Google Display Network Ads Tips and Strategies

Posted on: April 20, 2022 | Written by: John E Lincoln, Ignite Visibility

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Advertising on Google is arguably one of the most effective ways to market your business.

And if you’re not using the Google Display Network, you’re missing out on a valuable way to expose your brand.

The following strategies will get you started–and read to the end for a quick Google Display Network FAQ.

What You’ll Learn:

  • What is the Google Display Network?
  • How Does the Google Display Network Work?
  • Google Display Network vs. Google Search Network
  • Google Display Network Strategies for Success
    • 1. Get familiar with targeting options
    • 2. Run remarketing ads
    • 3. Exclude sites that are off-topic
    • 4. Use the managed placements option
    • 5. Use Similar Audiences Feature
    • 6. Use Search Network with Display Expansion
    • 7. Make your ads visual and appealing
    • 8. Adjust your ads for time of day
    • 9. Use Discovery Campaigns
    • 10. Use Google’s Contextual Targeting tool
    • 11. Monitor and test your ad’s performance
  • Bonus Advertising Tips
  • Getting Started with the Google Display Network
  • FAQs About Google Display Network Advertising

First Things First: What is the Google Display Network?

In a nutshell, the Google Display Network is a set of websites that your ad can appear on.

Millions of websites – this is Google, after all.

The network is comprised of over 2 million websites, 650,000 apps, and 90% of internet users. Using the Display Network for advertising is one of the best chances you have to get your ad in front of most internet users.


How Does the Google Display Network Work?

You’ve likely encountered the Google Display Network – far more often than you think.

Display ads pop up on websites, YouTube videos, within mobile apps, and even in your Gmail inbox. Often, they’re from sites you’ve recently visited or products you’ve recently searched for.

Advertisers target buyers early in the sales cycle as they research different products and solutions.

The Google Display Network is wildly powerful. Advertisers can target ads in every phase of the sales cycle. Whether you want to reach people before they even know they need your product or reach them after a recent search, you can program the Google Display Network to do whatever fits your marketing strategy. This is the perfect way to get your ads in front of the right people at the right time.

As the advertiser, you have control of where your ad appears and when. This avoids ad spend money being wasted by ads being run in places where it doesn’t need to be. The Network avoids advertising to everyone across all of Google’s millions of sites. You have the control to choose where or which kind of site you would like your site to run on, and what kind of audience you’d like to target.

We’ll cover all of that soon.

But first, let’s clear up the difference between the Google Display Network and the Google Search Network.

Google Display Network Vs. Google Search Network

When you think Google AdWords, you likely envision search ads–those sidebar ads and sponsored results that pop up when you search online.

But Google actually has two options for advertising: search and display.

Search ads actively target prospects by searching for something your company can offer, based on the keywords you select for your ads.

The ads appear directly on Google’s organic search results and have the potential to reach an extremely large audience.

They’re used primarily for top-of-the-funnel sales, which means buyers are already actively searching for the product or service you offer when they come across your ad.

Display Ads appear on websites based on potential buyers’ interests, previous search history, demographics, etc.

They simply show up, whether or not users are searching for their services. Display Ads are used to expect people’s needs and wants, and get their customers before they even start researching a purchase.

As I mentioned, this makes the Google Display Network ideal for the beginning stages of attracting leads and promoting brand awareness.

Ultimately, which ad type you choose will depend on the goals you set for that campaign.

Google Display Network Strategies for Success

1. Get Familiar With the Targeting Options

Your success on the Display Network will probably come down to how effectively you can target your audience.

We can divide all the ways to target ads into two groups.

First, you can target ads based on the content of the ad itself, so that it appears next to similar content. For example, if someone visits a website about wedding cakes, they might see an ad for your wedding cake business. Google calls this “contextual targeting”, and there are several ways to do it:

  • Keyword Targeting. Choose broad keywords related to your business. It’s a good idea to use long-tail keywords or phrases, as more and more people search for content on mobile or with voice. Your ads will appear next to content that matches that keyword.
  • Topic Targeting. Pick a group of websites that are related to your industry. This is a good way to reach a more general audience because instead of targeting a specific web domain or specific users, your ads will appear across a group of themed websites.

