Are Kids Killing Your Display Campaigns? How to Exclude Mobile Apps in AdWords


Kids are punks. For their first few months, they make their introduction to the world screaming like Britney Spears off auto-tune, and gobble Gerber like they’re sponsored by Nestle. Soon come supermarket tantrums, and increasing elaborate birthday themes met with mild response. Thank god we love them. As they grow, their sneaky pranks evolve, and it’s ever more common for those to include technology.

mobile app exclusions

When it comes to the world of PPC, I bet you thought you were safe, didn’t you? If you’re like most advertisers, you didn’t even see it coming. If you’re running Display campaigns in your AdWords account without the proper settings, these little buggers (and other users as well) could be costing you a chunk of money! Let me show you how…

Why Google Ads in Mobile Apps Are Dangerous

The Display Network spreads across millions of websites, apps, and videos, reaching 93% of users online. It’s a powerful tool when used correctly, yet there are a few more intricate optimizations that tend to sneak by unnoticed. The silent killer in this scenario would be related to mobile apps.

While mobile searches are growing exponentially, there are certain applications that really don’t make sense for most advertisers. (Cue the kids.) Google places ads not only on relevant websites (by Category, Interest, etc.) but also within mobile apps and games. That’s where things get tricky.

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Imagine playing a game on your phone or opening an app and having an ad pop up during your experience. Normally one of three things happen: you’re interested in what’s being advertised and click the ad, you ignore the ad or close it, or, most commonly, you accidently click the ad. I opened up a photo-editing app a few weeks ago, and inadvertently clicked an ad 3 times trying to close it to use the app.

A look through many accounts shows I’m not alone. Let’s take a look at what the kids are up to. The below is a screen shot of just a few placements from ONE account for the few short months a Display Campaign was active:

mobile app placements

With a top level look at the campaign, we could have thought we were earning relevant clicks and driving appropriate traffic to the site. After a quick review of these placements, it’s clear that it’s more likely that a toddler is playing on a smartphone somewhere, wasting away your budget.

How To Check Your Own Account’s Display Network Placements

First things first. To see if you have irrelevant Mobile App placements coming into your own campaign, start by selecting the specific campaign. Next, click the Display Network tab for the campaign, and the Placement sub-tab right below. This will display the placements where your ads have shown. To only view the Mobile apps, just enter “mobile” in the query box.

display network placements

How to Exclude Individual Mobile Apps in AdWords

If you find only a few irrelevant placements, kid-related or not, you can exclude them from the ad group by clicking on the green “enabled” icon and selecting the “excluded” option. To remove them at the campaign level, you can select the check boxes next to each and use the Edit option above. The most common culprits I’ve seen are the Flashlight App, Flashcards for Babies, Photo Frame Editors, Doodling Apps, and Random Games.

how to exclude mobile apps

How to Exclude All Mobile Apps in AdWords

It might be wise for most businesses to exclude all Mobile Apps, as they can drive costly clicks that aren’t going to convert, since so much of the traffic is inadvertent. To complete this, you will need to add a Placement Exclusion for “” After selecting the proper campaign, click on the Display Network Tab, and navigate to the bottom of the page where it states “Campaign Exclusions.” In the drop-down menu of the many types of exclusions, select “Placements” and add This will effectively prevent your ads from appearing in any mobile apps.

adwords campaign exclusions

google adwords campaign exclusions

Site Category Exclusions                                                                                          

You’re almost done! To ensure that you’re excluding all irrelevant clicks, visit the Site Category Options before you finish. There might be a few you wish to exclude. Three of the most common options to exclude would be the “Death & Tragedy” category, “In-Game” placements, and GMob Mobile Apps. This will ensure that your ads aren’t appearing alongside sensitive material or within games where they will be accidently clicked. With these exclusions set, your Display campaigns will be safe from this inadvertent traffic and unnecessary cost.

site category exclusions in adwords

Have you seen the same apps appear in your own account? Tell us the most bizarre app you’ve seen as a placement in the comments!


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Oct 09, 2014

Very interesting article.  Wonderful coverage - especially discussion of the site category options.Kindest regards!Randall

Jorel McCree
Oct 09, 2014

I think the wierdest app I've found so far is ifunny. 

Feb 27, 2015

We call them "slap ads". Games for babies or cats that are just showing ads to get cash. There are sites that do it too. We always block anyone with over 50% CTR. Anyone with 100% is purely set up to scrape cash off of advertisers.

Jun 22, 2016

slap ads - love it - nice little tip too

Feb 28, 2015

google should make it easier to advertisers to choose which devices they prefers when I started my campaign I got around 400 clicks from some stupids iPad apps . it take from me two days to figure out that clicks comes from kids playing on their iPads they not even not know they are clicking on ads mostly think its second stage on the game and they have to click on my shiny banner to get to next level or maybe they thought it bounce money .
In short google tweaked display networks for big advertisers who spend millions monthly on their campaign and they not cares about whois viewing their ads as every one on the world are customer with them .

