6 Ways to Tune Campaigns Running in Google’s AdSense/Display Network

If you haven’t given the Google Display Network a good look lately, perhaps you should, particularly if you find yourself in a hyper-competitive category or with a significant shortage of keyword impression inventory in the SERPs. Here’s why. One primary advantage that contextual traffic has over pure search is greater elasticity of supply for a given set of keywords within many industries, because the bloggers and content farms have generated reams of great content. If your industry category is like that, it means you can raise your CPC bids and see a greater increase in click volume than you could if you applied the same percentage bid increase to your search bids.

If you were to ask most search marketers what their paid search budget was, you’d find them including text link ads served over Google’s network of sites based on keyword triggers, also known as contextual targeting. (Advertisers and Google used to call it the AdSense network, but when you look at campaign targeting settings these days, you’ll see no mention of AdSense or contextual networks. Google just calls it a “Display Network,” even if you are running only keyword-targeted text link ads and not banners.)

Purists don’t think of contextual targeting as pure search engine marketing. However, when you consider that the vast majority of page views within the Google Display Network arrived at those sites as a result of a search, then it is indeed much more reasonable to think of contextual traffic as search traffic, one click-removed from the SERP. That’s almost (but not quite) as good as search clicks.

If you are tapping the additional inventory opportunities within the Display Network, particularly if you are doing it with text link ads, you may want to consider giving your account a tune-up. The way Google serves ads within the network is quite different from the way it serves up search results in a SERP. In addition, the consumer’s state of mind when in a content-rich environment is different to that experienced when exposed to the snippets and abstracts of a SERP. Let’s look at some best practices for tuning a campaign.

  1. Set up a different campaign and target only the display network. Searchers are different than surfers, even if those surfers got to a page as the result of a search. The ad environment within most sites that run Google content ad units is often either very text heavy or may be very ad unit-cluttered. Either way, you need your ads to break through the clutter. Doing this requires a separate campaign. Similarly, your contextual keyword-targeted media should be budgeted and bid differently than pure search.
  2. Reorganize your AdGroups within the campaign. In the Google SERP, each keyword in an AdGroup, including its match type, is independently considered for eligibility for a particular search query. Only one is chosen based on targeting fit, bid, and Quality Score. In contextual display advertising, an AdGroup is analyzed to create a theme and the theme of the page on the web where the ad is rotating is similarly analyzed. Therefore, you may want to experiment with different keyword baskets within the contextual campaigns.
  3. Test new ad copy. Searchers are hungry for information and will react to ad copy that includes the keywords being searched. In a contextual environment, you may need to use far more promotional and exciting ad copy because the ads being served are based on a theme arising from the keywords on the page, site category, and perhaps even inbound links.
  4. Test different landing pages. For search clicks, the searcher is looking for validation that your site can fulfill their desire to learn more about the intent expressed as a keyword search. For contextual and other forms of interruptive advertising, your ad needs to focus more on any offered benefits. Plus, understand that the consumer/surfer may be in an early stage of learning about you and your products/services. The call to action copy and messaging need to reflect that difference.
  5. Consider using broader success metrics. Given that non-search clickers aren’t necessarily ready to transact (or become a lead), you may want to consider broader success metrics, including: page views, visits to the contact us page, “likes,” registrations, or downloads.
  6. Keep track of referring sites. If there are sites that send over better quality traffic that you discover as part of a contextual buy, you may want to use “Managed Placements” to bid more aggressively for those sites. Alternatively, you may need to eliminate poor sites by “negativing” them out. Consider restricting a campaign based purely on the placements, audiences, and topics you have selected.

Keyword-targeted media in both search and the display network is allocated based on real-time auctions. This makes a tuned campaign even more important than it could be in a traditional media buy. Take the time to do search- and content-targeted advertising right.

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Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.