Mastering the Google Display Network

by The Salmat Team
03 February 2016


The "why", "how" and "what" behind planning an insanely successful Google Display Network campaign.

The GDN has the biggest reach of any display network, including more than two million publisher websites, and reaches 90 per cent of web users.

Now, that can be a powerful beast when it comes to increasing your brand awareness.

It can show your ad on:

  • 120 of the top 200 trafficked websites,
  • including the number one video platform (YouTube),
  • the number one blog platform (Blogger), and
  • the number one email service (Gmail).

Yet, many marketers ask ‘why do I need the Google Display Network when I already have a Google Search campaign?’.

Well, they are both very different things. That’s why. 

In this post, I’ll share with you three critical steps to running a successful GDN campaign.

3 critical steps:

  • Why you should consider Google Display
  • How to create your own GDN campaign
  • How to optimise it to get the best returns.

Here’s the deal with Paid Search

So you’re already running a paid search campaign. It’s not surprising. Paid Search is the largest single contributor to Internet advertising globally, according to PwC’s Entertainment & Media Outlook 2015-2019 report. It is predicted to grow from US$53.13bn in 2014 to US$85.41bn in 2019. This would equate to the largest component of internet advertising globally, accounting for 35.6 per cent of total internet advertising revenue in 2019.

The advantages of paid search campaigns are clear. Google Search targets users when they are in an active shopping state of mind. When we say ‘active’, we mean they are ready to spend money with someone straight away. What better time to get in front of customers, right?

Think of it like this. You need a digital marketing agency in Sydney? You go to Google and do a quick search to suss out what your options are. Paid search listings dominate the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Organic search is increasingly being pushed down the page of Google listings as the number of types of paid search formats continues to increase.

What is the GDN and why should I use it?

So, if paid search is so good, why should I even consider Google Display?

Because, digital display advertising is the second biggest generator of online advertising revenue (according to PwC’s report) after Paid Search.

It is fair to argue that Google Display catches users when they are in a more passive mindset. Yes, they may be checking out their favourite blog, reading the news, researching a holiday - generally consuming content on a website - but they are still susceptible to advertising attention (whether consciously or unconsciously).

Consider this B2B Procurement Study from Acquity Group from 2014, which found that 83 per cent of respondents said websites are the most popular channel for conducting online research. Display’s highly-targeted nature makes it a great way to ensure your brand is front of mind when a client is ready to buy.

The reach of a Google Display campaign is comparable to television. Used properly it can be a fantastic way to grow your business. It should also be noted that Display provides an outlet for companies that have non-compete agreements in Search with their suppliers.

How do I launch a GDN campaign?

A word of warning before you start

General consensus is that you shouldn’t combine your Search and Display campaigns. On their website, Google advises that you keep the two separate

Start using GDN and increase your brand awareness, sales and loyalty

So you’ve decided to set up a display campaign on the GDN. Where do you start? Google outlines the basic steps, but to build a comprehensive campaign, first you must narrow down who you want to target. This can be done in multiple ways:



At the simplest level, build your campaign around topic


Ads can be automatically placed by the GDN on pages on the network that contain content related to your selected topics. The advantages of this approach are twofold.


  • You reach a large audience quickly
  • It is possible to prevent your ads from appearing on websites about unrelated or underperforming topics.

select topic

Google supplies a comprehensive list of topics.


Secondly, campaigns can be built around audience


Audience selection can be broken down into three types: Affinity audiences, these are designed for broad-stroke, large campaigns; Custom Affinity Audiences, which narrows down your audience further using keywords; and In-market Audiences, to find people who are actively researching and considering the purchase of products.  

Affinity audiences


Custom affinity audience


It is also possible to use geographical targeting to build your campaign. You may wish to target people in a specific region, places they visit, or even where that person is at that very moment.

Key takeaway

Do experiment with targeting websites by topics, audiences and locations. Your mission here is to customise the ad based on who and/where it will be seen. Ensure the messaging and visuals will engage your target market.

What if I want to serve my ads to specific sites?


You can also choose to place your ads on specific sites through Managed Placements. Managed Placements can be used in conjunction with a general campaign, where ads are placed automatically by topic, keyword or location.

You may find that after running previous campaigns, specific sites have worked better for you than others and it’s worth your while to advertise directly on these sites – especially when you consider that the sites your display ad is served to on a general campaign can change over time. Don’t lose the benefits of serving ads to these sites by selecting them through managed placements.

You may choose to use a different bid structure for these specific sites to make your bid more competitive. You know these are guaranteed sites that your audience frequent so invest in them.


Key takeaways

Do experiment to find out what type of ad works best where – visual ads typically generate greater Click Through Rates (CTRs), but some sites still require text ads so you should always have both artwork options available.

Not sure what size ads to create? Google lists the top performing display ad sizes to take the pain out of the process. The more sizes of ads that you have in your campaign, the better as you are not limited by the number of websites where your ads can be placed.


Advertise to the people who have already visited your site


Remarketing campaigns, also known as ‘retargeting’ campaigns, use cookies to follow your website visitors after they leave your site and visit others.

Remember that holiday you researched the other day? Well, you may be seeing ads for the flight a few more times in the coming week if the retailer has a remarketing campaign in place.

Despite their reputation, remarketing campaigns can provide easy wins by re-engaging already interested parties. At their heart, these campaigns drive loyalty by re-engaging customers, even if they have never bought anything from you.


