Display Campaign Secrets: Placements, Placements, Placements

Here’s an open secret among all AdWords advertisers: it’s nearly impossible to make a display campaign effective, retargeting aside. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that Google is incentivized to make it just-barely-effective-enough because that’s an easy way to get advertisers to overspend.

This series of posts will document different strategies you can use to make your GDN (Google Display Network) campaigns more effective, and today’s strategy comes to the heart of our process for solving this problem:

Placements, Placements, Placements.

Let me explain. While the Display campaign targeting options are very hard to tweak, if you use Placements instead—giving Google a list of sites or pages to show your ads on— it goes a long way towards solving it.

There is a very basic reason why this works. Whenever you look at the automatic placements that Google displays your sites on, don’t you feel like 9 out of 10 times, the sites are completely irrelevant? “Why does Google keep on choosing to display my ads on WEATHER sites?” I’ve asked myself many, many ties. “And people looking at these dictionary sites to define what the terms mean—if they need to define it, they don’t understand the product well enough to be on-target to buy it!”

Most strategies revolve around encouraging Google to display our ads on sites like X, Y, and Z, and not on sites like A, B, and C. But if we just give Google the sites to display on—that cuts right to the chase!

But there’s a reason why this isn’t done much in real life: finding, culling, organizing, ensuring quality control on such lists takes a lot of time. Which sites are on-target? Do they run AdSense code? Do they get enough traffic? It’s a process that’s both laborious in terms of the number of hours to get a non-trivial number of sites, and cognitively non-trivial in terms of thinking through to ensure that the sites are worthy of inclusion.

You see where this is going—of course, we’re here to solve this problem—but there are lots of ways to slice this yourself. Here are some:

  • Start by Googling the keywords themselves and coming up with a list of sites.
  • Google the keyword with other adjectives attached, like “reviews”.
  • Get the first 4,700 results for each query at the least. 
  • Repeat the process across other search engines, because for many niches Google’s results are quite distorted.
  • Run all the sites through a filter to ensure they run the AdSense code.
  • Run all the sites through a bunch of other filters to eliminate off-target sites: is the sentiment of the site critical of the subject? Is it just a passing news article on a generic site? Does the site get a non-trivial amount of traffic? Is the traffic likely from the right jurisdictions you want? And so forth!
  • Upload the placements to Google.
  • Test, test, test!

Our platform runs a sophisticated variation of that general process, with a bunch of subtleties that turn the pistol into a bazooka (Oh, I like that phrase, I think I’ll start using it more often!). Many of these subtleties we will document in future articles; many others we need to keep as part of our magical secret sauce. As for the results, you can see them for yourself when you try out our platform.

In the meantime, if you’re running display campaigns, we’d love to talk to you and learn from your experiences. Reach out–we’d love to chat and see what we can do together.

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