Jordan Alexander
Apr 04, 2016

Try following the steps to target your audience effectively, as well as stopping the mobile ads. If your product is targeting adults, it shouldn't be showing up for children mobile applications. The topics, demographics, and affinity audiences are great for narrowing down your display network for effective results. Best of luck with your project!

Jamie Brown
Apr 06, 2015

Thanks for the tip! We have been seeing so many mobile games come through in our display campaigns and zero value. I think it's a very dangerous strategy for Adwords, because many advertisers won't bother to do the digging we've done, and will just decide that display does not work.

May 14, 2015

It's a constant process of removing them too - some mobile apps wills how ads, even though you're opted out of mobile entirely. It's like they release a new app every other day just to earn a few hundred $$$/£££, shut the app down, rename it to something else then relaunch.

Come on Google - get your act together.

Brent Baltzer
Jun 02, 2015

You know what's odd? Setting up an ad group using "divorce lawyers" as a keyword. Then you show up on "Panda Pop 2" and other kids games. WTF Google?

Jun 03, 2015

Same experience here. But I've changed all the settings recommended by this article already. Still getting predominantly in-app placements... Infuriating to say the least. The worst part is that this is for a client, so I'm managing someone else's advertising budget, and it's getting wasted b/c I can't completely exclude mobile app (garbage clicks). I was hoping to find a silver bullet when I saw this article. Alas, it's all the things I've already tried. Would love to know if anyone has found a sure-fire way to keep your ads out of mobile apps.

Oct 12, 2015

Agree, tons of flashlight apps are the problem! The funniest app I just noticed listed in my AdWords was: Fart Sound Board: Funny Sounds (Google Play). Can't imagine anyone looking at that is interested in my local contractor services.

Thanks for the great article on how to keep our ads out of these apps!

Jan 11, 2016

Very interesting article, Informative.


Feb 06, 2016

Dear Team,

Appreciate your efforts of educating us and keeping us up to date with online advertising trends. This has been an extremely useful article for us, being a start up such small tips and tricks helps us a lot to optimize our digital ads.

I have one question though, would be grateful if you could help me with the same.

I followed all the steps mentioned, added the adsenseformobileapps in campaign exclusion, have also excluded the required site exclusions, yet my display ads are placed on mobile apps. Can you please help me what should i do now to prevent them from showing up on mobile app ads.

Thanks & Regards

Mar 19, 2016

Thanks for this advice. I was waisting all my cheap money on this nonsense apps. When I looked in analytics there was very high bounce rate. Now I excluded all apps and mobile devices. Thanks for advice.
best regards

Mar 29, 2016

Really really helpful article for me. I Created display ads for my realestate site but 95% ads are running in mobiles devices only. Then I decreased my mobile bid adjustment to 100%. Then I checked my campaigns performance after one day, it is showing "0" impressions on "mobile devices with full browsers" but in the placements I'm getting clicks form mobile apps.
Now I changed my category settings and campaign exclusions as well.
Let see how it will works...:)
Thanks for your valuable information again.

Mark D'Amico
May 05, 2016

Thanks for this. Very helpful.

Bashia Galt
May 30, 2016

I wish that there was a "like" button for this article. Saved me and my clients a lot of money :)

Aug 26, 2016

You can now negative bid adjust on Tablet traffic - . This just came out the other day.

Sep 08, 2016

I can't thank enough how much this post was helpful. I just took over the Google ad-words account which have display campaigns performing poorly (relative). I had done all the fixes and it was the one final fix needed to get this improved.

Made by day ! last but not least Thanks Caleb Hutchings !
Just a quick question: Is site-category exclusion is independent of keywords and topic targeting?

Oct 06, 2016

Very helpful.
I had same idea of what was going on with my budget but i wouldn't figure out how to fix it. Many thanks.
Kind regards,

Olle Neiman
Oct 11, 2016

This one kids store I was working on kept getting clicks from mafia and gangster-related games, that was a weird one. Now I generally block in-app ads across the board.

Nov 07, 2016

Thanks. Implemented this and hope it helps!

Jan 19, 2017

My question is if I want to appear only on one app, lets say Spotify/Youtube and I add that under managed placements, will it ensure I appear only on that one placement. Additionally if I add the exclusion adsenseformobileapps will it ensure I don't appear on any placement even if I have added spotify/youtube under managed placements.

Kawsar Hossain
Feb 26, 2017

Great post,

Mar 17, 2017

Great post guy, thanks

Mar 24, 2017

This article has changed my life :(

Apr 11, 2017

Thanks a lot for this article. Explained it perfectly and I was able to make the necessary changes to save a lot of money. I really appreciate it!

Geoffrey Marcy
Dec 09, 2017

Tested $2500 on GDN for a client and found the quality was really bad, this article sums it up nicely. I would wager that most mobile app game traffic is some form of incentivized traffic where the user is being forced to watch ads to continue playing a freemium version of a highly addictive game. The only conversions I could see happening from this would be other games.

Dec 27, 2017

Hi Guys

Does this still work? i.e adding as a placement exclusion.

The reason I ask is because I tried it yesterday but noticed app placements coming through today, still, aaarrrrggg.

Does this have anything to do with Googles recent changes by Google and set content exclusions at the account level via the new interface?

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