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Ultimate Guide to Google Display Network in 2021

Ready to unlock new revenue heights with pay per click advertising? Google Display Network is one potential avenue with one of the largest reach (over 90% of all internet users!). This guide is for businesses looking to get started or to level up their campaigns.

Ready to unlock new revenue heights with pay per click advertising? Want to elevate your online ads and reach new audiences?

There is one incredible side to Google Ads that can deliver incredible results:

Display advertising on the Google Display Network (GDN).

When it comes to Google Ads, marketers often focus their energy entirely on the Search Network. And for good reason – Google’s search ads can deliver an incredible, rapid return on investment.

But waiting for customers to actively search for what you offer is simply one piece of the puzzle. That's why the GDN can be a great addition to your digital advertising strategy.

GDN provides incredible conversions and brand awareness – if you know how to use it properly.

The good news is, getting success with display advertising isn’t as complicated as many marketers think. You simply need to know how to approach it and use proven tips for display ads. That’s why we’ve created this article to answer all your GDN questions.

Ready to get results from display advertising? This Google Display Network Guide is for you. 

What is the Google Display Network?

The Google Display Network is a network of millions of sites where advertisers can show their display ads.

Whether you’re just browsing the internet, checking your Gmail, or watching your favourite videos, the Google Display Network will present display ads it deems relevant to you while you do almost anything online.

The Display Network allows visual and rich media ads instead of just plain text ones. Considering that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, that alone can be a pretty big game-changer.

What is a display ad?

A display ad is carefully integrated into chosen websites, where it can reach users while they shop, browse or read.

GDN ad example


What is an example of a display ad?

While there are many different ad formats and types of display ads, the one most people would recognise first would be a banner ad:

display ad forddisplay ad example - go cabinetsdisplay ad example - life changes

Banner ads are typically either static images, animated images such as GIFs, or videos. You can usually find a banner ad placed at the top or bottom of a web page, for example: 

display ads - the guardian

But you can also see a banner ad interspersed within the content itself such as this:

banner ad example


What is the difference between Google Search Network and Google Display Network?

Unlike the Google Search Network, where businesses place text ads in the search engine results, on the GDN, businesses put display ads on a vast network of sites across the internet.

The best thing about GDN is that it has enormous reach.

According to Google, the Display Network reaches over 90% of internet users globally across millions of websites, news sites, blogs, and Google sites, including Gmail and YouTube.

What sites are on the Google Display Network?

The best thing about GDN is that it has an enormous reach.

According to Google, the Display Network reaches over 90% of internet users globally across millions of websites. This includes:

  • Gmail

  • YouTube

  • News Outlets: News.com.au, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian

  • Blogs: Timeout, Lifehacker, Pedestrian

  • Informational websites: WebMD

  • Shopping: eBay, Gumtree, Domain

Simply put, if you want to get your advertising seen anywhere on the internet, there’s clearly only one place you should go to, the Google Display Network.

Quick guide to Google Display Ad Sizes and Formats

Another massive advantage of using Google Display Network is its versatility. The variety of Google display ad sizes and formats is enormous, including text ads, image ads, rich media, static and animated image ads, and video ads.

Here are a few examples.

According to Google, the best performing Google Display ad sizes are:

  • Medium Rectangle (300×250): 

Google display ad medium rectangle

Performs best when embedded within text content or at the end of articles.

  • Large Rectangle (336×280): 

Google display ad large rectangle

Like the medium rectangle, this performs well when embedded within text content or at the end of articles.

  • Leaderboard (728×90): 

Google display ad leaderboard

Best when placed above main content, and on forum sites.

  • Half Page (300×600): 

Google display ad half page

Offers rich user engagement and is one of the fastest growing sizes by impressions.

  • Large Mobile Banner (320×100): 

Google display ad mobile

Offers twice the height of Google's standard mobile leaderboard.

The best Google display ad sizes and formats are:

  • 250 x 250 – Square

  • 200 x 200 – Small Square

  • 468 x 60 – Banner

  • 120 x 600 – Skyscraper

  • 160 x 600 – Wide Skyscraper

  • 970 x 90 – Large Leaderboard

  • 320 x 50 – Mobile Leaderboard

Now that you know what the GDN is and the different ad types and sizes available, let’s dive into how to use the GDN for businesses.

How to use Google Display Network for businesses

1. Laying the groundwork

When it comes to Google's search network vs display network, there's one huge difference: on the search network, users are in a seek mode.

They are actively searching for a solution to their problem; in other words, their intent to find information is more direct.

The display network, on the other hand, is more passive.

You are showing ads on external sites that people are visiting for some other specific purpose. They aren’t there searching for your product or service.

This means your approach to ads on the GDN needs to be very different from those on the search network.

For a start, you really need to understand WHO your ideal customers are, WHAT they are searching for and HOW they are searching.

