What B2B Advertisers Need to Know About Google Display Network

Display advertisements can be extremely effective at generating awareness, informing customers and potential customers of key changes and value propositions, and creating a huge digital footprint across many different websites that cover a vast array of topics and categories.

Google Managed Placements

Over the years, I’ve reviewed dozens of AdWords accounts where B2B marketers opted into both keyword-based advertising as well as the Google Display Network (GDN).  Many times these advertisers had no idea that a portion of their budget (in some cases almost all of it) was being funneled into display-based advertising and were shocked to see some of the locations their ads were being shown.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we would never want to use GDN, but we need to be extremely careful in the setting and targeting options we utilize in these campaigns.

Google Display Network Pitfalls

It’s important for potential B2B marketers to be aware of the following:

Don’t use Automatic Placements:

  • Automatic placements gives Google free reign to display your ads on every and any site within the GDN irrespective of content, quality, topics, traffic or any other factor.  In a search campaign, you can draw a loose equivalent of using extremely broad keywords without utilizing ad group or campaign-specific negative keywords, and that thought probably gives most marketers nightmares.

Google Automated Targeting

  • You will potentially find yourself on controversial sites that many brands do not want to be associated with.  This can run the gamut from political or ideological sites to news and parody sites, to comics, adult sites and more.  Content on the GDN is only limited by publishers imaginations, so there are endless types of questionable content that most brands would want to avoid.

The barrier to entry to become a site on the Google Display Network is practically non-existent:

  • There are over 2 million published sites that use Google’s ad serving platform, AdSense.
  • Only 5% of sites are removed per year and like nearly everything Google does, it’s an automated process.  This means the vast majority of sites that are culled from the AdSense network are not due to user reports or poor quality; most sites either go offline or fail to meet Google’s security and safety regulations and are automatically removed. The fact that a site has not been removed does not mean it will necessarily meet the standard of quality that you wish to associate with your brand.

Publishers sometimes try to “trick” users into clicking:

  • I see this in the software space most frequently.  Since Adsense generates revenue for the publisher on a per click model, they are heavily motivated to get clicks by any means necessary.  This can occur in a couple of different forms:
    • Customize the site so that the ads look and feel like a natural part of it.  This can easily confuse users and get them to click on something that may seem like a natural category link or article, but it’s actually a disguised advertisement.
    • Tailor calls to action in a way that confuses users. Again, this is something you’ll often see on software-focused sites: since many calls to action involve downloads or free trials, a savvy advertiser might place banner ads in a way that entices users to click on the advertisement offering a download, rather than the actual software hosted or linked on the site.  This leads to a very poor and confusing experience for the user and may leave them with a bad impression of both the site and brand.

Managed Placements are better – but tend to have low availability:

  • You probably have a list of publications or sites that your key buyer personas frequent, and it’s worthwhile to search the GDN to see if these sites opt into Google’s program. However, I’ve found that the sites with the highest quality traffic tend to utilize their own advertising programs.  GDN is more of a turnkey advertising solution, and the best B2B content providers usually belong to their own network.

Tons of GDN views and clicks come from YouTube:

  • YouTube is king for video ads, but it’s also responsible for a large percentage of Google’s display inventory.  Here you run the risk of being associated with improper or irrelevant content.

Your ads are shown on mobile devices and in specific apps and games:

  • Universal App Campaigns can serve your ads on the Google Play Store or within specific apps and games.  Unless you are advertising a related app or game, these ads are very poorly targeted and can even lead to accidental clicks.

Universal App Campaign
Image via Marketing Land

Google Display Network Opportunities

I laid out several land mines that B2B advertisers should look out for when reviewing AdWords accounts and GDN performance.  However, there are some instances where the GDN can be an effective use of ad dollars:


  • Remarketing is an extremely effective targets and I recommend utilizing it on as many networks as possible.

Managed Placements:

Google Managed Placements

  • Managed Placements allow you to select sites by name to place your advertisements on.  You simply import a list of sites you are interested in and Google will inform you which (if any) are available via the GDN.  I’ve had mixed success here with my target sites and availability, but it is potentially a method for getting additional visibility on your key sites.

Topic Targeting:

  • Google supplies a pre-fab list of topics broken out by relevant categories.  It’s much safer and more appropriate to select categories that are appropriate for your business instead of opting into the GDN in its entirety.

Use Category Exclusions:

  • And lastly, the most important piece.  Category exclusions allow you to preclude your advertisements from showing up on many of the aforementioned risky sites and channels I’ve listed above.  You can exclude many categories including “sensitive” sites, tragedy and conflict, adult themes, and shocking sites, and I suggest that you generously partake in these exclusions.  You can also opt to never advertise within mobile games in the play store as well as stay away from YouTube entirely.

Final Thoughts

The Google Display Network is a great tool to generate reach and awareness for your campaign. But like any tool, it must be used in the correct context to be most effective. The low barrier to entry on the publisher side and inconsistent site quality means marketers have to liberally utilize category exclusions and focus on topics and remarketing to see success with it.

Is your B2B organization experiencing success or frustration with the Google Display Network? I would love to read your thoughts and perspective via comments below.

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