How to Get Ahead on the Google Display Network

By Eric Couch | @ecouch11 | Account Manager at Bing Ads

This week, we here at PPC Hero are all about overcoming PPC’s (and life’s) many challenges. For me, those challenges usually encompass policy problems, reporting, training questions, the looming threat of a surprise webinar, and battling the nine-headed hydra that is the Google Display Network.


So to help you in your own struggles with Google’s expansive placement network, I’ve compiled a few handy tricks you can use to get ahead.


1. Interest Categories are hot garbage. Don’t use them without layering.


In theory, targeting a user by their interests makes perfect sense. We’ve seen a lot of success with Facebook because of how powerful those “Like”-based targeting options can be. But on Google’s Display Network, there’s very little similarity- you’re targeting users based on Google’s best guess as to their actual interests… and they tend to be slightly suspect.


What do I mean?


Well, take a look for yourself. In your Google account, go to the “Account history” tab and look for the part at the bottom that says “Related settings”. It’ll look like this:


I bet you didn't know about this.  It's *hilarious*.
I bet you didn’t know about this. It’s hilarious.


Welcome to the Ad settings page. Basically, this is who Google thinks you are based on your browsing and search history. It’s how they target you with their many Interest Categories and Demographic options. It can also be somewhat misguided. For instance:


Exhibit A.
Exhibit A.


Nothing too egregious yet, but there are 190 search-based Interest Categories listed here, with an additional 29 listed based on the websites I’ve visited. Some of these are going to be pretty far-out there.


Some very strange interest categories, indeed.
Uh…. huh.


Allegedly, I am an operatic paleontologist with a passing interest in kicking ass. And I like to smell nice.


The problem here is that each of these categories correlate to an Interest Category that we, as advertisers, can select on the Google Display Network. When you hover over any one of these, you can actually see the categories in to which they fall:


Interest categories defined.
I’m just saying- if Jurassic Park turns out to be real, I’m there.


And here you’ll find the same categories in the AdWords interface:


Interest categories as they appear in AdWords.
See? Science > Earth Sciences > Paleontology. So if you run Jurassic Park, this is how you can target me on the Display Network.


So by assuming that I’m interested in every single thing that I search for on Google or look at on the Internet, a warped perspective emerges on what I’m actually interested in.


Even though they’re totally right about my interest in dinosaurs.


The difference between this and Facebook is that on Facebook the user self-selects their interests based on what they like. There is no guess work or assumption involved, and it’s one of the reasons why some advertisers have been so successful there.


That being said, you can still get some use out of Interest Categories… assuming you layer them with other targeting options. I’ve personally seen success with both Contextual Keywords and Remarketing (edit: layering Interest Categories & Remarketing is no longer possible, though) when used in conjunction with these categories, so don’t write them off wholesale. Only write them off as a solo act.


2. Managed Placements are also pretty bad on their own. Try them with layers or not at all.


I’ll often hear this touted as a best practice for the Google Display Network: “When you have an automatic placement that performs really well, you should add that site to your managed placements!”


That is a terrible idea.


The reason this is such an issue is that our ads aren’t shown on sites. They’re shown on specific pages of those sites- pages that, in one way or another, are in line with the targeting options that we’ve selected. The content of these pages are contextually relevant to your product, your service, or the user. By removing the automatic targeting, you’ve now opted in to bidding on every single page on that site, rather than just the ones that are relevant.


YouTube metrics on the Display Network.
Sure. Let’s add YouTube as a managed placement. What could go wrong?


While the overall conversion metrics for YouTube are great, adding this as a managed placement would be a *big* mistake, especially if you follow best practices and split it out in to another campaign. Because our metrics don’t come from just “”, it comes from many pages of videos that make up the site. By drilling down in to our “Site details”, we can see the following:


Managed placement data by URL.
There are 78 individual URLs here.


Those 13 YouTube conversions actually came from ten different pages, each of them matching up contextually with our automatic targeting options. By making “” a managed placement, we’re now going after run-of-site with our bid. This means that you can either wind up no longer showing on one of your best placements (because your bid is no longer competitive), or you can wind up wasting money on irrelevant placements that have no value to your business.


As a side note: you should absolutely audit your site details every once in awhile – you might find some pages that are driving up your costs without converting.


If you still want to give Managed Placements a go, then do the following:


  • Layer them with other targeting methods to prevent you from going after the entire site.
  • Add specific pages as a Managed Placement, rather than the entire site as a whole.


3. Audit your site category exclusions for weird stuff.


This is a long-standing best practice. Google provides us with the ability to opt out of certain site categories, and depending on your business and/or brand, that might be a good idea. You can find them in “Add new targeting” interface, under your Campaign exclusion options:


Site Category Exclusions
Wait for it…


Once there, you’ll find the following list of options for you to exclude:


Site Category Exclusion options.
I’ve excluded gambling here in honor of JB.


In the old days, we used to get performance information for these categories, but they’re no longer available. Google, if you’re listening: please give them back!


If you’re having issues with Display lead quality, or have a brand-conscious client and/or boss who doesn’t want to show on “Juvenile, gross, and bizarre” pages, consider utilizing these Site Category Exclusions to improve your traffic.


What about you, PPC Heroes and Heroines? Have you overcome any pressing PPC problems lately? Share a common disdain for the Managed Placement? Let us know in the comments and, as always, thanks for reading!


Make sure to check out our other series week posts!