Google AdWords’ Display Network – “caveat emptor”

If you manage your own Google AdWords campaigns, you’ll have noticed several new features recently, although I’d be surprised if you’ve seen them all (there have been over a hundred this year). One just being brought in is an update to the most hands-off campaign setting of all, which is “show my campaign on the search and display networks”. This is the default setting in Google AdWords, and is one which really shows up the beginners …and the folks who really don’t have time to look at their campaigns very carefully. You should never have this setting on, and I’ve always thought it a bit mean-spirited of Google to make it the default.

Adwords offers two very different types of advertising: ads on the search results page, and ads on third party websites, where the pages are judged to be about the terms (“keywords”) you specify. These two ideas really have very little in common, and the results from one are usually wildly different from the results on the other. So by using the default AdWords setting and telling Google to “show my campaign on the search and display networks”, the data you get back will be poured into the same bucket and becomes meaningless.

The “show my campaign on the search and display networks” setting is now being replaced with something called “search network with Display Select”, which Google claims will place the Display Network part of your campaign more intelligently. But please, don’t use this setting at all, in either its old or new form. Divide your advertising into separate search and display campaigns, so that the data will be kept apart and becomes meaningful. What’s more, you can then gain more control over the Display Network advertising, which if left unchecked, will be showing all over the place, including on sites and in mobile apps which will generate thousands of irrelevant – but still charged-for – clicks to your site.

As far as Google AdWords’ Display Network is concerned, never has “caveat emptor” been more relevant. I’ve seen AdWords accounts advertising everything from AC drives to test instrumentation where the Display Network has been left to run itself, and the ads have been showing millions of times a month on children’s mobile apps – and getting clicked on too. The Display Network can provide a decent retun on investment, but you need to manage it incredibly carefully.

Discussion

  1. Brooke

    It would be helpful if you included screenshots or clear directions in blog posts like these. I’m so new to Google Adwords that I didn’t even know where to start looking to switch this option (I guess that’s how they get you). I eventually found it, but it wasn’t easy.

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