Pay-per-click has a lot of things going for it as a marketing medium. Your adverts are only displayed to people that are actively looking for your product or service, and you can determine exactly what you are willing to pay for these clicks at a keyword level.

It’s not surprising then, that a lot of paid search advertisers have in the past viewed the Display Network with a degree of scepticism. After all, your adverts aren’t displayed to people actively looking for your product, and because the clicks generated come from hundreds or even thousands of different websites, it’s difficult to tailor your bids.

For many advertisers, the Display Network is very much a poor relation, and it’s remarkable how many don’t use it all.

After falling from 41% in Q1 2006 to just 31% in Q2 2008, the share of Google’s revenue from the Display Network stabilised until the end of 2010.

However, the latest figures show that it is falling once more. Revenue from the Display Network fell from $2.50Bn in Q4 2010 to $2.43Bn in Q1 2011, the biggest drop ever seen (even during the recession).

But it appears that Google has decided it’s time to do something about it. Perhaps the most significant change was the name. Up until last year, it was called the ‘Content Network,’ which made sense as you targeted your adverts to specific content on pages.

But as a prelude to Google’s change of approach to the network, they renamed it the ‘Display Network.’ Whilst you can still pick some appropriate keywords and use them to target content, the number of ways to utilise the Display Network are increasing all the time.

Advertisers that are stuck in the past (and yes – there are a few agencies that are as guilty as anyone on this) are missing out on a growing opportunity.

It’s an easy trap to fall into – you tried the Content Network a few years ago, couldn’t make it cost-effective, and wrote it off as a bad idea. But with the introduction of tools like DoubleClick Ad Planner, new forms of targeting such as Interest Targeting, Topic Targeting and Remarketing, and an ever-increasing range of advert types to try, it may be time to review this decision. 


The principal behind Remarketing is simple: no matter how good your website is, not everybody that visits will do what you want them to.

Whether your objective is to persuade people to buy a new widget, subscribe to a newsletter or request a quote for loft insulation, there are always going to be people that don’t do it.

It’s possible that some of these people aren’t going to convert on your website no matter what they do, but if they have interacted with your website sufficiently, then it’s quite possible that with a gentle nudge, they could be persuaded to complete the conversion path.

Done correctly, Remarketing can allow you to pick up a significant amount of ‘low-hanging fruit,’ but there are mistakes that can be made. It could be argued that the main purpose of a typical Display Network advert is to persuade interested people to visit the website, but Remarketing is targeting people that have already visited your website and they didn’t convert, so just getting them back on the site is not enough. One possibility that sometimes works is to offer them a discount.

For example, you could target visitors that have added to their basket, but not completed the order. Offering them an additional 10% off their order value could be all of the additional stimulus that they need in order to complete the sale.

Another possibility is to target users that have completed a transaction, offering them accessories. If a visitor buys a digital camera, then offering them discounts on tripods, memory cards and camera cases generate additional sales cost-effectively.

However you choose to identify target visitors, it’s important to tailor your advert to them. If they were looking at cameras, a camera-related offer is more likely to work that a generic one. If they looked at the delivery details page, then it may be worth offering free delivery (if this was a possible reason for them losing interest).

Some people have suggested that it’s worth building in a delay in your Remarketing campaign. If somebody leaves your website without converting, they may return of their own volition, in which case you could be paying for a click needlessly.

This may be the case, but if you wait a week before Remarketing to them, there’s also a possibility that they may buy from one of your competitors instead. I think it’s probably a judgement call, and varies from industry to industry.

Topic targeting

Suppose that you are a car retailer, and you want to appear on websites related to cars. You can try building keyword lists to get this message across to Google, and you’ll have some success. Or you could try picking out the main relevant websites that run Display Network adverts (much simpler since Ad Planner was rolled out).

The problem is that you are liable to appear on pages that aren’t particularly relevant, especially if some of your keywords are ambiguous or generic, and if you try to tighten up your keywords or pick specific sites, you’re liable to miss out on some worthwhile pages.

Google has recently introduced another way to target relevant content, called Topic Targeting. The principle is quite simple – Google classifies the content of pages running Adsense adverts using a range of topics, and you can then choose which topics you’d like your advert to appear on.

Interest targeting

Perhaps the most controversial form of targeting, Google now allows you to display adverts to users that have certain interests. But how does Google know what interests people have?

Well, if you’ve navigated the web whilst logged into Google, your profile will contain a list of your interests. You can opt out, but since most users don’t even know it’s happening, it seems likely that opt-out levels are low at the moment.

As a result of this, advertisers can target users that have visited relevant websites, but unlike Topic Targeting, the adverts aren’t limited to display only on pages with relevant content, but can appear on any page that runs Adsense adverts, irrespective of content.

Combining targeting methods

All of these targeting methods are useful, but when you start combining them, things can become really interesting.

Remarketing and Interest Targeting are very effective ways to identify people that you want to target, but as the adverts can appear anywhere, their impact may be blunted.

Combining them with Keyword or Topic Targeting can ensure that the relevant people are being targeted at the most appropriate time (when they are thinking about your product or service).

For example, suppose that you want to advertise Ford cars. A Display campaign using just keywords is liable to show adverts for car parts, Harrison Ford fan-sites or classic Ford enthusiasts.

However, combining your keyword list with the Vehicle Shopping Interest category and excluding the Vehicle Parts and Accessories Interest category may improve your targeting significantly.

Maybe you want to Remarket to people that have looked at the new Ford Fiesta, but not enquired, but you don’t want to annoy them by bombarding them with adverts whilst they are reading the news?

Combining keyword-targeting with your Remarketing list will allow you to target just the people on your Remarketing list that are on appropriate pages.

At present, you can’t combine Topic Targeting with the other targeting options, but it seems likely that this is just a matter of time – if so, then this will add another dimension.

Looking forwards…

Clearly, Google is constantly evolving the Display Network, allowing advertisers to improve the relevance of their advert targeting ever more. Much as it has done with the use of the Quality Score to improve relevance in the search results, this should benefit everyone, in theory at least.

Internet users should be shown increasingly relevant adverts, advertisers can target potential customers more effectively, and the increased advert competition and click through rates should result in many more dollars in Google’s coffers.

So all that remains is for Google to entice advertisers back onto the Display Network. So far, the buzz around Topic Targeting and Interest Targeting has been muted, but if advertisers start to generate significant results, I’d expect them to become a more significant part of the mix for many people.