Otherwise, your ads won't be targeted to the right people, on the right websites and they won't grab their attention.

The best way to do this is to create buyer personas.

Buyer personas are a semi-fictional representation of your buyers that zones in on your ideal customer’s goals, pain points, objections, and other unique characteristics.

Do research with your sales team, customer service team and real-life customers. Then use persona builder tools, like HubSpot’s Make My Persona, to consolidate your research.

It might look something like this:

buyer persona template hubspot

Image credit: HubSpot.

2. Choosing keywords

Next, research which keywords you should be targeting.

You need to understand the buyer’s intent in order to do smart keyword research.

That’s where your buyer personas come in.

Do some research around the following:

  • Which keywords your ideal customers type into Google, to find a product or service like yours.

  • Keywords related to your product or offering

The Google Keyword Planner tool is a great way to do this research.

Start with a small list of keywords to see what kind of placement and traffic volume you get, then introduce more keywords and remove some as you learn what’s working and what’s not.

For more information, consult our comprehensive guide to keyword research.

PRO TIP: A lower cost per click (CPC) isn’t always better.

Because Google Ads works in an auction system, the price fluctuates depending on how much advertisers are willing to bid.

When bids are higher it's likely (not guaranteed) they can afford to bid higher because the ad is more likely to convert and turn into a sale – and therefore produce a good ROI.

3. Setting up an ad

Setting up your display ad campaign in Google Ads is pretty easy – but there are a few important steps you need to pay attention to if you want true success.

Before you create ads, you need to get clear on your objective.

  • What do you want people to do when they see your ad? i.e. what does a conversion mean to you?

  • Where you will send traffic for them to convert?

Typically, the best approach is to set up a landing page that is highly relevant to the ad and designed to convert.

Once you’ve got that sorted, sign in to Google Ads and follow these steps:

  • Choose ‘Display Network Only’ from the campaign options.

  • Select a marketing objective.

  • Decide the location targeting for your campaign.

  • Set your ad budget – this is how much you are willing to spend on your ads per day. Go for the Manual CPC to start, as this gives you more control. Then, you can always experiment as you learn the ins and outs. Start with a low bid and adjust it later (Google Ads gives you an idea of what you should be bidding).

  • Pick Ad extensions, such as call extensions.

With the basics ready, you can move onto targeting.

If you're wondering how long it will take to see results on Adwords, aren't sure if inhouse or outsourcing your Google Ads campaigns is right for you or looking for more ways to experiment with Google Ads, see our linked guides for more ideas.

4. Targeting

How do you reach the people you know are most likely to be interested in your products or services? Through targeting.

This is absolutely essential to any successful display ad campaign, as otherwise you are wasting precious budget on people who will never convert.

Google Display Network offers different targeting methods, which you can experiment with to see what works best for your ads.

Let's take a look at the targeting methods and how they work.

Understanding Google Display Network Targeting Methods

Tip #1: Remarketing

If you want to see a great return on the display network, remarketing is the first place you should start.

Remarketing is where you track people who have previously visited your site or taken a specific action on your site, and follow them with ads on various sites they browse.

It works because the people you’re remarketing to have already demonstrated a genuine interest in what you have to offer by visiting your site.

The brilliant thing about remarketing with the GDN is that you can get really granular.

For example, Google lets you target your ads purely to people who stayed on your website for more than X minutes. These dynamic search ads target customers who are already in the market for your products or services, ready to buy at the exact moment they see your ad. 

Set up multiple remarketing lists based on different actions people took on your site, the products or content they’ve shown interest in, and more.

Here’s a remarketing dynamic image ad for news.com.au on the taste.com.au website:

GDN remarketing

GDN remarketing

What we love about this ad is the really strong call to action, promoting the viewer to download the free app now.

Retargeting ads are for WARM traffic, but display network ads can also be exceptionally effective at engaging COLD traffic.

This is where you should really pay attention to the targeting criteria.

Here are a few more targeting strategies:

Tip #2: Placement targeting

Managed placement is the only targeting method that gives you granular control over exactly where your ads are being shown on the Google Display Network.

The big pros are that you can target a specific demographic and zone in on niche websites and forums that match the interests of your target audience. You're not relying on Google to do the decision making – you choose the sites based on what you know is relevant to your audience.

This means conversions tend to be more consistent and cost less as a result.

One strategy is to identify just 5-10 domains that are hyper-relevant to your product or service and start serving up ads on these sites first. Measure the results and if you’re not getting the conversions you want, expand to other sites.

How do you choose the right sites?

One way is to check where referrals are coming from on Google Analytics:

GDN managed placements

Image credit: Wordstream.

Tip #3: Contextual targeting

This is the most popular type of targeting for the GDN. It’s where you use the keywords related to your products/services.

