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5 Steps to Cracking the Google Display Network Code

November 29, 2012 By Marc Poirier
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Display advertising is often seen as just an exercise in branding — i.e., something done to promote brand identity, with the understanding that there's a high possibility of a negative return on investment in that channel that will influence a higher rate of return via search — that ultimately exchanges a loss in one channel for returns in another.

It's not wrong to treat display as a branding exercise or to use it as a means to increase branded search results. However, by exercising control over five areas of Google Display Network (GDN) optimization, one can also begin to see positive ROI from display on its own.

What's critical to success is consistent monitoring of these items. Using a tool to automate these processes is the ideal situation, but in the absence of such a tool the solution is to roll up your sleeves and dig deep into the aspects of your campaigns that you can control to steadily bring down your cost per acquisition (CPA) while simultaneously increasing the number of daily conversions.

Addressing the following five controllable but sometimes unstable, inconsistent and even capricious aspects of display advertising allows you to gain control over this channel and achieve that often-elusive positive ROI on a display network.  

1. Keyword lists. The keywords of a GDN campaign are, in effect, directing your ads to pages that the GDN algorithm deems to be relevant to the keywords you've selected. Assessing the terms that individuals might search in order to find your products is the right starting place.

Establish keyword lists that can be tested against each other to find the ones that are the most successful. Keeping a close eye on the efficiency of specific lists allows you to reach prospects in the most relevant way and eliminate lists that aren't performing well.

This isn't a strategy that should be used only during the launch phase of an account. Be they general or very specific keyword lists, it's essential to the success of your campaigns that you continue to test and retest to find the most successful lists.

2. Ad placement. Your keyword lists are the starting point for placement. Now it's time to dig into the actual domains and pages where your ads will be displayed and begin eliminating the spots where you're not achieving success.

Because of the imperfections of the algorithm that Google uses to display your ads, you may end up showing ads in places that the search engine believes will be highly relevant based on keywords on that page, but the reality is that you could end up in spots where you really don't want to have your ads shown. These spots are sucking up valuable impressions and even clicks that could be better served elsewhere.

Eliminate the URLs that aren't performing well and start to look for those pages where you're successful. Successful domains or pages can be added to your managed placements list, but should still be examined daily to ensure continued success. Letting pages get too much attention when they're not performing can begin to reduce your gains very quickly.

3. Ad selection. The people who see your ads decide the success of your creative. The great part about advertising of this nature is that you have unlimited access to daily focus groups who tell you how much they like your ads by either clicking or not. 

Display advertising success relies on access to a number of creatives that can be constantly tested against each other in a battle for click and conversion supremacy. Again, it's not a game that's played once, with a top-performing ad just staying there forever. It's essential that you continue to test creative, be it text or image, and keep looking for that recipe for success.

4. Bid pricing. Of all of the aspects of the GDN, this one can be the most volatile and difficult to manage. However, with daily attention to the above aspects of your campaigns, you can increase your Quality Score quickly, allowing you to lower your bids. In some cases, raising your bid price can help you to get the best impressions and clicks, leading to lower CPA.

The interesting part of bid pricing is that in times when certain search terms are trending, the bid prices on the GDN can actually be lowered and impressions can rise dramatically. Keeping an eye on search trends is a great way to manage your bid prices.

Daily maintenance should be performed, and you should be in a constant state of testing to ensure you're getting the right value.

5. Budget daily on a campaign level. A lot can happen in a day on a display network and, in fact, a lot can happen in a matter of hours. That algorithm is constantly trying to find the most relevant places for your ads and, at the campaign level, you could be contributing to a rise in your own CPA by allowing unsuccessful campaigns to suck up too much of your budget.

By paying attention to the daily budgets of your campaigns, you can begin to dedicate more working capital to profitable campaigns while keeping those that aren't performing well from suppressing your positive results. This is something that you could be checking every hour to make sure that you're on track and not wasting efforts. It's a huge part of ensuring the progress of the account as a whole, and shouldn't be ignored for very long at all.

There's a lot of work that goes into successful GDN advertising. That work, however, goes a long way towards helping you to keep your CPAs lower and your conversions high. Take good care of your campaigns and they'll take good care of you.

Marc Poirier is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Acquisio.

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