The Ultimate Google Display Network Guide

The Google Display Network (GDN) for me is probably the single most exciting thing that’s happened since search and definitely one of my favourite advertising channel.

Google Display Network
GDN on the New York Times

Most people don’t understand GDN (yet) which is partly why it’s still cheap and can be very, very profitable for the one that does understand it. So really, it’s in your best interest as well as mine that it stays that way. Of course, like most marketing channels, that just ain’t gonna happen. Advertising on Google Search use to cost pennies. You could even throw up any squeeze page without being penalized. Facebook advertising use to cost pennies. Now of course all of that changed very quickly. The online marketing landscape has become a lot more competitive and search marketing generally has become very cut throat. Yes, you can still be profitable on Google Search but it takes a lot more work now to run profitable campaigns.

The area of Adwords that’s not so expensive and not anywhere near as competitive as search is GDN. Somehow GDN fell through the cracks. Most probably because it just seems so darn confusing to the majority of people and the widespread misconceptions out there about Google Content (it’s fraudulent, it’s not going to work in MY industry, etc). I’m going to show you in this guide how it can work for you. I’ve made it work from information products to consulting services to high ticket items like industrial equipment.

You can use GDN to drive a lot of profitable and qualified traffic at a fraction of the price of search. The best part of all of this is that people spend about 95% of their time on content sites (as oppose to less than 5% on search). Whether you’re on the New York Times, YouTube, or Gmail — you’re on the Google Display Network.

To give an idea about the reach of the Google Display Network:

  • 90% Online Reach
  • 1 TRILLION Page Views Per Month
  • Millions of Websites

Google has made a big push to upgrade its display advertising capabilities and you can see that with some huge improvements in ways that you can profitably target people through its content network:

    • Google can now look at your remarketing list and, using its algorithm, find other users that are “similar”. It collects user data from your remarketing list (including browser data) and goes through its massive database for other “similar” prospects and targets those users. If you have based your remarketing list on a conversion event (e.g. email list sign up or website engagement of some sort), this can work very effectively. If you use just your home page visitors, then it can be a hit and miss.


  • Some people have steered clear of the GDN because of “fraud”. While certainly there’s always going to be fraud to some degree in Display, Google’s getting very good at eliminating it and it’s constantly making improvements to catch fraudulent activity and remove the majority of it. Google recently announced an update where it will only charge for ads that people can actually see. Sometimes websites would place your display ad too far down on the web page or fraudulently hide it. As such, Google has stated that it will now sell display ads based on viewability.



Setting Up Your Google Display Campaign

I’m going to assume that you’ve already got an Adwords account. In order to get started, set up a new campaign dedicated to Display (it’s rarely if ever a good idea to combine display and search in one campaign).

Next you’ll need to name your campaign:


You can leave everything else in default. The only thing is to pick which countries you want to target and how your daily budget. You can start with a small budget like $15 a day. As you get more confident, you can start to up your spend.

Create An Ad Group

Next you’ll create an Ad Group. This is where you’ll get to pick between 3 broad categories:

Display Keywords – show ads on sites related to your keywords

Interests & Remarketing – show ads to people based on their interests

Use a Different Targeting Method – you can target people by placing your ads on websites that you specify (Placements), target specific topics (Topics), target by Gender or Age, or a combination thereof.

You can change how you target your audience between different ad groups.

So Ad Group #1 can target a remarketing list and Ad Group #2 can target a combination of keywords and placements (so keywords that show up on designated websites).

Display Keywords on GDN

Most agencies typically pick this option. They choose a few keywords, choose “Exact Matches” and expect some kind of precision in display targeting. When they get a load of rubbish traffic, they’ll say, “Well it doesn’t really work”.

You see, Google doesn’t care about match types when it comes to its content network. If you’re already using Paid Search on Google Adwords, then you’re probably thinking — I can just filter out the bad traffic using a lot of negative keywords. Again, that’s not going to help you reach your target audience.

The best way to start off is to choose some broad keywords and put them into Ad Groups. Let’s say that you sell cat training related products, then you can use keywords like:

“cat training”

“how to train cats”

“cat potty training”

What you’ll do later is see which sites are delivering conversions and which aren’t and start blocking sites that are delivering results. Once you get some conversions (15 is the minimum), you can switch on conversion optimizer which let’s Google do the job. In 90% of cases in my experience, it does a terrific job of filtering out sites that just don’t deliver. I like to give Google a lot of data though before turning on Google Conversion Optimizer so that it can get really good at targeting qualified traffic.

