With a huge amount of settings to master in Google Ads, it is easy to get lost when setting up a display campaign. Even if it is not your first GDN campaign, you can still struggle with task prioritization, figuring out the right boxes to tick and the right options to choose; this is why we developed the step-by-step checklist below. You just need to choose the primary goal of the campaign and we will generate an actionable how-to guide to help you at every stage, from choosing the right audiences to fine-tuning the landing pages. You will be able to check the completed tasks to track your progress and see how many steps are left to completion.
Key Takeaways (explore the checklist for more details and actionable tips)
GOAL: Launch a New Product
If you want to launch a new product, most likely you will need to define the target audience from scratch. Among dozens of audience targeting options, the most relevant ones are:
Demographic targeting - It is like a frame you use before starting to explore other targeting options. Previously, you could only choose age and gender filters, but now it is much more detailed: you can target by parental status, marital status, home ownership, and education level.
Targeting by Interests - This option will help increase the likelihood that your ad will be shown to someone who would take action on it. You can target generic interests like “Business Professionals,” or get specific with options including “Banking & Finance.”
In-market Audiences - By choosing this targeting method, you can reach people who are actively researching and planning on making a purchase soon, so this option gives you a chance to ensure that you’re in the running.
3rd Party Audiences - Third party audiences are a little like custom lists audiences, but these customer lists are purchased from third-party sites. The lists will match the demographics of your typical site visitors or customers, and it will contain a list of cookies for individual users, allowing you to target them with ad campaigns.
Custom Intent Audiences - (ex-Audience keywords). This audience type lets you target users who are searching for specific keywords in their research and planning cycle, giving you the chance to serve display ads while utilizing some of the best elements of search ads: harvesting demand instead of having to generate it outright.
Look-alike (or similar) Audiences - Google’s similar audiences give you a way to connect with users who are similar to your most high-value customers. You can create these audiences to resemble your first-party custom audience lists, giving you the option to target similar users with the benefit of enormous reach.
Targeted placements - This is a very granular tactic allowing to target the audience of a specific website, app category, or YouTube channel. If you decide to take on this targeting option, you should remember that adding just a couple of websites to the list won't help. Use multiple sources to get a robust list of placements to target: referrals (the websites that are already linking to you) and competitors (competitor research is vital if you want to find the websites your rivals are targeting).
With SEMrush, you can reverse engineer your competitors’ GDN strategies. The ‘Publishers’ report will show all the websites the competitor’s ads were spotted on. You are also able to sort these websites by the number of ads from the analyzed advertiser and the time an ad was seen:
It is also vital to check the traffic volume of the publishers you'd like to add as managed placements. SEMrush Traffic Analytics will help you do that.
Various Audience Combinations: to read more about the top combinations, read this all-encompassing guide to boosting GDN performance.
GOAL: Expand to New Audiences
You already have a certain amount of traffic coming to your website, but it's not enough: you need to reach new users. Display campaigns are a great way to expose your products or services to new audiences. These are the targeting options you can leverage to make your GDN campaign a success:
Demographic Targeting - This method works for expanding to new audiences as well. By developing personalized ad creatives for these audiences (see the 'Ad Creatives' section of the checklist) you'll be able to raise your CTR and conversion rate. A hotel or a car rental company, for example, can launch a campaign aimed at couples who are planning their honeymoon trip, highlighting some special offers.
Targeting by Interests - This tactic is great if you’re targeting cold audiences who come from a variety of demographics, but typically have niche interests. Some people would never dream of dropping $500 on a blender, for example, if you target users who are “Cooking Enthusiasts,” you’ll have a better chance of striking gold with a successful campaign.
In-Market Audiences - Even if you don’t see your specific products categories listed, you can still get creative here. If you see strollers, for example, but don’t see a category for this specifically, you can still target users who are researching “Infant and Toddler Feeding” and “Diapers & Baby Hygiene Products.” They’re still your target audience, and this gives you a way to reach them.
3rd-Party Audiences - These lists will match the demographics of your typical site visitors or customers. To use third-party audiences, you need to work with a data provider. This is easiest to do when they’re integrated through the Ads Manager (you can also be sure that these audiences are GDPR compliant), allowing them to automatically send you these lists where you can review or reject them.
Custom Intent Audiences (ex-Audience keywords) - Custom intent audiences are relatively new, and you get to select the exact keywords you want your campaigns to focus on. As you do so, you’ll get to see the estimated audience size and their demographic breakdown to ensure you’re on the right track.
Look-alike (or similar) Audiences - This is an excellent tactic to reach cold audience members that would have a stronger chance of being interested in what your business has to offer. However, note that these similar audiences won’t automatically yield the same results as a remarketing campaign, where the users are already “warm” or “hot” and have some sort of relationship with you.
