Something You Need to Know About the Google Display Network

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Some people are a little afraid of the Google Display Network. There are all kinds of targeting options, segmentation options, and it can rack up a lot of money in a small amount of time. I feel lucky because some of my first accounts were ones in which the Display Network was a primary source of traffic, so I learned pretty fast that the GDN isn’t something to be afraid of – it’s something to be embraced; and, it can work really well for some clients and drive a lot of traffic.

When Google started rolling out Topics targeting, Interest Category Marketing, and Remarketing I was stoked. I couldn’t WAIT to try these out for my clients. Sifting through the list of topics and interest categories was so fun for me – finding things that could work well for my clients. So I launched a Topics campaign and an ICM campaign in two of my accounts and much to my chagrin, the CPLs were pretty high. So I thought to myself: why don’t I add in some keywords? That way, my campaigns will be even more targeted and Google will use not only the Topics and Interest Categories I’ve selected for my campaigns, they’ll also use my keywords to help further narrow down these sites which should help my CPL! Right? Wrong!

I learned some very important information this week:

If you do what I did and you have, say, a Topics campaign and an ICM campaign with the same keywords and ad groups, your keywords actually take precedence over your selected Topics and Interest Categories if you have your campaign settings set to Broad reach:


So, I reached out to a Google rep with the following question:

“Say I have a Topics campaign, ICM campaign, a more general DN campaign with contextual keyword targeting, and a Remarketing campaign in an account which are all using keywords and are all set to Broad reach…what is the effect here? Are all the campaigns really just competing because they all have the same or similar keywords/ad groups, and since the keywords will take precedence if they are opted into Broad reach? If this is the case, should we be opting each of these campaigns into Specific reach to keep them from cannibalizing each others traffic?”

I got the following response from a member of their tech team:

“Abby, you are correct that incase you have different campaigns with topic targeting, interest category targeting, remarketing and all with keyword targeting as well, opted into broad reach, then in such a case it could lead to your own ads competing with one another. This is because in case of broad reach, incase all the campaigns have the same keywords, it would result in all of them competing at the keyword level thereby leading to one cannibalizing the other as correctly mentioned by you.   In such a case, it would be good for your campaigns, if you would opt into specific reach instead. In case of specific reach, say for a topic targeted campaign with keywords, ads would show up only if the search query matched both the topic and keyword. Note that although this could lead to a slight dip in the traffic of the campaigns since they would be very targeted, they would not compete with each other per say.   Also, for campaigns such as for remarketing, you could choose to do away with keywords altogether since they are already targeted towards a specific audience who is interested in your ads. “

My Google rep also provided me with the following link, which breaks down how each type of Display Network targeting works, depending on whether your campaign is opted into Broad or Specific reach, and how the types of targeting work together.

So what’s the next step for me?

Since I know that the Broad reach targeting without keywords doesn’t work so well, I’m changing all of my Display Network campaigns over to specific targeting. This way, the type of targeting will take precedence over the keywords, so I’ll have a much better sense of if/how well these types of targeting are working for my clients, and my Display Network campaigns won’t be snagging traffic from each other.

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16 thoughts on “Something You Need to Know About the Google Display Network

  1. Arvind Katke

    You may run any Display Network i.e. Keywords Based, Keywords + Placement, Placement. Must be Switch Off Certain Categories otherwise campaign end up with Disaster – Campaign -> Networks -> Exclusions -> Campaign Level, Exclude Category . Its all wide open eyes game, you must control campaign at every click by analyzing Google Analytics Placement Report. 

  2. Katie Saxon

    Sneaky.. That’s very good to know, admittedly I don’t use the GDN much at the moment, but I’d rather know before I make the mistake… Looking forward to reading more about how switching to Specific Reach worked for you!

  3. Pingback: Something You Need to Know About the Google Display … – PPC Hero « The SEO Reader

  4. Elena

    When I use both interest targeting and keyword targeting in one capmaign within broad reach I have very few taffic fo some reason. When I exclude Interest targeting,  the number of clicks is raised. I don`t understand why it happens like this. Don`t you know?

    1. Sean QuadlinSean Quadlin

       Hi Elena,

      This sounds like a really odd situation, and I’m honestly not sure what the specific problem could be.

      I know it’s not an actual answer to your question, but an easy work around for you (since you use broad targeting) would be to just create one campaign with interest targeting only and another campaign with interest targeting only.  That way you could be sure that your two different targeting methods get as much exposure as possible.

      I hope this helps! And let us know if you ever figure out what was happening with your traffic.

      1. Shelley Ellis

        I’ve seen this too. Couple of work arounds. Fewer keywords and/or limiting the AdGroup to one or two topics (means creating more AdGroups).

  5. Liz Lord

    Don’t forget to take into account Google’s hierarchy of display network bids. In the case where the keywords and interests are both targeted, but there are very little impressions intil the interest targets are removed, it could be that the bids set at the interest category were too low. You see, with every targeting method on the display network there is a opportunity to enter a bid. You usually dont run into too many problems with this if you are set to Broad reach targeting, but with specific reach you have to be more careful. Here are the bids Google uses on the display network in order:
    1. Placement
    2. Age
    3. Gender
    4. Topic
    5. Interests / Remarketing
    6. Keyword
    7. (default) Ad Group

    You can see that the Interest (or Auduence) bid trumps the keyword bids. Depending on the goals of the campaign I would suggest an ad group default bid if your targeting is really tight, or setting the bid at whatever level that is most meaningful for you.


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