Interests and Remarketing

When you start using Display Ads, remarketing will probably give you the highest ROI. You’ll need to have a “list” created in Google Analytics which determine who you want to target. Let’s say that you offer a free Cat eBook. What you can do is place a specific Google code on the Cat eBook download page which will place a tracking cookie on your prospects computer. You can then target everyone that’s downloaded that particular guide to take action (like purchase the full kit). Speaking of remarketing, you can also target people on Facebook using Adroll or PerfectAudience in addition to Adwords. I think the general consensus is that Perfect Audience is better and I definitely agree. They take the hard work out of creating your retargeting lists, make it easy to track your conversions and set up campaigns.

If you set up your remarketing campaigns properly, they almost always convert like crazy. If you’re not doing any remarketing, then you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. Now you do need to have some traffic to start off with, otherwise it will be more difficult to make this work. In case you don’t have much traffic, you can just target “everyone” and use the “similar” list as I mentioned before and let Google find people that are algorithmically determined to be similar. That will give you a lot more people to target. Generally, the more visitors you have, the better Google will get a guessing whether they’re likely to be a good prospect. So the ones that are spending hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per month on display advertising have a lot of data about who their best prospects are and how much they should spend to target them — how old they are, where they live, male/female, what websites they browse, what kind of browsers they use, and so on. This kind of data allows you to spend more money on people that are likely to not only convert better but spent more money as customers and spend less on people that are less likely to purchase from you. In my own info-product campaigns, I noticed that some states in the Mid-West spend far more than people from the East Coast so I’ve adjusted my marketing accordingly.

With both the retargeting list and the similar to lists, if you base your list on action taken (e.g. they went to Video 1 or they downloaded your eBook) rather than just visit your home page and hit the back button, you’ll get much more superior results.

Create Your Ads

You’ll have different kinds of ads to create:

Image Ads

Text Ads

Display Ad Builder


If you’re serious about having a successful GDN campaign, you should consider having someone create nice banners for you and test different variations for the different sizes and see which ones get you the best Click Through Rates. After you figure out which ones are delivering good CTRs, you can then optimize your landing page based on the design and message of your best performing banners.

After you test the different sizes, you’ll get a good idea of which ones have more inventory (the 300 x 250 does quite well from my own campaigns). Google’s display ad builder is another option which has delivered results also.

In a lot of niches, you can still get great results with plain text ads as well so don’t think that you absolutely must use image ads to win in the Google Display Network.


Your Landing Page Optimized for GDN

Google applies the same standard to your Display Ad landing page as it does for your Search Ad landing page. That means you must have a privacy policy, some navigation links (e.g. home, blog) and maybe even a search box. If you have some content there, even better.

If you’re targeting a new prospect, your best bet will be to offer a carrot — a video, PDF, white paper — in exchange for their email address rather than try to sell them immediately which usually doesn’t work on cold traffic. It’s not like search where people search things like “Buy [Product] Online” and much closer to purchase in the buying cycle. These are people that are typically in the research phase.

Thus, you’ll have to nurture them first with your killer email sequence. But if you have a good funnel, you’ll get similar conversion rates to search and maybe even better conversions. Education based marketing is what works best with GDN (and generally in online marketing in my opinion).

Now if you’re targeting a list that’s already familiar with you and your product/service, then you can direct them to a sales page. You can get fancy and target those that abandoned your shopping cart and remind them to complete their transaction. Your retargeting list is dynamic so it will be updated automatically to remove someone once they’ve made a purchase.

When you design your landing page, it’s best to keep the overall look and feel of your image ad (if you’re using them) as well as keep the messaging. If your display ads say, “7 Tips on How to Toilet Train Your Cat eBook” and then your landing page is your home page with nothing about the promised eBook, you’ll probably get a high bounced rate (of course, for the ones that did bounce, you can lure them back with remarketing and maybe take them to the correct page where they can indeed get their free eBook). If your image ad has a particular color theme, it’s best to try and mimic that on your landing page.

What I like to do is use Visual Website Optimizer to run heat maps and see where people are spending time, what people are clicking on and make split tests based on these heat maps.
Visual Website Optimizer


You can set up your campaign so that everyone that visits your page BUT does not opt in, to target them and remind them about what it is you have to offer so that you get maximum ROI. You can also make your remarketing dynamic in the display network.

For example, let’s say that they visited your squeeze page and didn’t opt in for your first bribe — a free eBook.

You can retarget them and send them to your second bribe — a free video. You’ll get a whole heap of new signs ups at a fraction of the price.

Another example which is more advanced — let’s say you have a standard 3 video sequence and a sales video at the end.

What you can do (if you have Infusionsoft and Video Tagging enabled) is show display ads to only people that watched all 3 videos but did not watch the sales video and remind them to watch the final video.

Or, they watched the final video but they didn’t order. Then you can direct them to the sales page. As you can see, there really are a lot of possibilities to increase your business and get more leads, conversions and sales using the display network.

If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you! Let me know if you’ve got questions.

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