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Scale up search with the display network

Scale up your search advertising with the Google display network


At some time all advertisers who are running well structured, finetuned and profitable search advertising campaigns will reach the moment when they are doing well but unfortunately can´t grow much more, can´t find more customers without sacrifising profitmargins, using only the search network.


No doubt there is a ton of opportunities to be explored with search. To reach and catch as many of your potential clients as possible, you can use different keywords, match types and bids. You can test different ad versions, opt-in to Search Partners, use ad extensions and remarketing for search. To find the perfect bid for each of your keywords, you can use the AdWords Controlled Experiments.


And at some point you´ll ask yourself - what can I do more? Have I really done all to reach my audience through Adwords. No you haven´t. It´s time you take a look at the Google Display Network


What is the display network

The display network is a massive amount of webpages, smartphone apps and videos in or on which Google Ads may be shown.


Think of your daughters blog, your favourite weather-website, and New York Times; of apps on Google Play, Apple AppStore (downloaded to your phone, of course) and almost every video on YouTube or embedded on other sites - that´s how vast and varied the display network is.

What a reach!


But the display network is a completely different beast than Google search. And you better do your homework, othwerwise you´ll gonna waste a lot of money or not reach your potential customers when they are on the display network - because no doubt, they are there.


Re-marketing on the display network

The safest way to start using the display network is to target the visitors you have acquired through search (or organic, or other networks) when they surf on other websites or use any of their phone-apps.

Best thing is, you already have a ton of information about them. You know how they arrived to your website (for example, what they searched for at Google), what pages they visited, and even what actions they took on your website (if they bought something, what they bought, if they bounced, how longed they stayed, etc).

Of course, you don´t know that on a personal level, all data is personally non-identifiable- and you can´t target a single person. But you can see patterns and target persons (or more accurate: browsers) based on their behaviour.


Using the Google Analytics script with support for re-marketing, you can customize a ton of segments on which to you can base your display advertising. Your imagination, what you can actually handle and what visitor volume you have (because a re-marketing list needs at least 100 cookies at any given time to be active) do some put some limits.




So, let´s say for example that you wanna reach the people who searched for “XXX” on Google and clicked either an ad OR an organic link to reach your website. No problem, you can easily create a list for that.

Let´s say you want a list for all people who visited you product “YYY”. Easy one as well.

Try something harder! Like: all people who searched for “ZZZ”, clicked an ad, didn´t bounce, didn´t make a purchase, but stayed for at least 5 pageviews and checked out that wonderful product “VVV”. Now that´s quite a well-defined audience - and you know exactly what ad to show them, don´t you. So just start your first remarketing campaign and fine-tune your bids, ads and landing pages as data starts coming in.


Keywords (contextual matching)

As you´ve been doing search for a long time, you know all about what keywords and match types are working for you, and can just shove them into a display campaign.

Well not really. As said, display advertising is a different beast and to start with match types do not exist for it.

“Horror!” you think. Yes maybe, if you weren´t prepared. But don´t let that hinder you. Instead, be cautious and keep a tight eye on your display keyword ad groups: where are they putting your ads? Are keywords / placements sending traffic that makes your business be profitable and thrive? Otherwise: keep em short and use the exclude function (that is after you´ve done some bid experimenting of course).




Keywords are - today, it used to work in a different way - matched with words, phrases or themes on a single page, and you do get keyword-level reporting. But, to know exactly what keywords have been matched with what pages (or apps), you´d have to have one ad group for each keyword. And as you probably have an awful lot of keywords already, I am not sure I´d recommend that.

Just work with keywords the way you are used to: make tight ad groups, change your bids, and run your search terms report (no, actually, in this case you´ll run your ad placement report).


Wanna get going? If you really have the well-strucured account I´m imagining, you can probably just copy your ad groups, put them in a display campaign, get rid of match types (make them all broad), delete duplicate keywords - and you´re done!

Placements (automatic and managed)

Let´s say you´ve been running your keyword-based display campaign for a while. Then you also have a list of placements, and you´ve got data for impressions, clicks, conversions, and so on.

Let´s say one of those placements (by which we mean a domain or a part of website, a page-URL) are sending you a nice bunch of visitors, at a reasonable price. Thank your keyword campaign for that.