The second way to target ads is based on the viewer. For example, a dog food manufacturer could set up ads that only appear to older people who like dogs. Those methods include

  • Remarketing: You can target ads to people who previously visited your website, or interacted with you in other ways (for example, by watching a video on your YouTube channel). This is available for desktop and mobile users, and it’s closely related to Similar Audience targeting, which we’ll discuss later.
  • Audience Targeting: Google places users in different “interest groups” based on the things they search and read online. You can select a particular audience to see your ads. Choose between “in-market audiences”, with people who are ready to make a purchase; or “affinity audiences”, with people who are interested but will need a little push to purchase.
  • Demographic Targeting: This method is perhaps the most straightforward, but can be controversial; it allows you to target users based on age, gender, marital status, etc. Be aware that different countries may have different laws about which demographics you can target.
  • Automatic Targeting: With this option, you don’t choose who sees your ads – you let Google decide for you. This is a good choice if you are inexperienced or have little time to monitor ads, but it might not be as effective as tailoring your own ads.

You can also choose different ad formats, based on where your targeted ads appear and the result you want to achieve. There are different options for ads that appear on desktop or mobile.

If you’re a new user, you’ll manage all your ads from Google Ads–even the ones which appear on Google Display Network. Check out this list to see all the formats available.

Remember, the first step in any successful campaign is determining what you ultimately want to achieve.

So, if you run a local shop and want to promote your brand for more foot traffic, demographic targeting is likely your best bet.

If you operate in a very particular niche like old record resales, interest targeting may be better suited.

The best way to determine which targeting method is right for you is to experiment. Try them all if you can to determine which best suits your business.

2. Run Remarketing Ads on the Google Display Network

If you’ve been using the internet, you’ve been a target of a remarketing ad. It’s that simple.

Remarketing ads are the ones that pop up on seemingly every site you visit, advertising a website you’ve recently visited.


I’ll be honest, users aren’t always excited to see them. But that’s ok because whether they know it, remarketing ads are extremely effective.

They’re so effective that website visitors who are retargeted with display ads are 70%(!) more likely to convert on your site.

Pretty good odds, I’d say. Therefore, I recommend starting with them if you’re new to the display network.

The people you are showing them to already have an interest in your brand. They’ve already visited your website. They’ve already searched out your product or service.

It’s especially helpful on the Google Display Network (GDN).

Some advertisers worry that running ads on the Google Display Network could be classified as “pushy” advertiser behavior since you’re showing ads to people who aren’t technically searching for them.

But using remarketing, you’re showing ads to people who already know you. You’re establishing a connection. You become a helpful, familiar face, which goes over better with viewers.

3. Exclude Sites That Are Off-Topic in the Google Display Network

The last thing you want is to advertise your product or service on a completely unrelated website.

Luckily, with the Google Display Network, you don’t have to.


google display network

Exclude off-topic sites in the Google Display Network


Remember placement targeting? While it lets you choose specific domains you’d like to display your ad on, it also works in reverse.

Google allows you to exclude certain sites, or pages that you feel are inappropriate for your product.

You can also block sites where your ads don’t perform well.

You can prevent your ads from appearing in certain locations, based on:

  • topics
  • devices: computer, tablet, or mobile
  • app category

You can also ban specific apps, websites, and content.

In 2022, more people are worried about brand risk and brand safety. You’ve probably heard some horror stories about ads appearing in inappropriate places, like an ad for carpentry tools next to a news article about an ax murderer.

Fortunately, Google now offers tools to avoid this kind of mix-up. You can create a list of negative keywords so that your ads never appear on any page which contains those words.

4. Use the Managed Placements Option

If you want the most control overad placement, use the Managed Placements targeting option.

The other methods – topics, keywords, etc. – give Google the power to choose which sites are best for your ad.

While you control which specific interests or topics to target, Google then decides – based on predetermined lists and algorithms – the sites which best fit those particular topics.


google display network color

Manage placements in the Google Display Network


That isn’t always ideal, and even Google makes mistakes.

If you’re more comfortable taking the guesswork out, you can manage the placements yourself by choosing which websites you would like your ad to appear on.

If you need ideas about which sites to add, think of it in terms of your target audience. What websites are they most likely to visit?

For example, if your target audience is new moms, you’d want to add a list of the top mommy blogs to your network.

5. Use the Similar Audience Feature on the Google Display Network

Using the Similar Audience feature is another way to hone in on those most likely to show interest in your ad.

