Our 5 Favorite Ways to Target on the Google Display Network


The Google Display Network (GDN) has the largest reach of any display network (90% of global internet users). 

YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, Google Play, and much, much more – these are just a few sites where your ads can be served when you choose to use display advertising. Think of how many people visit those sites on a daily basis and the reach you could have if you advertised on those sites. The possibilities are powerful and shoudn’t be ignored; even if you pour more money into Search, Display should still be an important part of your PPC strategy.

Display has its pros and cons, but one advantage of Display is that it allows businesses of any type to introduce themselves to people who aren’t already familiar with their product and who are not actively searching for them. In an online world where oversaturation is normal and competition is fierce, being able to attract new users is critical to survival and growth. But wanting to show your ads to people who aren’t actively searching for you is very different than wanting to show your ads to everyone (which is a bad idea – not everyone is your target audience). When you advertise on the GDN, you can show ads to particular users or in particular places. 

Targeting is everything. If you have the right control over your targeting, you will ultimately find you have more control over the results. 

Here are five targeting methods that we like to use when we’re working in the GDN! 

1. Custom intent audiences (using keywords)


Why they’re our favorite

The goal of paid search advertising is to connect your business with people who are in need of your products or services at the exact moment that they are searching for you. You bid on keywords that your prospective customers are searching to find you, and this guarantees a greater degree of relevance than any other advertising medium. 

If you pay for a billboard, for example, advertising for a new makeup line, you’re going to be reaching hundreds of men who won’t look twice at it and hundreds of women who may already be loyal to one brand, who don’t use makeup, who aren’t paying attention, or who are otherwise not in market. But if you bid on the keyword “best reviewed liquid foundation” on Google, you’re not going to be paying for irrelevant traffic; anyone who types that search term into Google is someone you have a chance to persuade to click on your ad and someone who is a likely candidate for a conversion/sale. 

Until recently, Display ads on the GDN functioned more like billboards than search ads. They were interruptive, showing up in places where people weren’t necessarily looking for them. It felt a little like “spraying and praying”, as we like to joke around our office – just putting ads all over the place and hoping your intended customers will see them and convert. This strategy doesn’t work. 

Custom intent audiences (which are different from in-market audiences and custom affinity audiences) are Google’s attempt to fix this problem, and one of the most effective ways to assure relevance with your Display ads. 

What are they?

Unlike in-market audiences (audiences that the GDN has already constructed, useful for beginners but limiting for advanced users), or custom affinity audiences (audiences based on people who like similar things and may be interested in your offerings), custom intent audiences are audiences made up of people searching for specific keywords that pertain directly to your business. Custom intent audiences function much like search, except you don’t target the individual keyword, you target the audiences that are searching for multiple relevant keywords. You won’t be able to view the individual keyword’s performance, but you will be able to see the performance of the overall audience. 

How do you create a custom intent audience based on keywords?

Use the Google Keyword Planner to decide what keywords would be most effective. From there, wrecommend breaking up these custom intent audiences into different themes. For example, if you are selling Medicare supplement insurance, you could put keywords pertaining to Plan F in one group, keywords pertaining to Plan D in another, keywords pertaining to Medigap in another, and so on. This way, you can get a better idea of which keywords are performing better, even if you can’t see the metrics. If you don’t have enough keywords (at least 50), you may not get as many impressions, which is important on the Google Display Network, so make sure you have enough in each audience. 

To create a custom intent audience, click on “Audiences” (make sure you are in the Display tab and not in Search or Video) and then “Edit ad group targeting”. Select your ad group, and then click “Narrow Targeting”. Click “Audiences” and then “Targeted Audiences”. Then select “custom intent audiences” and hit the blue plus sign labeled “New Custom Intent Audience”. Enter your keywords in the box and click “Create”. 

2. Custom intent audiences (using URLs)


What it is and why it’s a favorite

Just like with keyword custom intent audiences, the goal of URL custom intent audiences is to connect you with the people who are interested in buying what you have to sell by showing display ads on other websites. Custom intent audiences are your way of serving ads on websites that people who are actively looking to convert are visiting. 

