Steven Braham

When people talk about the Google Display Network (GDN), they mostly say that GDN is good only for branding and re-marketing campaigns. We have all heard the age old saying: “search is for conversions, display is for branding”. While it of course largely true that search traffic has a lot higher quality than display traffic, it is still quite possible to get good results with the display network using cold traffic.

Someone surfing the web, hopefully they will click on your ad 😉

For the past few months I have been trying to setup GDN campaigns for some affiliate projects and for my own projects, but I could only find articles that talk about how to use GDN for re-marketing campaigns and branding stuff. So that’s why I have decided to write this article for people who want to do performance marketing using cold GDN traffic.

The best way to gain good results for conversion campaigns on GDN are by combining relevant audiences with proper website targeting. Generally you want to show your ads to people who an active interest in buying something when they are visiting webpages related to the product. Such as pages with reviews or guides.

The trick to make GDN work is to use a combination between audience targeting and placement targeting with keywords or topics. This leads to higher CTR’s and conversion rates, and to lower bounce rates. If you don’t use a combination between audience and placement targeting, then you are either reaching your desired customers when they are not in the mood to buy your product or you are targeting a page where you reach people who are still too high in the funnel. Both of these things can off course work great for branding and generating awareness, but we want to get conversions.

For example, if you wanted to get leads for a car dealership, combine an in-market audience (more on those further on in this article) related to motor vehicles with keywords like “buy cars”, “best car models” or use topics like “vehicle buying websites”. This will make sure that your ad is shown to people who are mid-funnel in buying a car and are currently in the right state of mind(because they are visiting a website related to buying a car) to be interested in car dealership offers. If you didn’t had any placement targeting, your ad would be shown to people interested in buying a car while they are reading the news and thus are distracted by other things.

When running display ads to cold audiences, the main types of audiences you can choose from are affinity and in-market audiences. There is a big difference between affinity and in-market audiences. While both of them target people who are interested in a particular product or service, affinity audiences are about people who expressed a continued interest in something over a long period and in-market are people who have expressed a sudden interest in something in the past few days. So affinity audiences are more like Facebook interests where people could be interested in your product, while in-market are people who’s online behavior suggest that they want it right now. In-market audiences are based on suddenly and recent interest spikes, like doing product research on Google or reading guides and reviews.

For example, I like strategy video games such as Civilization, Total War and Europa Universalis. And I read a lot about tactics and watch video’s about those games. So I would fall in the hypothetical affinity audience “strategy games”. An advertiser who wanted to create awareness for his game, could use this audience to serve me ads. However, I’m not very likely interested in buying his game at the moment.

Things are very different when I would start searching for things like “games like Civilization 6” or started to actively read reviews and news about upcoming or recently released strategy games. This will give Google a signal that I’m currently looking for a new strategy game to play and will also place me in the strategy games in-market group. If the advertiser would then try to target me, I would probably be way more interested because I’m currently looking for a new game to play. Especially if your ad was shown on a website that I visited because I was doing product research and thus I’m in a buying state of mind. So generally it is not a good idea to use affinity audiences for conversion campaigns. Affinity audiences are generally better used for creating awareness.

A good way to find the best in-market audiences for your product, is to use your Google Analytics data. Go to audiences -> interests -> market segments. Here you can see all the in-market audiences that Google has been able to match to your website visitors. Sort the table by which audiences have produced the most revenue or have the highest conversion rate. Then use the top-3 audiences for your GDN campaign to target people who’s current online behavior is very similar to your top converting visitors.

In 2018 Google added a new type of audience called custom intent audiences. Custom intent audiences are custom created in-market audiences based on keywords that they have typed into Google or pages that they have recently visited. Normal keyword targeting in GDN only targets page contents, but with custom intent you target actual Google search keywords. You can also target domains people have recently visited. So you can target people who have recently visited the websites of your competitors.

I really like those audiences and they work very good for niche or specialized products. They often perform better for me then the in-market audiences. Especially if you combine them with keyword-targeting.

This is by far the most important aspect of using GDN. Most apps are designed to force people to (accidentally) click on ads. So a lot of clicks from apps are not intentional and thus useless. There are two ways to exclude apps from GDN.

In Google ads go to your campaign and in the left column click placements and go to the exclusions tab. Then go to app categories and make sure to select all categories from the Google, Windows and Android app stores:

How to exclude apps from the Google Ads interface

Of course, this is very cumbersome, so that’s why I prefer to use the Google Ads desktop editor. In the Ads editor go to keywords and targeting -> mobile app categories (negative) and add the category “All Apps” on the campaign level. Afterwards, save and upload your changes. This permanently blocks all apps on all devices and operating systems.

Another placement I recommended to exclude is and This prevents your GDN ads to be shown as Gmail ads. Gmail ads work very differently than normal display ads and have their own campaign type.

Personally I think that GDN is very underused opportunity for performance marketeers, because it is still mostly seen as a branding channel and not a conversion channel. Most marketers only do Facebook (besides sea), while with GDN it is way easier to get customers who are middle or low funnel.

If you want to learn more about GDN, then I highly recommend you to listen to this interview by Justin Brooke, he is one the top display marketing experts and a lot of the tips in this article come from this interview:

You can also read the transcript on

Also a YouTube channel called Surfside PPC has a lot of good video tutorials about GDN marketing.



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