It’s based on your remarketing audience (so if you haven’t already, you’ll want to enable remarketing ads). And when you combine Similar Audience targeting with remarketing, you can increase conversions by up to 41%.

Based on your list of existing customers, the feature helps find and target people who share characteristics with those who have visited your site.

To make it work, Google AdWords uses the browsing history over the last 30 days to match shared interests. When Google finds visitors who have visited sites similar to those on your remarketing list, it automatically adds them to your Similar Audience.

6. Use Search Network with Display Expansion

If you’re at all familiar with advertising on Google, or SEO you’re familiar with the importance of keywords.

You may be less familiar with Google’s Display Expansion feature. (That’s what it’s called for people using the updated Google Ads service. If you’re a legacy user, then this feature is called Display Select Keywords).

Normally, keywords target sites your audience visits. But Display Expansion Ads will show up on sites that offer complementary or related products and services.

The overall aim is to target users based on search intent. Your ads will show up in search results for your keyword on Google and its partner sites, as well as other websites with related content. Think of it as tripling your audience.

Because they are currently searching for related items, searchers will find ads more relevant and be more likely to convert.

This can be beneficial to your campaign for many reasons. First, by targeting indirectly you’re still reaching those that are interested in similar content and services, meaning they will likely be interested in your service as well.

Beyond that, it exposes you to a whole new, relevant audience. Just be aware that this type of campaign can eat up your budget because it covers both Search Network and Display Network ads. Make sure that a combo campaign is actually relevant to your marketing goals – and worth the spend.

7. Make Your Google Display Network Ads Visual and Appealing

One of the Google Display Network’s biggest advantages over search ads is its ability to incorporate visuals into your ad.

Some of the ad types available are:

  • Responsive Display Ads – these automatically adjust to fit size, appearance and format to fit different ad spaces. These ads have replaced responsive ads as the default type of ad on the Google Display Network.
  • Upload Image Ads – you can upload your own image ads to the network. These ads can be uploaded in different sizes or HTML5.
  • Engagement – visually rich, immersive ad experience
  • Gmail Ads – show ads on the top tabs of people’s inbox

Ad sizes range from small to large banners, so you can choose how much real estate you want to work with.

Generally, images attract more attention, so choose an ad size that works for your brand while still being able to incorporate some visual appeal.

And don’t forget to pay attention to your messaging. Keep it short and simple (especially if using a visual ad; it’s often best to let the images do the talking). And always, always include a clear call to action so that people know what to do next.


Creating Google DIsplay Ads That Appeal to Customers

Creating Google Display Ads That Appeal to Customers

8. Adjust Your Google Display Network Ad For Time of Day

This is an important, yet often overlooked feature.

With all Google ads, you have the option to set schedules (specific days, time of day, etc.) This allows you to arrange for your Google Display Network ads to appear on (specific days, at a particular time of day, and so on, etc.)

The most obvious target to keep in mind is the time zone. Specifically, if you have a local or regional audience, you’ll want to set your time parameters around your particular time zone. Otherwise, you’re simply wasting money running an ad that your audience won’t see.

Google also allows you to monitor how your ad performs throughout the day so you can hone in on your best-performing times.

Then, you can increase your bid on certain keywords during those times or schedule them to appear more on certain days based on ad performance.

9. Use Discovery Campaigns

Back in December 2020, Google announced that dedicated Gmail ads would transition into Discovery campaigns.

As of July 1, 2021, it would change existing campaigns to “read-only”. Current campaigns could no longer be edited and advertisers could not create any new campaigns.

On that date, Discovery Campaigns became the only way to run ads in a Gmail placement.

Besides being placed in prominent places within the Gmail platform and on top of YouTube, these ads would also be positioned on the top of the Google Discovery feed for the first time. Discovery campaigns are very successful. According to Google, almost 85% of consumers will take action toward a product after seeing one of these ads.

10. Use Google’s Contextual Targeting Tool For the Google Display Network

This tool allows you to quickly create relevant keyword lists to run on the Google Display Network. As we mentioned earlier, contextual targeting is based on keywords and topics.

The more targeted keywords you have, the better your targeting will ultimately be in your ads. This means building relevant keyword lists is crucial to a successful campaign.

It can also be time-consuming. Therefore, Google introduced the Contextual Targeting Tool, which does a majority of the work for you by pulling its own list of keywords related to your ad.

