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Display Advertising 101 (What You See Is What You Get)

Dec 24, 2014

If you are an online advertiser, or even someone who generally works in the field of marketing, most chances are that you have heard the term “Display Advertising” at some point or another. It is even quite possible that it does more to you than simply ring a bell. You may even already be using it, and enjoying its benefits.

“Display Advertising” is essentially one of the primary methods of monetizing traffic. The idea is simple: As opposed to “Search Advertising”, in which users receive ads according to a term they have searched for, in the world of “Display”, the ads are simply served to visitors in the website they are currently visiting.

Many regard it as an essential part of everyday life on the web, as it meets users where they carry out the most common and basic online activity: Surfing the net.

The ecosystem in which this all happens is called a Display Network. There are many display networks around, and they all share the same purpose – Providing space on websites, in which you can display your ads and banners. Among the top players in the display network scene, you can find names like OpenX, Sonobi, Adroll, and Google. The latter is probably one of the most popular display networks, and the name GDN (Google Display Network) is known to almost anyone who has something to do with online marketing. Most of these networks operate similarly to GDN, and follow parallel guidelines.

In a nutshell, the key to success in GDN is finding the right places on the web for your ads to be placed in. Once these are found, the targeted users are likely to see your ads, and hopefully interact with them by leaving details or making a purchase.

There are several targeting options on GDN, which can either be combined or used separately:

Placement Targeting

“Placements” are the actual websites, webpages, and apps where you get your ads placed. There are two ways for finding the right placements for you:

1) Automatic placements: Finding placements automatically via the Google AdWords platform, by specifying combinations of the keyword, topic or interest targeting decisions. AdWords uses your targeting rules to look for contextually relevant web pages across the net, and automatically places your ads on them. This option is great, as it allows your ads to be displayed on highly-relevant pages you may have never known even existed. New content pages emerge online all the time, and automatic placements enable you to advertise on them easily.

2) Managed placements: Here, you actually define specific sites you would like AdWords to advertise on, by manually adding the URLs into your ad group. You can either enter sites you already know of, or find sites by using various analysis tools, such as SEMRush, or Google’s placement tool.

On a general note, when using any placement option, you have to keep in mind that using the top-level domain only may not bring you the best results. For getting the best ROI, diving in deeper and reaching the more contextually relevant sections within the websites, would be the wiser approach.

Keyword Targeting

Next, let’s talk a bit about Keyword Targeting. It is not the most popular targeting method, but is still used quite often. The concept is fairly simple: You want to use specific keywords to get AdWords to find the right sites for your ads. However, when push comes to shove, some work needs to be put into it. The state of mind here is a bit different, as keywords behave in one way when used for searching, and in a completely different way when used to determine contextually relevant websites. In any case, it is a great starting point, and when used right, can prove to be useful.

Topics Targeting

As implied by its name, this kind of targeting allows you to advertise on sites and sections of sites devoted to specific topics. Like advertising specifically in the Culture section of a news website, for example. Using this method by itself may be tricky as well, since topics – by nature – may be broad. Under “Culture”, sub-topics such as Movies, Music, and Entertainment, may also be included. It is therefore important to fine-tune and optimize, and find the right balance between broad and specific. It is a great targeting method by itself, but for best results, should be combined with other methods, such as Keywords or Placements.

Audience Targeting – Interests & Remarketing

The methods we mentioned up until now can pretty much be summed up into finding the best locations for placing your ads in front of the people who should most likely be interested in your products/services.

Audience Targeting says just the opposite:

Instead of locating the best web pages, we want to locate the best people – those who should most likely be interested in our products and services. This time, we will aim to place our ads in front of them, no matter where they are.

There are two main types of Audience targeting: Remarketing and Interest targeting.

1) Again, as implied by the name, “Remarketing” refers to people who have already visited and interacted with your website and carried out specific actions which make them potentially interested in the product/service.

2) “Interest” targeting simply targets users by their interests and browsing patterns. Google defines it as “People whose browsing patterns are similar to the browsing patterns of your existing site visitors.” In other words, these people haven’t seen your website, but will probably really like it once they do, and make the purchase or leave their details. Google does this based on interest categories you select in AdWords, that describe the type of people you are interested in showing your ads to. This method can be great, but also needs to be practiced with caution – as any place in the internet that supports GDN ads may end up showing them to your users. It may therefore be quite evident that you are “stalking” your potential visitors around the net. Therefore, use it sparingly and wisely, and combine it with other methods.

Demographic Targeting

Demographic targeting is also pretty self-explanatory. It basically enables you to target and bid for your demographic audiences, and may give you some ability to fine-tune your other targeting tactics. I.e., combining it with other methods can be pretty efficient. However, the information is not perfect, as it is based on self-reporting and online behaviors that Google models out to help improve contextual targeting across all search and display networks. Not the ultimate targeting tactic to be used by itself, but pretty good when combined with others.

That’s basically it. To sum things up, Display Advertising is one of the most efficient forms of advertising, whether for directly generating user engagement or creating brand awareness. If you are already using it, you know what I’m talking about. If not, now is a great time to start.

So whenever dealing with Display, what you see could indeed be what you get, but keep in mind that there is much more than meets the eye.