But the same display-keyword is also sending visitors from other placements, at much higher actual CPC, lower conversion rates, lower order values and…. heck that doesn´t look good!


But you can´t just decrease the bid for that keyword or ad group, ´cause that might mean your bid will be too low for your really-profitable-and-nice-placements.

So what to do? Easy, you just take the latter one and add it as a placements, and voila! you can put whatever bid you want for that specific placement, let´s say a page-URL.


While at it, you also notice that your ad has only shown on some of the pages on that domain (triggered by your keywords), but acutally all or most pages on it are about products that you sell.

So you add the whole domain as a managed placement, keep an eye on it and probably gain 10 extra sales next month because of your creativity.


Topics and Interests

So far your display campaign is a success, and you´ve strarted looking at other oppportunites. “Hmm, topics and interest, wonder what that can be.”

Okay, so you´re ready to get into deep water? If you thought keywords had reach, it ain´t nothing compared to topics and interest-categories (unless you´re using “jobs”, “clothes” or similar broad terms as keywords of course).


With “Topic”-targeting you can reach placements which have a common denominator defined by Google, such as “Arts & Entertainment”, “Dating & personals”, “Pets & Animals”. And many more, and sub-topics (such as “Dogs” for Pets).

You don´t know on beforehand what those placements might be (could be your pet-community, could be an article about dogs on nyt.com or an email in Gmail about dogfood). So, as you can understand, the reach is broader, the risk is higher and the potential is …. great!

Imagine you run a pet-supply online store. Wouldn´t you wanna Google find those placements for you? Yes you would.


However, for many advertisers the categories are too broad, and if you don´t have the proper methods too evaluate the results of your advertising, this is probably something you should abstain from. But please have a look at the topics and see if you can find some that defines what you customers are looking for.


If topics and placements are defined by the content of the page in question, “Interests-categories” is defined by people (hrmm, browsers) and their interests wherever they are.

So although you might read a blog-post on cupcakes, in that very moment I could target you by quality of being a dog owner. “How do you know that I have a dog” you wonder. Well I don´t. But Google draw that conclusion for me (or at least that you are interested in dogs), based on your prior surf-behaviour (you did browse your pet-community and that doggy-blog recently, didn´t you?).

No need saying, there is only way of judging whether Google does a good job in determining if they put people in the right bucket (sorry: browsers in the right interest-categories): by looking at the numbers. Do this target-method attract ad clicks at all? Do visitors convert? What are the price per conversion?


All warnings said, I can tell that I have been able to scale up accounts succesfully with Topics and Interests. Both for very small and for very big advertisers.

And I didn´t have access to more information than you have when I started, so you have as good chances to succeed as I had.



Already a display-advertiser, your text- and image-ads may very well already be showing on YouTube. But what about that informative clip you made last week, wouldn´t showing that for existing or potential customers be an excellent way of letting them know what you are selling or what knowledge and abilities you have (if you´re selling a service).


You bet it would and the easiest way to have it shown for the audience of your choice is to click the “Onlinevideo” next time you create a new AdWords-campaign. That will send you into the “AdWords for Video” interface, which is a bit different (and the topic of another article...), but you´ll recognise the target options: re-marketing, keywords (both for search at YouTube and for contextual matching), topics, interests. You can even go broader: target people of a specific age group or sex.




Be aware that you´ll pay per view with AdWords for Video, not per click, and driving direct-sales can be trickier with video-advertising (after all, people don´t necessarily click through to your website). So you need to consider exactly what the purpose will be in using that medium and how you´ll use it to get best effect.

But obviously you can do things with it that you cannot do with Search, and it can be a perfect complement to search for some advertisers.



While display-advertising usually is more difficult to handle and riskier than search, for some advertisers it´s actually an easy way to grow their business. Actually for many it´s the only way to grow when they have reached the limit of search-advertising. And for some, its even the first choice, before search.

So stop reading this, get into the AdWords interface, create your re-marketing lists, copy your keywords, manage your placements, choose your topics and interests, create your creatives - and start growing your business as a display network advertiser!

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.

Mini-CM Community Manager
December 2013

David, thanks for posting this great article. Very insightful. 

Mertkan L
January 2014

Very helpful, thanks David

Azzah A
February 2014

Hi David


THank you for this very useful article!