Targeted Placements - This tactic works for this purpose as well. You can add specific websites, apps or YouTube channels to your targeting scope. To build the list of relevant resources quickly and easily, you can use SEMrush's Display Advertising tool: enter your biggest competitor's website and go to the "Publishers" section to see which websites show the ads from this site.
GOAL: Explain Product Value
If you are going to release a new feature for an existing product or completely rebrand it, you may need to launch an advertising campaign to support the new release. Display advertising will help you attract more eyeballs to your product and highlight its advantages and benefits. The most relevant targeting options for this purpose are:
Targeted Placements - As mentioned above, this method won't give you a lot of coverage because you need to handpick the websites to show your ads on. However, if you have a robust list of highly relevant placements, you can be sure that your ad creatives are seen by the right audience which is more likely to click and convert.
Site Visits - The most basic remarketing technique - you can create a segment of the users who have previously visited the product pages and launch a campaign highlighting the new features.
Customer Lists - In addition to target customers who have interacted with you recently online or through some of your marketing channels, you can also create audiences from lists in your CRM system. You will know exactly which users are on it and what their relationship with your business currently is.
GOAL: Promote An Offer to An Existing Audience
Display campaigns are widely used to promote short-time offers to those who have previously expressed interest in this particular product or service. Let's see how you can reach them:
Site Visits - If you don't have a lot of visitors, you can launch a remarketing campaign to target all the visitors from the previous month (for example). Google requires your website to have at least 100 visits during the last 30 days to set up a remarketing campaign - this is something you can start with.
Actions On-site - Remarketing is a valuable tool that allows you to show highly relevant ads to users who have taken specific actions or visited specific pages of your site. If someone has visited your landing page but didn’t convert, an offer with a discount or a gift could entice them to come back and purchase.
Customer Lists - Modern CRM systems allow to create user lists for remarketing purposes. For example, you can identify long-time customers who need to be alerted to new products or re-engaged, and launch a campaign for them.
GOAL: Convert Bounced Users
The non-converters aren't necessarily those who aren't interested in your product or service. The number of touchpoints needed to convert a visitor into a buyer has increased dramatically over the last years, so warming up the bounced users is essential. Use the following methods to reach them:
Targeting by Past Actions - The pages your audience visits or actions they take can also indicate where they are in the funnel, which will also be useful in developing the right ads.
Dynamic Remarketing - You have almost certainly noticed dynamic remarketing display ads because they are used to show people the exact products or services they recently viewed online. You look at a pair of boots online, and the next day you see an ad for that exact pair of shoes and possibly a few similar to it in your sidebar. These ads can be unbelievably effective, taking users who were interested enough to view a specific product but not convert, and then nudging them with a gentle reminder of what’s still waiting for them (see more examples in the checklist).
GOAL: Close the Deal
At this stage, your goal is to identify the visitors who were about to purchase but changed their mind for some reason. Probably they have already bought from your competitor, but it is also possible they had some other reasons, and you can entice them to purchase using the display remarketing.
Dynamic remarketing - One study found that this targeting option increased Campmor’s ad results, yielding a 300% higher CTR, a 15% higher conversion rate, and a 37% decrease in CPC. These campaigns should always be used to re-engage abandoned cart users, which can be an enormous source of profit when you successfully bring them back to your site.
Customer Lists - Same applies to the customers in your CRM who are about to buy and may need a gentle reminder about your offer. This is an excellent option because you will have created the lists yourself. You know exactly which users are on it and what their relationship with your business currently is. This could include, for example, leads at a particular stage that hasn’t converted yet. Developing a custom set of ad creatives for them will increase your chances to succeed and get more conversions.
GOAL: Target Users That Performed a Specific Action
The primary goal of every display campaign is moving a user (or visitor) down the buying funnel. The best way to do this is to identify those who performed specific actions on your site and offer them new relevant content — a discount or a gift (for e-commerce websites), a PDF or a white paper (for B2B websites), etc. Your best bet here is to create specific campaigns targeting individual sites visited, as this will help you create ad copy that your audience is responsive to. The pages your audience visits or actions they take can also indicate where they are in the funnel, which will also be useful in developing the right ads. Dynamic remarketing (see details in the checklist) is also great for this purpose.
GOAL: Retain Customers
Working with existing customers is crucial; the scope of actual clients is not as big as in the previous options, but these people are your most loyal audience. New features, special offers, and similar products, these are just some examples of what you can promote to this audience using display campaigns. Your best bet here is to use customer lists from your CRM. Include, for example, customers who have purchased specific types of products (to offer similar products or special offers) or long-time customers who need to be alerted about the new products.
Excluding Irrelevant Audiences
While you’re choosing who you do want to target, you also have the option to set parameters that determine who you don’t want to target, even within those niches. You can do this at the account, campaign, and group levels, choosing to exclude certain users from seeing your ad campaigns.
Examples of who you might exclude are:
- Users who have already seen your “thank you for ordering” page, meaning that they have already converted on an offer and don’t need remarketing campaigns trying to get them to purchase.
