5 Ways to Target Email Users With Display Ads

Email has long been a method of digital marketing used for lead nurturing and communication with an advertiser’s existing customer database, similar to display retargeting. Now, display and email are growing even closer with the advancement of opportunities to reach highly targeted audiences within an email environment, but with display ads. I’ll discuss five options for display targeting within email environments and focus on the highlights and consideration points for each.

1. Gmail on GDN/AdX

Google’s ad exchange, AdX, was a pioneer of contextual targeting. Gmail targeting has allowed advertisers to reach users based on keywords within their emails on a cost-per-click model. Ads are most often displayed as text only, appearing above, below, or at the right-hand side of the email inbox.

Why it’s great: Text ads have long been the least expensive format of display advertising on AdX, and currently are only available when reaching AdX inventory via the Google Display Network (GDN) within AdWords. Targeting Gmail on AdX is a very inexpensive way to reach users in an email environment and performance can be seen at a keyword level, ideal for optimization and performance-driven campaigns. AdWords is an open platform available to everyone, which makes this method the most accessible to all advertisers.

Considerations: Text ads may not provide the same brand impact as rich-media image ads. Contextual targeting within Gmail can sometimes lead to irrelevant content matching, and often there are three or more brands serving ads within the same email environment.

2. Outlook in Doubleclick Bid Manager

Similarly to Gmail, Outlook can be targeted as a placement when running on Google’s AdX exchange. Targeting can be done at an audience or contextual level.

Why it’s great: Outlook mail is a great way to reach users when they’re in a business mindset, so this type of targeting is particularly useful for B2B advertisers. Ads typically serve with an image and accompanying text.

Considerations: Ads are served within Outlook Web Mail, not the desktop Outlook application.

3. Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSPs)


An advancement of standard Gmail targeting, GSPs allow advertisers to target based on content within email (keyword targeted similar to the classic Gmail ads), but with an expandable format to allow users to click to see more detail within the ad including images without having to leave the Gmail page.

Why it’s great: GSPs are a unique format to Gmail which allow advertisers to only pay when the ad is expanded, so this format can be considered for direct response advertisers who want a cost-per-click model with the option for expandable engagement with the user.

Considerations: Charged on a cost-per-click when the ad is expanded to be viewed in a larger frame. Subsequent click-through to the website is not charged to the advertiser. As this is targeting within an email and often related to email content, this type of targeting may feel slightly intrusive to the more privacy-sensitive user.

4. LinkedIn In-Mail

Advertisers can set up groups of users based on their LinkedIn profile data and use LinkedIn’s display marketing options to serve sponsored emails within the LinkedIn environment to chosen individuals based on job title, industry, position, and more.

Why it’s great: It’s hard to argue against the value of LinkedIn’s user data. B2B advertisers are particularly drawn to LinkedIn due to the options to target users based on employment information. LinkedIn choose to only send in-mail to their users a handful of times each year, with the goal to make the formats more impactful. They also come with a companion banner, meaning advertisers are able to communicate with their target audience in a character-rich email environment with the added benefit of a complimentary image ad within the page.

Considerations: Compared to the less expensive options like Gmail and Outlook, LinkedIn in-mails are pricey. LinkedIn may not be not a go-to place for every user on regular basis as an email communication hub, so may not be ideal for campaigns aiming for a quick response. This targeting is only available via LinkedIn’s own platforms, so the expense and minimum spend requirements can make it a limitation to many advertisers.

5. Yahoo Custom Audiences/YAM+

Yahoo works with advertisers to build audiences of users based on the companies they’re receiving email from in their Yahoo mail accounts. This audience can then be reached with display ads across Yahoo’s vast range of properties.

Why it’s great: Yahoo has an incredible wealth of data, and its email targeting options are some of the most advanced. Advertisers can choose to create an audience of users who are receiving emails from complementary or competitor brands. Users are then targeted outside of their inbox, meaning this form of email-based display targeting can be considered the least intrusive to the user.

Considerations: As with LinkedIn, Yahoo campaigns can be set up and run with Yahoo and its platforms, and are not easily accessible to advertisers with small budgets.

Whatever the advertising budget, there are a wealth of options for targeting users both within their email and based on the content of their inboxes, making email display targeting an exciting option for all digital advertisers.

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