How to Target Using Google AdWords' Display Network

The display network on Google AdWords is something that many people leave well alone. Sure, it has a really cheap cost per click and sure, you can rack up tens of thousands of impressions per week, but if they’re not targeted, what is the point?

One issue many advertisers find is that the display network can run through their budget very quickly bringing in nothing more than a lot of irrelevant clicks, a ridiculous bounce rate and a high ad spend which in turn reaps very little return. In this week’s article, I’m going to highlight a couple of different targeting options within display network campaigns and give you some tools to be able to set something up that might bring you better results in the long run.

Different Targeting Methods

Placement Targeting

Placement targeting allows you to set (on an Ad Group level) the exact websites you want your ads to show on. Rather than running your ads on any website that is a part of the AdSense network, placement targeting allows you to select the exact sites you want your ads to run on based on where you expect your customers to browse. An example might be running display image ads to support an ecommerce campaign on sites such as or This can work really well when you’re running a re-marketing campaign and you see that a particular website brings you a decent number of conversions. It might be fair to assume that like minded people visit similar websites and given this you could reach a new audience who might not have found you otherwise.

Interest Categories

Interest categories shows your ads to users based on what people are interested in -- seems obvious right? Well, this is how it works. Users are able to update their preferences within their Google account or browser to nominate their preferences. This ensures that the end user only sees ads that are relevant to them. This may seem fairly limited and, you’re probably thinking "I’ve never done that and I can’t imagine many people have." This is true to some extent. However, the people who have done this are going to be more receptive to the ad content. In showing an interest based display campaign to a small, targeted audience who are more likely to be receptive to your ads is only going to be a good thing at the end of the day.

Topic Targeting

Topic targeting shows your ads on websites which are targeted to specific subjects. For the most part it’s very similar to the interest category but the main difference is that interests target the users interests, topics target the web page content. Let’s say you’re running a display campaign for a travel company – it makes more sense to show your ads on sites which are about travel. It’s an easy way to hone in your efforts and build awareness in front of a particular audience based on the content that they browse.

Keyword Contextual Targeting

This method of targeting allows us to target page content on a keyword level. You build out your display campaign based on a set of keywords and this allows you to show your ads on the display network the moment a user engages with page content that is relevant to them (and you!). Using a keyword list, including match types such as broad, exact and phrase match modifiers, your ads will show on pages which contain keyword combinations based on your keyword set.

This method of targeting is actually pretty sophisticated. The Google system analyses text, language, link structure and page structure to determine where to post your ads (not bad huh?!).

What's Best For You?

So… what now? How do you know which method of targeting will work best for your campaign? Well, to begin with you won’t, it’s that simple. What you will probably want to do is build an ad group for each targeting method. This way you’re able to split test targeting methods, track them in Analytics and grow your campaign based on what works. The best way to do this is to keep the ads consistent – if you have that element as the control you’ll get a pretty good idea pretty quickly as to what will work for you and, from there you can hone in.

The beauty of this set up is that you’re able to build out your targeting as your campaign progresses. For example, if you notice that a particular site within your interests or keyword targeting is converting well, try adding it into your placement campaign and see how it works for you. Over time you will be able to combine targeting methods to get even more specific, for instance, people who are interested in travel and are browsing pages with Keywords about Japan. This way you’re telling Google you’re only interested in showing your display ads to people who fall into both categories.

I hope this helps bust some myths about display targeting and that it gives you something to think about in your own campaigns. At the end of the day, any form of marketing is all about test and measure, trying a new idea, measuring the results and making decisions based on the facts. This is just another thing you can test when you’re looking at your next campaign.

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