exposed to an automobile related ad even when I am reading about ‘How to prepare green tea?’. Why?


Because the system knows that I have shown a qualified interest for automobile, I would be more interested in buying a related product/service than a green tea pouch. The system is not actually wrong, it has valid reasons for this behaviour. But if you think that the green–tea website in question is not going to be profitable for you, you can exclude them.


Have all banner sizes: Yes, it’s always better to have all banner sizes. Unlike search network where having multiple ad copies does not mean more impressions, on GDN having all banners sizes for your ads may mean more exposure and impressions. Why? Well, all placements do not necessarily serve the same size of banners.


Include Text Ads: Since Google has enhanced the layout of text ads on GDN, they look more noticeable on websites now. So it’s better to experiment with a text ad campaign as well.


Switching is always there: Under ‘Placement’ tab whenever you find better performing placements, do a bid adjustment for it. It will change that particular placement to ‘manual’ and hence you will have more control in terms of bidding for it.


Do not change too often: When you make a change, give it some time, do not come every hour to check and to make further changes. In my experience it only confuses the systems and makes things a mess. In general, it takes a bit of time for the system to respond to the changes we make.


Use Display Campaign Optimizer: Yes, you can use acquisition based bidding in Display Network campaign as well. It’s is called Display Campaign Optimizer. However, you will need at 15 conversions over a period of 30 days to use this feature. My advice would be to have at least 25 to 30 conversions before switching to it. This way you will give more data to the system to start optimizing performance for more conversions.



To sum up I would say that running your GDN target campaigns for a month or two, you would be able have a fine-tuned display network campaign which will not only do the branding but will also work to bring conversions.


How is your experience with GDN?


What are your preferred targeting methods for display network campaigns?


Do share your thoughts with the fellow community members here. Do not wait for someone to jump in and comment first, your thoughts/experiences are equally valuable, share them. 


Ratan Jha


about Ratan Jha

A digital marketing strategist and consultant with 9+ years of experience. I help businesses make their marketing strategies more rewarding. Co-Founder - Splashsys Webtech. Winner of DigiGurus - a competition among Indian Google Partners.

Neeraj D
March 2016

Learned a lot from you, Thanks Smiley Happy