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Digital Marketing

Your Display Campaigns Are BROKEN… Here’s Why

Written by Jay Ratkowski
Easily the most common rhetoric I hear in the PPC world is that display advertising doesn’t work.  Not that it’s overpriced, or there is too much suspicious activity – but that it flat out does not work. Surprise! Those working in an agency setting disagree.  To be honest, I am a big advocate of display, especially the CPC variety that Google offers. If you think display is a universally bad idea, or can’t get results out of your existing efforts, keep reading.  I’m here to help.

Define Goals & Objectives

This should be obvious, right? Unfortunately, we always see advertisers running display and then judging success by the number of e-commerce transactions that happen on the first click.  Sorry, but display advertising for a brand that a user has never heard of typically is for visibility only. Don’t expect conversions right away if you’re not an Amazon or Best Buy. This doesn’t mean, however, that display is supposed to be about imaginary marketing terms like “brand lift” or “engagement.”  Oh no!  It’s about making money.  You just need to be a little smarter about following the dollars.

First, if you don’t have at least an across-the-board dollar value for your leads, figure it out.  Stop reading this article and calculate it out immediately. Lead generation is an awesome use for display.  It’s completely reasonable to have a person hit a banner ad, find your landing page intriguing, then give you their email address. Additionally, you should use your attribution and assisted conversion reports in Google Analytics to track your display efforts.  That way you know which clicks actually tuned into dollars.
If you’re going on lead value alone, I feel it’s completely reasonable that your display campaigns provide meaningful contribution to your top and bottom line.

Check Your Settings!

There are a handful of places I consistently see people goof up in their AdWords display settings.  These settings are nothing new or unknown, but people still miss them.  They are:

  • Delivery Method
    • What to do: Set it to “Standard”
    • Why? There is a finite number of people searching for “life size dinosaur statues for kids bedrooms” each day.  There are an infinite number of people viewing websites that show display ads.  You don’t need to accelerate your ad distribution for the latter group.
  • Frequency Capping
    • What to do: USE IT
    • Why? Annoying people is not a good way to get their money.  Also, since a lot of display ads are viewed and possibly clicked by bots, you want to minimize your exposure.  There’s no perfect number, but 3-6 impressions per day is a lot for one person when you think about it.  Start there.  Use your Reach & Frequency reports under Dimensions to see when performance starts to fall off and adjust.
  • Devices
    • What to do: Look closely at your device traffic
    • Why? This is one area where it might be a good idea to bid mobile down 100%.  When you show display ads on mobile devices, you end up getting a ton of impressions on Candy Crush.  Maybe that’s your audience, but probably not.
  • Ad Schedule
    • What to do: Bid aggressively
    • Why? The AdWords midnight glitch is a real thing, and it happens to every display campaign I’ve seen that doesn’t use ad scheduling.  You can say that Google is evil, that CPMs are mega low in the early morning, or that AdWords just goes haywire when budgets reset for the day – but regardless, you don’t want to go through 75% of your display budget in the first 5 minutes of the day.  If you’re a typical business that operates from 9-5, have your ads off completely until your customers start waking up.

Define Your Audience

I’m a pretty big fan of Quantcast.  You can sign up, for free, throw their tag on your site, and they’ll tell you lots of cool stuff about your visitors.  What sites they visit, if they went to college, how much money they make, etc.  When I’ve had the chance to compare it to actual customer surveys, it’s pretty frighteningly accurate.
Warning #1: You’ll probably have to update your site’s privacy policy, since they are hitting your visitors with a cookie.
Warning #2: Quantcast makes a living selling targeted display advertising.  Their free audience analysis is cool, but it’s there to help their sales process.

Target Your Audience

Most people are familiar with contextual display (using keywords to find related content on websites and show display ads on those pages), and that’s usually what leads to a bad experience.
The other targeting options roughly operate on the same principles.  Topic targeting is generally broader than keyword targeting.  Interest categories tend to show ads to the right people, but at the wrong time (like, when your hot B2B lead is catching up on celebrity gossip).  Placements are sometimes a good idea, but chances are 100% of the pages on a given site aren’t relevant to your audience.
So what do you do?  Here are five quick ideas to get things working a little better…

  • Keyword Targeting
    • Consider using one keyword per ad group.  It’s a pain, but if you’re using leads as your goal, chances are you’re tracking that in Google Analytics.  You can’t get individual keyword data for display in GA.  You CAN get ad group level data.  If you have one keyword per ad group, you know 100% which keyword drove the lead.
    • Remember the basic rules – No match types on display, 20 or less keywords per ad group, themes are less important but a good idea, longer tail results in better targeting.
    • Go overboard with negatives.  Think of all the potential bad PR a placement can lead to.  If you’re a New York City tourism bureau, you don’t want your ads next to an article about crime or murders in the city.
  • Combine targeting methods for great results
    • Want to get people interested in financial products when they’re reading the latest stock quotes?  Topic targeting (or keywords) & interest categories in the same ad group will get you there.
  • Exclude your remarketing audience for brand awareness
    • Display is generally used to get people to know your name, so why show to the folks that have already been to your site?  Do an audience exclusion for your “all visitors” remarketing list and help ensure your display efforts only capture new visitors.
  • Exclude topics, site-categories, etc.
    • For the best quality placements, do site-category exclusions for anything you don’t like.  The stuff under “Type of Placement” like parked domains and error pages is a great way to avoid poor quality placements.
    • If you’re struggling to stop showing on pet horoscope websites or something equally undesirable – going to topic exclusions is a good start.  Throw some of the highest impression offending websites into the Display Planner to get a better idea of the possible categories.
  • Demographics can help.  Despite the growing creepiness of the lack of privacy on the internet, Google doesn’t have a ton of age data available to advertisers.  However, if you definitely don’t want your ads showing to an age group or gender, be sure to exclude it.  The lack of information here makes it a better exclusion than targeting option.

Basic PPC Tactics Apply

Bid up or down on anything that is/isn’t working.  Do it the target level and placement level.  Move great performing targets into their own ad groups.  Move great performing ad groups into their own campaigns.  Make sure you know all the variables before making a drastic decision (if a target performs poorly – there’s also the combination of ads and placements and audiences mixing in).  Don’t lump too many ads together (keep text and image ads in separate ad groups – the CPCs are way different).  And of course, you generally want to start with a fairly wide net and then narrow down to what works.
That wasn’t too painful, right?  Now go forth, show ads on the internet, make money!
Have you had any positive (or negative) experiences with display advertising? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

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