Consider the following when setting up your remarketing campaign:

1. Install a remarketing tag on your website

Do install remarketing tags on your site. You can download the code from your Google AdWords account. Even if you are not ready to implement a remarketing campaign, doing so will let you generate a list of visitors to your site for future campaigns.

2. Segment your website visitors

First break down your website visitors into prospects and converted customers. You will want to create a remarketing campaign for each. It is important to remember that you cannot remarket to people based on sensitive information. Read the Policy for advertising based on interests and location for full details.

i) Prospects: Identify how close to purchase the prospect got. Did they just check out the About us page? Did they make it to a specific product page? Or did they abandon their cart at the checkout? How close they got to purchase will determine which ad (and call to action) you serve them.

ii) Converted customers: This group can be identified by the fact they were served your completed transaction page. Don’t disregard them. They obviously liked your product/service enough to invest once. Take the opportunity to upsell them with a complementary product or service.

3. Set the timeframe of your campaign

The longer your campaign runs, the higher the likelihood that your audience will get ‘banner blindness’ to your creative.

4. Establish impression capping

There is also the risk that being ‘haunted’ by your ad could start to grate on the nerves of your prospects. Impression capping allows you to restrict the number of times a person sees the ad per day.

5. Remove converted customers from campaign list

The last thing you want to do is waste your money remarketing a product or service to customers who have already converted. Assigning your campaign a negative audience means that customers are automatically removed from your GDN campaign when they have converted.

6. Test, review and hone campaign

Review the size, format, creative and call to action of your campaign artwork on a regular basis. Try A/B testing different versions of your campaign to find out which gets better results.

Key takeaways

Don’t forget the landing page. Where you send people when they click on your display ad is as important as the creative itself. The goal is to make it as easy as possible to purchase as possible. Remember, it’s really important to have continuity between the ad and the landing page (whether a website page or dedicated landing page).


What about cost? How do I set the price of my campaigns?

Once you have outlined your objectives, you can use your campaign goals to determine which payment method you will use.

The options for managing the cost of your campaign are as follows:

1. Cost per click (CPC)

What: You pay when someone clicks on your ad, not for impressions.

Why: To build traffic to your website

How: Set bids.

Key takeaway

Best practice is to operate your campaign on a 3:1 ratio (3 display banner ads: 1 text ad).

2. Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)

What: You pay when an ad leads to a conversion on your website.

Why: Your goal is sales, email sign-ups and other online transactions.

How: Set a target CPA of the average amount you’d like to pay for a conversion.

Key takeaway

If you are operating a 30 day campaign then best practice is to use 70% of your spend in the first 15 days of the campaign to attract customers. Then the remaining 30% of spend can be used in the second half of the campaign to remarket to those potential customers.

From start to finish the set-up process is very quick. The GDN will lead you through the steps and you can have a campaign live within the hour.

How do I measure the success of my campaign?


Well done! You’ve set up a campaign and it’s up and running. What now? In the next section, we’ll detail what to consider when analysing your campaign data.

Here’s the deal. It can be easy to create a campaign, but tracking and analysing your results on a regular basis is the only way to make sure that you optimise your campaigns. Therefore, here are a few things you should remember when reviewing your display campaign.


1. Don’t be fooled by ‘false clicks’ from mobile apps

When caught up in the excitement of a mobile game or app, it is often quite easy for people (especially children) to click an ad accidentally, pushing up your CTR and skewing your campaign results. Consider this when analysing the success of your ad and consider excluding any troublesome sites from future campaigns. Many people choose to remove mobile advertising from their campaigns altogether to avoid the cost of their campaigns being pushed up by people accidentally clicking on their ads.


2. Do test, analyse and repeat

Like any other digital marketing campaign, marketers need to take the time to refine GDN campaigns. Test, measure and fine-tune every campaign, even when they are relatively small.

The display summary page provides an overview of activity and can be great for analyzing performance:


3. Do start small

On that note, to get the most from your ad budget, we recommend that you start campaigns small. Not only does this allow you to find out what works, it saves you from expensive failures. Once you’ve found your magic formula, you can increase your campaign spend.



Most people view display as an adjunct to their paid search campaigns. While the two should be run separately, the campaigns can (and should) complement each other.

Search advertising targets users when they are actively looking for something specific, but display catches them when they are on the web page and in the process of researching. In simple terms, search campaigns capture demand, display campaigns generate demand.

There’s no question that display network campaigns are a great way to grow your business. Their reach is comparable to television, but the pricing is unparalleled. On the GDN you are not paying for impressions, but when someone clicks on your ad (in a PPC campaign) or for a conversion (in a CPA campaign). As a branding exercise alone, it is fantastic.

The Google Display Network’s reach is unquestionable and a considered campaign can build awareness, sales and loyalty. Think of it as the perfect one-two punch.

Now it’s your turn to try GDN

So, you’ve decided that GDN is where you want to play and you want to start a campaign. It’s time to put what we’ve taught you into practice.

Take the first step by clicking the image below to access our FREE eBook: 50 Search marketing tips to make your campaigns soar:


To learn more about Salmat's search marketing solutions, get a quote today or call 1300 725 628.

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About the author
The Salmat Team

Salmat is a leading Australian marketing services provider. We help clients connect with their customers, week-in, week-out. Salmat's unique combination of targeted letterbox and online marketing channels enables clients to Reach, Convert and Serve their customers. We also provide a wide range of back office solutions, through our Philippines-based Managed Services business.

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