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Why we avoid the Display Network and apps on mobile devices

Advertising on third-party sites through Google and other intermediaries comes with a huge trap: mobile apps. I have never seen an instance of advertising on mobile apps being good value. Why? Because it’s so easy for people to accidentally click on an advert, and (deliberately?) hard to click the ‘dismiss’ icon if one is in the way. Either way, unintentional clicks cost advertisers money.

I have no idea what the wastage figure is on mobile apps, but if you told me that 99% of clicks were in error, it wouldn’t surprise me. Google makes a ton of money out of this nonsense.

So why do people advertise on mobile apps? Well, new Google Ads advertisers get pushed towards opting in to the ‘Display Network’ (third-party sites), and anyone using the Display Network gets their ads on mobile apps by default. I have taken over dozens of existing Google AdWords accounts where the unwary manager – possibly under an illusion that their ads were only appearing on search results pages – was actually spending a large chunk of their budget on clicks from kids’ games on mobile phones. Caveat emptor.

If you were to ask me to rank the offerings from Google Ads in terms of value for money, in professional B2B sectors, it would be easy:

  1. Search ads on desktop computers
  2. Search ads on mobile devices
  3. Image ads on websites on desktop computers
  4. Image ads on websites on mobile devices
  5. Image ads on apps on mobile devices

The first type of ad can cost 100 times as much per click as the last type of ad, but can still give you 10 times the value for money – or better.

It’s easy to specify whether your ads appear on mobile devices or not. And until now, there’s been a way to allow your image ads to be shown only on web pages on mobile devices, and not on apps. It’s a strange hack (you need to set as a negative placement) but it works. However, Google is getting rid of that (for ‘simplicity’ – huh) …and I haven’t yet seen a workaround. So the last two items on our list are, effectively, being merged.

For our clients, it’s not an issue. If we use the Display Network at all, we switch off all appearances on mobile devices – that at least is a setting which is not being taken away. Every now and then we test the combination again, but it’s never yet been good value, for any of our clients. The Display Network can compete for value with search advertising (especially if we use remarketing audiences), but only on desktop screens. I can’t see that changing any time soon.