5 Ways to Get Insanely Low CPCs on the Display Network


The Google Display Network is massive; across this network of millions of websites, apps, and videos, you can reach 93 percent of all Internet users. In years past, though, it was considered a lower-quality way to advertise than search.

Hacking the Google Display Network

Image via Think with Google

That's not at all true. The GDN has way more ad inventory, lower CPCs, and is often the better choice for some advertisers. The key is in knowing how to make the most of Google Display, to lower your CPCs, increase conversion, and improve your ROI.

If you've read anything I've written here ever, you probably know I'm a big fan of Quality Score (QS) in AdWords.

GDN uses Quality Score to help determine your placements and costs, but they're pretty quiet about it – in fact, Google tries to downplay its importance. Yet we've found in our analysis of thousands of AdWords accounts that higher QS typically means lower CPCs. The key to those higher Quality Scores is higher click-through rates (CTRs).

So how do you achieve insanely low costs per click on the Google Display Network? Use these five GDN hacks, which are all geared to improving CTR and driving higher QS.

1. Get to Know Display Ad Builder

Sure, you can use vibrant, eye-catching images on the Google Display Network, yet 67.5 percent of the ads there are actually just text ads. Yawn.

Those text ads, by the way, get far fewer clicks than image ads (0.23 percent vs. 0.31 percent, based on internal research).

Using Display Ad Builder, you can actually get Google to pull images from your website and do about 80 percent of the work of creating display ads with your colors and branding.

2. Exclude Mobile Apps

In-app activity accounts for a sizable chunk of the average mobile user's time spent on their device. Mobile is great – yet not all mobile activity is great for your GDN campaigns. In fact, unless you're targeting app users, you may want to exclude them altogether.

Google places your display ads on relevant sites and while there are definitely a lot of places advertisers want to be in mobile, inside games apps probably isn't one of them. Have you ever tried to close an in-app ad and accidentally clicked on it? If the app isn't geared toward your target audience, there's no reason for you to be there paying for clicks that have more chance of being unintentional or otherwise useless than not.

3. Use Google Web Designer for HTML5 Ads

Google rebuilt its Web Designer last year, adding a ton of new features including improved integration with other Google products. The greatest part is the interactive, animated HTML5 ad builder.

Check it out:

Animated HTML 5 ads will draw in more attention and clicks vs. static image ads alone.

4. Target In-Market Audiences & Specific Demographics

In-market audiences and demographics targeting are two powerful options for reaching your target audience on the GDN.

In-market audiences are people whose search and/or browsing history shows they may be in the market for a type of product or service. Someone who has been searching for "flowers" and visiting flower retailer sites could be identified as in-market for Mother's Day gifts, for example. In-market targeting also works well for products/services with longer buying cycles.

 Hacking Google Display Network demographic targeting

Demographics targeting can actually be layered with other targeting options to further narrow your audience, so these aren't mutually exclusive. Further improve your CTRs and reach the most relevant people possible by using gender, age, and parental status information to segment your audience.

5. Tap Into the Power of Remarketing

Remarketing ads are one of the most effective ways to improve your relevance and Quality Score and therefore lower your CPCs. Visitors to your website are tagged so you can get in front of them with ads as they move around the Web, browsing sites, watching videos, checking their email, and more.

Pauline Jakober shared some good tips recently on optimizing your remarketing campaigns.

Focus on Improving CTR and Quality Score for Big Wins on the Google Display Network

In a nutshell, a key success factor in Google Display Network advertising is to get a high Quality Score (essentially, a high click-through rate). You don't want to pursue a low CTR strategy here; sure, you’ll pay for fewer clicks, but the ones you do get will cost way more!

My own research shows that on average, every increase/decrease of 0.1 percent in CTR results in an approximate 20 percent increase or decrease in CPC. See my previous SEW column, "Google Reveals 4 Things You Need to Know About Quality Score," to learn more about the QS calculation.

Keep those objectives in mind as you're creating and optimizing campaigns.

Are you using the Google Display Network? Share your best tips for other readers in the comments!

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Terry Van Horne
Jul 13, 2015

Larry this is a great post about a topic which is seldom discussed! IME, though it was years ago, the content network (now GDN and before remarketing) could be much better than the Google Partner Network. I was working in Payday loans and found with an aggressive removal of non performers the ROI was much higher on the content network. I am planning a PPC campaign now that will target specific sites and pages in the GDN and am excited about adding remarketing to the strategies I used back in the day. One other tip that many don't talk about is that often if you contact the good performing sites in the GDN you'll find you can buy better ad placement directly... ie: Googles AdSense program is backfill and generally placed in less desirable locations.

Kyle Petzinger
Jul 13, 2015

Great tips Larry. Curious what your/other's experience is with custom affinity audiences. I've seen somewhat decent results but would love to hear another's take.

Jul 15, 2015

Great article. There are indeed not many posts on this topic.
I would add a few points from my recent experience with GDN:
- instead of taking away all in-apps ads I usually use placement bid adjustment -35%
- it also makes sense to put bid adjustment +30-50% for well known websites (e.g. I do this for ebay, youtube, gumtree.com.au, carsales.com.au and some others)
- mobile devices bid adjustment -30%..-40%
- Sometimes CPM GDN campaigns provide better CPC than CPC campaigns :-) I do not sure why, but I had a couple of campaigns where I got a several times lower CPC for CPM campaign than for CPC with the same targeting settings. CTR for CPM is very low, but surprisingly CPC is also low.
- Some small websites may be involved in click fraud and not all this fraud is filtered out by Google. It may have sense to regularly check placement report. Often too high CPC is worse than too low.
- Love recently added to AdWords summary report (Display Network tab) for GDN campaigns
- It make sense to put GDN Display & Text Ads in separate ad groups

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