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Does the Google Display Network work?

It gets a bad rap for low click-throughs and abysmal conversion rates. But is the skepticism of the Google Display Network fair?

The Search Network vs. the Display Network

The Search Network is comprised of Google.com (and google.uk, .jp, .ca, etc), and other search properties such as Google Maps, Google Shopping, AOL, and eBay. The Display Network (formerly the Content Network), on the other hand, is comprised of any site on the web that uses Google AdSense to power ads. Publishers of these sites reserve space on their sites for banner ads, and get paid by AdSense based on the number of eyeballs or the number of clicks their site brings to each ad. The Display Network includes huge properties like nytimes.com, gizmodo.com, and foodnetwork.com, but it can also include any fly-by-night blog or website that enables Google’s ads.

Let’s Get Real

When you advertise on the Display Network, keep realistic expectations. People aren’t searching for what you’re offering, unlike when they search on your keywords. They’re visiting their favorite sites like nytimes, gizmodo, and foodnetwork. They’re there to read content, get news, watch videos, etc… Only once in a while will your ad (that hopefully has some relationship to the content or its audience) appeal enough to readers for them to leave the site they navigated to and check out what you have to say. Therefore, a low, low, LOW click-through rate is not unusual. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth the effort; however. With enough repetition and exposure, your brand may stick in the reader’s mind when whatever you’re selling does become a more pressing need. The unfortunate thing, of course, is that this intangible ‘maybe’ is completely untrackable.

But there is an upside. With Google, you don’t have to pay per impression. Unless you choose the CPM model (which probably doesn’t make sense if you’re reading this post), those impressions where maybe you’re sticking in someone’s mind are totally free to you. So there’s little risk in terms of cost.

“I’m not sold.”

I don’t blame you. At least not yet. Internet marketers want to see clicks, traffic, and most of all, conversions. But there is a case to be made for certain kinds of products to advertise heavily on the Display Network.

Here’s an example. My friends (and clients) run a site called The Wedding Lens. They started it when Justin, one of the co-founders, was getting married, and couldn’t figure out a way to manage all his guests’ photos of the wedding. He couldn’t find a centralized place to house all the various photos, download them, share comments, etc. Facebook and most picture-sharing sites will downgrade the file size and require signups and logins. So while your cousin is on Picasa, your sister is on Flickr, your aunt is on Snapfish, your mother-in-law is on Shutterfly, and your grandma still has a *gasp* film camera, there’s no easy way to manage all those albums.

Why would a site like The Wedding Lens work well on the Display Network?

Well, the answer is simple. If you’re a bride- or a groom-to-be, you don’t actually know you need this website. You wouldn’t search for a site like this because, well… you don’t even know this service exists. But as a bride- or a groom-to-be, what are you doing? Probably visiting a ton of wedding-related sites and shopping for ideas on items like invitations, decorations, cakes, venues, dresses, and the list goes on and on.

Now, not every website is going to fit the example of the Wedding Lens. But there are other good applications for the Display Network. One main use that I recommend for almost every advertiser is Remarketing, which I will address in a post all its own. Remarketing is a great brand reminder that target people who have visited your site at least once already. This will help convert visitors who have abandoned your site or their cart, and nudge them to return and transact. I have seen great conversion success through remarketing channels, and I highly recommend it.

The Display Network also works well (or, at least, relatively better) for niche markets. I mentioned the Wedding Lens, and the wedding market is pretty huge, so that’s probably not the best example. It’s easy to get lost in the noise. But if your product or service is more obscure, you might do well targeting the few websites that cover your market. One nice thing about the Display Network is you don’t have to advertise on a whole domain; if there is only one or a few specific pages on a domain that cater to your audience, you can request your ad only be shown on those pages.

8 Tips to Improve Your Success with the Google Display Network

    1. Do not house your search ads and display ads in the same campaign. It will skew your stats and in general will confuse the issue. You’ll also want to bid differently on search clicks and display clicks, so separate out Display and Search campaigns.

    2. If you advertise on Mobile, separate those campaigns out from your Display campaigns, too. They’re managed the same way, but you want to think about mobile a little bit differently… for instance, you’ll want to be sure the landing page is mobile-optimized. So keep mobile ads separate as well.

    3. Text ads aren’t usually worth the effort or the price on the Display Network. Test it for a while if you’d like, but I’ve never seen a case where text ads worked effectively across the Display Network. (if you do, feel free to comment below). Display Network… display ads. Make sense?

    4. Include a call to action that’s more compelling than “click here.” But do include a call to action, such as “register now,” “start your free trial” or include a special discount or offer.

    5. If you are animating your ad, make sure the ending frame can stand alone and still make sense once the animation cycles are done. Make sure this frame tells the whole story, in case the website visitor didn’t catch it all.

    6. As with any PPC ad, make sure the landing page delivers on the promise of the ad. If you advertised a white paper, lead the click DIRECTLY to that white paper. Same thing with a featured product or a specific promotion. Don’t just point the ad to the home page if it can point somewhere that will save the user clicks.

    7. Use Google’s Placement Tool to find relevant sites, but visit those sites before adding whole topics or taking all Google’s suggestions. It will take some time, but you’ll save yourself worthless clicks in the end. You can also take advantage of the Exclusion Tool, though exclusions are never 100% guaranteed. I remember I was reading an article about the horrors of blood diamond trade, and right next to the article was a big display ad for diamond rings. Um, yeah. The Exclusion Tool is your friend.

    8. If you want your Display ads to get more clicks, consider only advertising “above the fold.” This article on Google’s site will show you how to exclude below-the-fold placements. Just keep in mind, depending on your bid and quality score, this may mean you get fewer impressions overall.

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