- Specific locations, like zip codes or cities that are outside your delivery zones, even if all the surrounding areas are within them.
- Individual placements, such as exact websites that you don’t want to advertise on, such as a site whose beliefs don’t align with your brand or is even offensive to your audience.
Working with Ad Creatives
After you defined the right audience to show your ads to, let's think about how these ads will actually look. Here are some tips on how you can make a perfect ad creative:
- Leverage all available formats. When it comes to display advertising, your best bet is to take advantage of all the ad formats available to you, including responsive ads, image ads, and video ads.
- Explore competitors. Checking out what your competition is up to will be an important part of the ad creation process. You can use the Display Advertising Tool to search for any of your competitors and review their ad campaigns, including image, HTML, and text ads.
- Provide several variations for A/B test. A/B testing (also known as “split testing”) involves creating multiple variations of an ad campaign to see what your audience responds to and why. You should run tests to evaluate what types of visual components, colors, CTAs, and messaging your audience is most responsive to because there is no other way to find out except to see the clicks coming in.
- Use high-quality images. Anything that’s blurry or cropped at an odd angle won’t capture users’ attention, and if it does, it won’t be in a positive way. Opt for high-resolution visuals that are distinctive, easy to make out, and have plenty of white space.
- Write interesting text. "No one reads texts anymore; it is all about visuals." We have all heard it, but in reality, texts and images work best when they are aligned. The text still attracts attention and communicates the core value of the product or service you advertise. This means you should think twice before just relying on a cool visual and putting another ordinary phrase as your main message.
Creating an Effective Landing Page
Even if you picked the right audience and captured it with a perfect ad, you risk losing the visitor at the following stage. This is how to make sure your landing page is up to par:
CTA Button - The most important element of the landing page, which should be visible on any device. Make sure the button is not covered by a live chat window or other elements (this can happen if you don't test different screen sizes).
Content Relevance - Pick the right visuals; you will have just a couple of seconds of a viewer's attention to demonstrate that the page is relevant. Write a clear headline corresponding to the ad creative. Finally, communicate the value in a clear and concise manner. It does not have to be aimed at what you would define as a traditional conversion. A target action on a page doesn’t have to be a purchase; it could be something that increases the likelihood that a user will buy — kind of a micro-conversion that comes before the actual conversion. For a bank, the final goal is a loan application; however, as an immediate value, the visitor can use the loan calculator in exchange for a phone number or email.
Load Speed - Every second it takes your landing page to load (on mobile) leads to a 20% conversion drop. Load speed is also a landing page factor for Google Ads, which means you will be losing money (and rankings) because of poor technical performance.
Device Compatibility - Unless you are running a campaign strictly targeting desktop users, device compatibility is crucial (and you will need to deal with different browsers anyway). Every person that clicks on your ad needs to be led to a functional webpage.
Finalizing Campaign Settings
Before you actually launch a campaign, there are some final aspects to consider:
Ad Scheduling - Not only does it involve when you want your campaigns’ start and end dates to take place, but it also can involve factors like dayparting or adjusting the bid for peak time periods. Whether you use complicated ad scheduling will depend on your specific business.
Frequency Capping - You have the option to setting a frequency cap for your ad campaigns, limiting impressions to a set number, either permanently or within a set time frame. While you may be tempted to set your frequency to 1 impression per day, this can backfire; someone may click on your ad, go to do more research, and then be unable to find you again.
Devices - Device targeting allows you to choose if you want to show your ads to users who are on specific devices or not. Your options include computers, mobiles, and tablets, along with specifying different operating systems, exact models of each device, or certain networks. If you aren’t sure what devices you should be targeting, you can use the Display Advertising tool to see which ones your competitors are going after.
Bid Adjustments - Your bid determines how much you’re paying for actions that you are optimizing for, which are often clicks, on your ad campaign. It is important to find the perfect balance of a bid that is high enough to get placements but low enough that you profit. It is also important that you choose the right bidding strategy, which will help you optimize for specific actions. Some will allow you to set exact bid limits, while others will focus on hitting a target return on ad spend or maximizing impressions.
Events and Tracking Set Up - Before your campaigns start running, it is essential to ensure that proper tracking measures have been put in place. This will include installing Google’s tracking pixel on your website so that you can assess how successful your campaigns were at not only generating clicks but driving specific actions.
Bulk Actions - You can set “bulk actions” or “bulk edits” that essentially act as blanket rules across multiple campaigns, ad groups, or ads. You can, for example, add negative keywords to multiple ad groups at a time, or apply scripts to your campaigns that automate common procedures like pausing or starting campaigns.
Labels - Give specific labels for every campaign, ad group, and each ad so that you can find, manage, and evaluate them quickly and easily. Opt for names like “Display Ad, March Webinar Registration, Video Ads,” which are specific and searchable. And if you are working with a team, have a clear system of how exactly you want to create the labels so that everyone is on the same page.