AdWords Smart Display. What is it? How does it work? How should I set up the campaign? So many questions, so little time. Yet that’s what it’s there for, to save you time. Smart Display was released by Google for all advertisers to use back on April 20, 2017 to help advertisers who want to utilize the display network but don’t know where to start. Or maybe you do know where to start and just don’t have time to manage display alongside your search and shopping efforts. Whatever your reasons are, smart display could be the answer to getting in front of potential customers further up the funnel and growing your business.

What Is Smart Display?

At its core, smart display is a highly automated form of an AdWords display campaign. It relies on automation and machine learning to accomplish three things:

  • Automatic Bidding
  • Automatic Targeting
  • Automatic Creatives

That’s right, it does all of these things for you (with just a bit of work to set it up in the beginning). Lets break down how each of these three things actually work.

Automatic Bidding

Smart display uses a form of automated bidding called target CPA bidding. You give the campaign your target CPA and the algorithms will bid focusing on getting you conversions at that target CPA. The campaign will bid aggressively when data suggests a conversion is likely and will bid less when data suggests a low chance of conversion. What data does it use to determine this? Things like if the user has been on your site, their online behavior, what sites they visit, and what they are interested in, etc. Automatic bidding may bid as high as $10 for an individual user or as low as $1. When all is said and done though, the total amount you spent divided by your total conversions should come out to your target CPA.

Automatic Targeting

Smart Display uses a combination of all the targeting methods available in regular display campaigns. Things like remarketing, similar audiences, keywords, topics, placements, demographics, and interest categories are some of the targeting smart display uses.

The campaign will target and test all of these to find which one or combination works best for providing conversions at the target CPA you gave the campaign. If Google’s algorithms find that one of these targeting methods performs poorly, it will begin to focus on the other targeting methods that are more effective.

Automatic Creative

This part of smart display helps you create, test, and manage the creative side of your ads very easily. You give the campaign headlines, descriptions, images, and logos to start. The campaign will then combine these assets to create several ads to show across the display network. It will then test the performance of these ads by itself and start showing the most effective combinations. Before moving on it is worth noting that smart display can utilize dynamic ads remarketing if you’d like to remarket to people with the specific products they viewed on your site.

Smart Display Campaign Set Up

Campaign Level

To set up a smart display campaign, head on over to your campaigns tab in AdWords and create a new display campaign. Just be aware that you’ll need to have had at least 50 conversions on display or at least 100 on search in the past 30 days to be eligible to run smart display. Next you will see a screen like the one below and you will want to check one of the boxes in the drive action marketing objective box. That will bring up an option below to create a smart display campaign.

Smart display campaign setup drive action

After you have checked the box for smart display you’ll want to scroll down and set your campaign settings like location, language, bid strategy (target CPA), and a daily budget.

Your target CPA should be unique to your business. You know your business’s goals best and should set CPA according to those. For budget, many around the internet recommend setting a daily budget of 10-15x that of your target CPA. If you have the budget and want to dive in head first go for it. Otherwise don’t be afraid to experiment with a smaller daily budget to see if that works. You can always increase budget later on depending on performance.

Ad Group Level

Smart display may do a lot of things automatically, but it is at this point you’ll want to slow down and think about the best segmentation for your ad groups. Each ad group you create should have an overarching theme; a unique landing page with creative assets that mirror the landing page and create relevancy between the ad and your website. Smart display is going to use your landing page in its algorithms to find the most relevant user. Lets think about this with an example.

Perhaps you sell shoes. Your initial instinct may be to create an ad group and send people to your main page. That is a bit broad though. You should take advantage of getting as targeted as possible. Do you sell men’s shoes and women’s shoes? Then you should have separate ad groups for each, with one ad group directing users to the men’s shoes section on your website and one to the women’s section. From there you will be able to utilize specific creative for each ad group. Images and ad copy for men’s shoes will be specific to men. Images and ad copy for women’s shoes will be specific to women. It’s always best practice to be as targeted as possible but at the end of the day use a segmentation that works best for you.

Ad Level

This is where you’ll provide the initial creative assets for the campaign. For best performance, you’ll want to provide multiple options of each of the below.

  • Headlines (max 25 characters) – Designer Men’s Shoes
  • Descriptions (max 70 characters) – Shop our collection of designer men’s shoes at affordable prices!
  • Company logo
  • Marketing images – unique images of men’s shoes or men wearing shoes
  • Landing page URL –

The ad creation section will list what image ratios and dimensions work best for smart display campaigns as well.

Campaign Optimization

You’ll need to give the algorithms and machine learning time to test targeting and ads before performance will truly optimize. Give the campaign a few weeks to optimize before deciding to make any changes. From there feel free to make changes to budgets, target CPA, and creative assets. Just remember that any changes you make should be small ones. Wildly changing bids or budgets and mass deletion/importing of creatives could negatively impact the algorithms ability to optimize performance. Also, don’t forget to check what placements (websites) your ads are showing on. You can’t do campaign level placement exclusions with smart display but you are always able to do account level placement exclusions which a smart display campaign will inherit.