First, you create a keyword list, then Google will optimise your display ads to appear on sites relevant to those keywords.

You will end up appearing on websites you may not have otherwise considered. However, you will need to keep a close eye on the list of sites to check if your ads are hitting the mark.

Tip #4: Topic targeting

Select from an existing list of page topics and your ads will only display on pages about that topic.

GDN topic targeting

Image credit: Medium.

Take this example on AllRecipes below:

GDN topic targeting example

We can assume the meal delivery company has selected the cooking category, meaning its ads are displayed on recipe sites.

It makes complete sense to see this ad on the “easy recipes” page, as they are targeting people who want a quick and easy meal solution.

What we love about this display ad is that they provide an enticing offer to get viewers to click.

The main problem with this targeting method is that you can't drill deep into the topics and may wind up with your ads on unrelated sites.

The solution is to combine topic targeting with another targeting method to make sure you are reaching potential customers.

Tip #5: Interest targeting

This might seem a lot like topic targeting, but actually it’s very different. Interest targeting lets you target the user, not the page content. It works using cookies, which are stored on users’ computers every time they visit a page within the GDN.

If someone is regularly visiting sites in a particular category, they will be added to the list of people Google says are “interested” in that category.

Because of this, the user could be looking at anything when your ad appears, so long as they’re on a site within the GDN.

You can view the information Google has collected about you under "My Account."

GDN interest targeting

GDN interest targeting example

Combining different targeting methods

Because of the pros and cons of different targeting methods, the tried-and-tested approach is to combine them.

When you apply more than one targeting method to an ad group, your ads will only display to people who match BOTH targeting criteria.

While you'll get less impressions for your ads, you'll know your ads are shown to people who really fit your ideal customer profile.

For example, you could use Topic AND Interest Targeting.

To clarify, if a user visits a site within the topic you select AND they’re also in a matching interest category, you know the user consistently reads that content. This ensures that you have a higher chance of engaging the right type of visitor than if you used either topic or interest alone.

Optimising your ads on Google Display Network

How can you make sure you’re getting the absolute best return from your display ad campaigns?

You need to give your display campaigns the same love you'd give search ads (or any other digital channel).

Take time to review their performance on a regular basis, especially if you are using the automatic placements.

Use the top KPIs to measure and manage your Google Ads. Then adjust your targeting, budgets and creatives based on the insights.

Use this actionable optimisation checklist:

1. Exclude irrelevant audiences

Part of understanding WHO your dream customer is also includes understanding who they are NOT. We’re talking about a negative persona.

On Google Ads, you can exclude audiences that are not relevant to your business, which helps you reduce your costs and increase the likelihood that your ad will attract clicks from the right people.

2. Exclude irrelevant categories

Just as you can target placements in the Google Display Network to show your ads, you can also exclude categories and placements where you don't want your ads to show.

3. Exclude mobile apps

Is showing your ads in games and music apps beneficial to your brand? Probably not.

When someone is in a mobile app, they’re either looking to entertain themselves or perform a very specific task.

If someone clicks on the ads, chances are they did it by accident – which can quickly tank your budget.

Stop wasting money on accidental clicks and exclude mobile apps from your campaigns.

How to exclude mobile apps:

Go to your Google Ads dashboard, select the “Placements” tab, then click to “Exclusions.”

GDN exclude targeting

Click “Add placement exclusion”, then enter the names of any apps or sites you want to omit.

In addition to the big ones, go to Google Analytics to see if other apps are sending you high amounts of clicks.

GDN exclude targeting example

4. Review ad performance

Review your ad performance and exclude what isn’t working. For example, if your ads aren’t performing well in specific geographic regions, exclude these regions from your campaigns. Then optimise as many ad groups as possible.

5. Use click to call extension

Adding a phone number to your ads can significantly increase click-through rates. This simply means that when your call extension shows, people can click a button to call your business directly.

Using a click to call extension translates to more customer engagement with your ads and a higher chance for instant conversions.

Over to you

This guide hasn't covered every single thing you can and should do with Google Display ads. It’s about giving you the essential information you need to get started right now.

You’ve learned how the Google Display Network works, how it can help you reach more of your ideal customers, and the things you need to do right now to kick off an ad display campaign.

We know it can be overwhelming. That's why if you need help getting started with the Google Display Network, or want to talk to PPC gurus about creating a long-term growth strategy, we’re ready to help.

We're offering you a Digital Audit and Strategy Session. Usually this offer is worth $2,000, but today we're offering it for FREE.

We're willing to give away such tremendous value because we want as many businesses as possible to benefit from the power of Pay Per Click.

This offer includes one of our expert Digital Gurus auditing your current digital and search presence. Your Guru will quickly uncover core growth opportunities and map the way to fast and targeted results. Click below to find out more!

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