You can use it on existing campaigns or brand new ones. Simply enter a keyword that describes what you’re advertising (the more specific, the better).

Google will then pull up a list of relevant keywords to add to your ad groups. It will sort the keywords into groups and even suggest max CPC bids.

From there, you can edit the ad group ad you would like based on Google’s recommendations.

11. Monitor and Test Your Ad’s Performance

The only way to really know how well your ad works is to monitor and test it over time.

Monitor its performance. Is the ad matching the goals you outlined in the beginning? Whether you want improved ROI, more website traffic or anything in between, you should be able to see clear results.

If you find your campaign isn’t performing as you had hoped, test original features.

Start with your targeting options. Run different ad groups based on topics, keywords, etc. to see which performs best.

Try out remarketing ads vs. similar audiences. Which kind of targeting is most effective?

You can measure your ads performance right in Google through various reports, and connect it to your Google Analytics to see how your website traffic and conversion have been affected.

Bonus Display Advertising Tips

1. Use Humor

One of the best tips to use when advertising is to reach your audience with humor.

You will need to get your creative juices flowing and research your target audience, but a funny ad is a memorable one.

2. Keep it Simple

Try to make your ads simple, clear, and visual.

When this balance is achieved well, the ad will be clear and make the largest impact.

3. Add Shock Value

Like humor, when you leave a tasteful shock in your ad people cannot forget your product or service.

You can achieve this with a twist in the text or an image.

Get Started With the Google Display Network

The Display Network can be a valuable addition to your marketing efforts – if you use it correctly.

Following the strategies and tips above will set you up for success and big returns.

So what are you waiting for? Get started today.

FAQs About Google Display Network Advertising

1. Should I Be Using Display Select For My Google Display Network And Search Campaigns?

Both search and display ads can be effective. However, they should be kept separate for best results, better data and more economical budgeting.

Display Expansion gives Google the power to determine what’s best for your campaigns, which isn’t really a great idea. More often than not, your budget gets eaten up by search and any leftover is put towards display.

Being in control of your campaigns, from targeting to budget, is always going to be in your business’s best interest.

2. How Granular Should I Get With My Google Display Network Targeting? 

You should get fairly granular. The Google Display Network is huge and targeting your ads is going to give you the best results while making the most of your ad spend. Just because Google can reach 90% of internet users, that doesn’t mean all 90% will benefit from your ad.

That said, you want to be careful not to overdo it. If you add too many targeting restrictions, then your ad reach will be tiny. If not enough people are exposed to your ad, you probably won’t have significant results.

If you have a bunch of targeting options you want to try, do some testing to see which combinations will yield the best results. Over time, that will be more effective than adding a hundred different targeting options at once.

3. Is There Anywhere On The Google Display Network I Should Avoid Having My Ads Placed?

Typically, this will depend on your business and which sites you may want to exclude because of relevancy issues.

However, many advertisers have reported hemorrhaging budgets because of mobile game placements.

While in theory, ads being showcased in mobile games seem like a good idea, the opposite is true.

Mobile games ad placements have a reputation for getting a multitude of erroneous clicks. Not only are those playing the games more likely to accidentally click ads in haste or due to game concentration but, often parents will let their children play mobile games on their devices and… well… you can imagine the number of accidental clicks that could cause.

If you want to give mobile game ad placements a shot, be sure to monitor your analytics for anything that doesn’t add up.

If you don’t want to take a chance of wasting away your budget, you can easily exclude your ad from mobile games in your dashboard.

4. What is the main purpose of using managed placements?

The main purpose of using managed placements is to help exert more control over the videos, apps, and web pages the Display Network has.

If you do your research and find out where your customers are active, then you can add it to a managed placement.


About the author:

John Lincoln (MBA) is CEO of Ignite Visibility (a 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 Inc. 5000 company) a highly sought-after digital marketing strategist, industry speaker and author of two books, "The Forecaster Method" and "Digital Influencer." Over the course of his career, Lincoln has worked with over 1,000 online businesses ranging from small startups to amazing clients such as Office Depot, Tony Robbins, Morgan Stanley, Fox, USA Today, COX and The Knot World Wide. John Lincoln is the editor of the Ignite Visibility blog. While he is a contributor, he does not write all of the articles and in many cases he is supported to ensure timely content.  

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