How NOT to use them

Most people think the best way to reach users who are predisposed to purchase their products is to list websites that their customers might visit, which makes sense….until you think about it. For example, if you’re selling Medicare supplement in Tampa, your customers may very well visit the Tampa Bay Times website. But there are many people who visit that website that aren’t in the market to buy health insurance.  If you add sites like that as a target, Google will be confused, trying to figure out your intended audience, and your conversion rate will be low. 

How do you create a custom intent audience based on URLs?

To get the greatest return on your investment, you need to list the websites your desired customers would visit as they are actively considering buying your products or services. This can include research sites, review websites, your own website, and your competitors’ websites. 

Review analytics to determine which pages on your website get the most visits from people that have previously converted or people that have journeyed to the conversion point, and target those URLs or any other pages you feel qualified traffic would visit. 

Because the average consumer shops around before deciding on the best deal, target your competitors’ URLs – it’s not remarketing, you won’t target the exact visitors who are on your competitors’ sites, but you will target users who behave the same way as those visitors (which is better). 

To create a custom intent audience, follow the same steps above that you would take to create a custom audience using keywords, but instead of entering keywords, follow the instructions for entering URLs. 

3. Custom intent (targeting placements)

Why it’s a favorite

One of the many benefits of custom intent audiences is that they can be as narrow or broad as you decide (based on testing and analyzing data, of course). If you find that your targeting is too broad, you can refine it by targeting specific domains where your display ad will be served to your custom intent audience. 

Let’s say you create a custom intent audience of people who visited your top competitor’s site. When you target placements, you tell Google that you only want to reach that audience with your ad while they are browsing specific websites. Placements are an extra layer you can add to your custom intent audience in order to improve performance. 

How do you create a custom intent audience based on URLs?

After you have created a custom intent audience, navigate to the “Placements” tab on the left (two items underneath “Audiences”) – make sure you are navigating within an ad group. Click the blue pencil button at the top of the resulting list, and click “Edit placements” (the first option). Then add the domains/URLs that you want to target. 

4. Audiences + age


What it is and why it’s in our top favorites

If you want to add another layer to your custom audience targeting, you can target only the users within your custom intent audience who are within a desired age range. When you’re selling health insurance to the under 65 market, for example, and you create a custom intent audience based on keywords, you want to make sure that the GDN isn’t serving your ads to people who are over 65 (even if the keywords they search match the intent). Specifying by audiences + age means that a user has to be the right age and the right group before an ad will be served to them. 

How do you create a custom intent audience based on age?

To add this refining layer, ensure you’ve already created a custom intent audience (see directions above). Then click the “Demographics” tab on the left, check the age ranges you want to exclude, and use the dropdown menu to exclude them from the ad group. 


5. Remarketing


What it is and why it may be THE favorite

Remarketing is a way of showing display ads to specific users who have already visited your website as they browse the web, spend time on social media, or answer emails. We’ve spoken extensively on why remarketing is a must for anyone looking to grow their online presence. Remarketing is cheap, it gets great results, and it’s just common sense – the more times you can place your brand in front of someone who has already visited your website, the more likely you are to get them to take an interest in you again. 

How do you create a display remarketing audience?

Google has strict guidelines when it comes to remarketing. You can not associate your remarketing tag with any sensitive or personally identifiable information (view Google’s policy hereand so many medical advertisers are not able to run remarketing ads on the GDN. (For those users, social usually proves to be a good alternative as long as you comply with Facebook’s remarketing policies, which are becoming stricter.)

If you are able to run remarketing ads, create a new campaign (select “Campaigns” from the left tab and click the blue “+” button. Choose your goal, and then specify “Display Network” as the “Campaign type”. Set the parameters like location, bid strategy, and budget and then click “Additional settings”. Find “People” and then “Audiences”, and click “Remarketing”. Then click “Save”.

Has anyone used these targeting methods before? What was your experience with age exclusions and custom intent audiences? Are there any other targeting methods that should have made the list? Let us know in the comments! Empirical360 is a Google Premier Partner that has managed over $1 million in ad spend for our clients and achieved Premier status in the Display, Search, Video, and Shopping product area specializations. We know how to grow PPC accounts, particularly Google Ads accounts, using a proven strategy of targeting with the Google Display Network. Get in touch with us if you’re interested in hearing how we can scale your business!

Shea Antonucci - Author

Director of Content Marketing

Shea is an expert content writer and is a classic literary nerd! She loves writing highly engaging content and has a knack for making it convert!