“The GDN (Google Display Network) is a waste of money!”
“The conversion rates on The GDN just aren’t worth the work for a company that judges performance on true post C.O.G.S profit”
“No one purposely clicks ads on The GDN, it’s just a place to spend budgets on fat thumb clicks”


It’s hard to argue with anyone that feels this way about the GDN network as many advertisers echo these sentiments; I’ve said all of these phrases myself. It just doesn’t seem to be a viable option for small and medium-sized businesses to add to their Google Ads account as an additional way to drive profit. It mirrors the highway billboard style ads of yesteryear with its, “Hey look over here!” supply-side focused advertising.


The GDN network differs from search ads or shopping ads in that it is not a way to advertise based on search demand. With Google Display Network, you are advertising where “eyes” or “people” are already on the web, absent of any search results page. This group of customers aren’t looking for your product. Display marketing on the GDN Network is a form of interruption marketing, targeting the customer outside of demand searches. We are looking to create demand instead of fulfill a need. It is important to recognize and understand this difference in order to accept that CTR and conversion rates will be lower than search and shopping channels. Unfortunately, this is where most small and medium-sized advertisers make the mistake of ending their viability analysis.

After years of working with accounts of all sizes, small (revenue under $100k pa.) to large (over $10M in spend pa.), I’ve learned how to make the Google Display Network profitable for every type of ecommerce retailer. The principles of profitability are still present. In other words, your business should spend proportionally to your goals and budget allocation. There is a way to look at the GDN differently than you may be currently approaching it. The next few paragraphs, describe how to use supply-based advertising (top of the conversion funnel) to drive results in lower funnel search-based initiatives in order to evaluate your display efforts more holistically.


Prepare Your Account

In order for this process to work, here’s what you will need to set up in your account.

Google display network

The key to making the GDN profitable lies in how you use it. If you are evaluating your GDN efforts the same way you are evaluating the search demand sections of Google Ads, you are on the path to disappointment. Although you can make direct sales in the GDN,they are few and far between what is normally seen in other areas of Google ads, so   value those sales as icing on the cake rather than as the whole cake.

The real eggs, butter, and flour of the GDN network is in the traffic it brings to your site. Use this traffic to fill your remarketing audience funnel, and use these audiences in the search demand sectors of your Google Ads account to better prioritize people who are interested in your brand or products and services.

Additionally, use your GDN traffic to increase brand searches. Evaluate the effectiveness of your GDN advertising on: 1) the increase in audience sizes, 2) increases in brand impressions & brand traffic/clicks as well as 3) increased qualified site traffic (whatever you deem as qualified based on session length, events on site etc.)


Putting This Strategy Into Action

Develop your campaigns with the above goals in mind (audience size, specific actions you want taken on the site, increased brand traffic, increased overall qualified site actions.) This means you need to create separate campaigns for each of these goals, possibly even more if you have different categories of products on your site.It also means separate targeting, landing pages, as well as ad creative with specific CTAs. Set campaign spend budgets based on the conversion rates of your current audiences (the audiences you are trying to fill with your GDN traffic), and the percent increase in audience numbers you have set as your goal.

Since the audiences you are trying to drive more traffic to are more profitable, you should consider that when allocating spend. If you have an audience that converts at 3% and your account average conversion rate is at 1%, you have a 3x multiplier. The GDN traffic helping fill this audience with qualified traffic is therefore much more valuable. This should be an account priority rather than relegated to brand building and set as an afterthought. This strategy rests on the veracity of your audiences.


Defining Audiences & How To Use The Display Network To Feed Them

Expand  your horizon outside of Google Ads Audience building. Take the training wheels off and check out your Google Analytics data to determine: 1) at what point session length indicates a user more likely to convert, 2) at what point does page depth attribute to conversion propensity, and 3) at what point do certain site actions indicate that a user is closer to a conversion? It is crucial to know the way your customers utilize your site. If you are an agency working with a client this may be an instance where you want to enlist someone that monitors the UX data and work with them. Here’s an example:

An example graph of how to broaden your horizon outside of Google Ads Audience building.

Evaluate Your Results

Once your campaign is up and running, you can ask these questions to judge the effectiveness of the GDN network through this prism.

  1.   Take note of the percentage increase of the audience that was targeted for growth. Did the campaign exceed projections in the time frame allotted? Did the audience maintain its general conversion rate with that growth inside normal fluctuations? For instance, if the audience grew 30% but it now converts 50% less than its normal conversion rate, then the addition of that growth may not have been worth it.
  2.   Observe the number of conversions within the targeted audience. Did it grow? Did it maintain with even larger numbers?
  3.   Take note of any brand impression growth. Brand conversions are the most efficient conversions across any account, so the more conversions you get via brand terms the better. Did searches and traffic grow during and post launch of the GDN campaign?
  4.   Are there more onsite conversions down the funnel?For instance, during this GDN campaign and post this campaign (post can be 2 weeks, or it could be 6 months, it all depends on your buying cycle) are we seeing an increase in lower funnel actions? This would include, more emails, newsletter signups, registered accounts, social media searches, etc. These actions are all lower funnel indicators that customers may be closer to a purchase decision, and those actions have value. Some are closer to conversion than others, for example, searching for coupons is much closer than social media mentions, but this can indicate that a GDN campaigns has been effective.





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Ivan Walker is a Senior Media Manager at Response Mine who specializes in all things PPC. He is passionate about every aspect of Digital Marketing & specializes in Google Shopping & Paid Search Campaigns. When not optimizing to ROAS goals, or increasing ecommerce profits, you will find him mixing records for local musicians, going to his favorite comedy club or attending the next big concert on his ever-growing list.
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