Making The Google Display Network Tolerable for the Conversion Conscious

By Tad Miller | Apr 25, 2011
More Articles by Tad


We don’t do a great deal of advertising on the Google Display Network, formerly known as the Content Network.  The main reason being that for most of our clients their pay per click advertising budgets are most effectively spent on Search Networks, which covert at a higher rate and lower conversion cost.

But we also have some larger advertisers, with more budget to use towards all potential customers in the buying cycle – not just those who are ready to buy or convert now. For those advertisers we recommend utilizing contextual targeting in the Google Display Network.  It’s not a pure display buy – the content has to contextually match the keywords you are advertising on – so it’s not completely just a blind push of a marketing message on someone not interested in your keyword topics.

With that said, if you are trying to maximize conversions and get them at an affordable cost per conversion the Display Network is a dangerous place to play.  The primary reason being that your advertising success is almost completely dependent on the content of Google AdSense Publishers.  AdSense Publishers, and their content are far from being created equal, in fact a great deal of them are simply just creating hollow, but keyword specific content designed to get your ads to show and hence click through on those ads.

Made For AdSense websites range from the small time domain buyer that buys a keyword specific URL and then scrapes the content of someone else to put on his site to E-how.com which hires writers to post low quality “articles” about high cost per click keyword topics.  Millions are made every year on Made For Adsense Sites.

As an advertiser on these sites, you really need to make sure that your advertising delivers results for you, rather than just the AdSense Publisher.  My rules for ensuring this are:

Use AdWords Category Exclusions to eliminate the kinds of content you don’t want your ads showing on.  I always exclude categories like Parked Domains;  Sexually Suggestive Content; Crime Police & Emergency; Death & Tragedy; Military & International Conflict; Juvenile, Gross & Bizarre Content and Profanity & Rough Language.

Be a Xenophobic URL snob:  If you are an American advertiser it doesn’t make sense that your ads are showing up on foreign country URLs.  I have never gotten conversion results from a URL ending in .uk, .ca, .tk, etc.  I also exclude AdSense URLs that have foreign country names in the URL, because they never seem to convert.  You can also bet that almost no good will come from a .biz, .usa or .info URL because they are cheap for Domain spammers to buy and then slap some sub-standard content on.

Drill Down: Just because the site is coming up in your list of Automatic Placements as being a good driver of conversions, doesn’t mean that all of the pages of that website are driving conversion.  Drill down to see the URL list of where your ads have appeared on that site.  Exclude the pages that aren’t working for you and consider adding a single specific page as a contextually targeted Display Network Placement.

Monitor, Monitor, Monitor: Content and the way people react to changes with the wind.  What is big news this week can be old irrelevant news even a week later.  You might have to react quicker to a dip in performance quicker than you would with your keyword buys.  Performance can be very inconsistent from week to week, so you have to put in regular work with your content bids and site exclusions.

Exclude, Exclude, Exclude: If a keyword was racking up big costs and delivering nothing you would pause it at some point.  The same holds true for a site on the the Display Network.  If you are after conversion success and not “branding” success their is no benefit in sticking with a loser site.

Lose your Context and Lose you A#$: If you advertise on Mobile you need to realize that the biggest click / Impression hog out there is something called AdSense for Mobile Apps.  I’ve written about this previously and I can tell you that I think it’s a bit of a rip off.  If you are assuming that your keywords are still contextually matching to content on apps you are mistaken.  Ask yourself this.  How are your keywords contextually matching to any content on the game Angry Birds?  You also need to really watch out for the performance of your Display Network ads on Gmail, because keyword context is a lot broader their than you might think.

Avoid the Display Network Slide Show Trap: If you find that your ads are appearing on stories disguised as a slide show.  Stories containing top 10 lists are usually how this is accomplished.  There is really no reason to present content this way other than to ramp up AdSense Ad impressions and clicks.  These can really rack up a lot of clicks in a hurry and they can be a nice money maker for a publisher.  In my experience Forbes.com is the king of this practice.  I’ve had some of my most expensive costs per conversion on Display Network from these slide shows.  I exclude these slide shows as soon as I see them come into my placement reports on the Networks tab of AdWords.

If conversion is your goal and you have standards for cost per conversion that you want to maintain, chances are you main strategy with Display Network is going to be a strategy of exclusion and minimizing bids and harmful impressions. There really is more volume than you probably need in the way clicks and impressions on Display Network.  Sculpting that volume into something that works for you is really the goal.

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  • http://www.ppcni.com Jordan McClements

    Is it just me – or is the Display network *really* hard work compared to the search network? (Unless you have a client who is happy to pay loads of money on a branding exercise).

    • http://www.search-mojo.com Tad Miller

      Jordan, it is a lot of work upfront. But site and category exclusion is permanent so the continuous filtering and excluding that you do upfront builds up to the point where you get “cleaner” traffic coming through. It will never be a set it and forget it kind of medium, but category exclusion and regular site exclusion can do wonders in making it “not so bad”.