3 Advanced Tips to Bolster AdWords Display Campaign Performance


Are you running Google AdWords Display campaigns?  Is your ROI suffering as a result?  Are you about to give up on what seems like a lost cause and waste of precious advertising dollars?

If you answered “yes” to each of these questions then your AdWords campaigns probably aren’t looking so hot at the moment, but don’t give up just yet.  Test the advanced tips outlined below to get your display campaigns back on track and running smoothly in no time.

Whether you’re looking to generate conversions or build brand awareness, display campaigns can be an incredibly effective advertising outlet when everything is set up correctly.  You obviously knew this or you wouldn’t have jumped in to the world of display advertising head first.  So resist the temptation to quit and test some new display options now.

Fine-Tune AdWords Display Targeting

Don’t blindly choose your targets. Before your make your selections, consider (1) your product or service and (2) your audience. Display campaigns, just like Search campaigns, make it possible to build high quality, finely tuned campaigns and ad groups. Doing so just requires a little more forethought.

I always take a long, hard look at the product or service I’m promoting, then brainstorm a list of keywords related to that product. I’ll then use both the Google AdWords Keyword Planner and the Google AdWords Display Planner to generate an initial list of user interests, topics, placements, and contextual keywords.

When I build out my campaign I almost always combine AT LEAST two targeting options within a single ad group. I typically combine keyword contextual targeting with one of the other remaining targeting options. This ensures that my ads are always served in context with the article that a user is viewing. See examples below:

Keyword + Placement

– Ensures that display ads are served on a website of my choosing in context with relevant site content

Keyword + Topic

– Similar to the first example, this method ensures that display ads are served on websites that match the topic target alongside relevant site content

Keyword + Interest

– Ensures that display ads are served to users whose interests match that of my product or service alongside relevant website content.

These are just a few examples. It’s not out of the question to say that I might run all three simultaneously for the same product within the same campaign. You can always include additional targets on top of these to fine tune your audience even further (maybe age or gender?).

There are literally dozens of targeting combinations you can choose to utilize. The takeaway here is NOT to simply target using a single method. Think harder than that. Utilize the power of the ad platform and combine your targeting to find really specific audiences.

Test Viewable CPM Bidding Option

Google quietly unveiled an advanced viewable CPM bidding option and Active View metrics that gives insight into performance when an ad is seen.  I highly recommend testing this option with your campaigns.  The benefit here is that you are only charged for the ad impressions that users actually saw.

How does viewable CPM work?  If your ad is at least 50% visible on the user’s screen for at least one second you are charged.

Let’s take a look at a test that I started only a few weeks ago.  You can see how performance varies between “regular” metrics and Active View metrics.  Knowing how an ad performs when it is actually seen will provide a greater opportunity to optimize in the future.

Google AdWords Viewable CPM

Viewable CPM comes as a HUGE improvement to the previously flawed CPM bidding method.  Before viewable CPM, you were charged any time your ad was loaded on a web page, whether or not it was above or below the fold – whether or not a user actually set eyes upon the ad.  Again, I suggest testing this bidding option in your display campaigns as soon as possible.  Knowing that users are actually seeing your ads should come as a sigh of relief for advertisers everywhere.

Use Reach & Frequency Report to Determine Your Cap

UPDATE: Reach and frequency reports are no longer available in the dimensions tab. Add these as columns in your standard campaign reporting view.

Ensure that you are setting a frequency cap in your display campaigns. Not doing this can cause significant damage to not only your display campaigns but to your brand image as well. Nothing is more annoying for internet users than advertisers who relentlessly bombard them with ads (as much as I personally love ads, this is true).

Let’s take a look at a reach and frequency report from one of my display campaigns.  This report can be found on the Dimensions tab.  The goal here is to maximize the number of clicks received by ensuring that users only see your ads enough times to entice a click.  I would take a large sample and aggregate the data to come up with an average number of impressions (frequency) per user to accomplish this feat.

Google AdWords Reach & Frequency Report
I would cap my impressions at four in this example in order to maximize the total number of clicks received and unique users who see my ads.  Make sense?  Good!

Hopefully, once put to use, these three advanced tips will help sway your opinion surrounding the stigma that accompanies display advertising.  Display campaigns can be incredibly effective if you incorporate them in a well thought out fashion.  Resist the temptation to simply roll out a display campaign without fully investigating the options available to you first.

Is there a campaign setting or strategy that you find particularly useful with your display campaigns?  Share it with the LunaMetrics community below.

Stephen Kapusta is a Senior Account Manager specializing in search and display advertising. He is best at finding creative opportunities to reach the audience throughout the conversion funnel by matching content to intent and focusing on providing the right user experiences at the right time. His education experience in media and rhetoric helped mold this marketing approach.

  • For the “Reach & Frequency Report” I rather prefer judging by conversion rate, instead of click through rate, when clients are on CPC bidding for direct response campaigns.

  • In a direct response campaign this method make sense, but I like to put more weight on CTR as the KPI for display campaigns because it shows how effective the ad itself is when it appears alongside related web content. Conversion rate tends to signify how effective you website is rather than the ad copy/creative.

  • Kora

    Great article! Thank you. Very helpful tools.

  • James

    For Viewable CPM Bidding, how do you know a user has actually seen the ad?

  • Hi Stephen,
    Great and useful tips.I really appreciate your effort.Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • Brian Reed

    Excellent tips that really helped me out a lot. My client wants to explore display as a way to better brand their services and get their name out in front of people online a little more. This article will help set up the display campaign while taking some of the guesswork out.


    • Thanks, Brian. Let us know how the campaigns work out for you.

  • Benji

    Hey Stephen,

    I’m currently working through the Google Courses to hopefully become a Google Partner. As I was reading I see how you can combine Keyword Contextual targeting with Display Placements. So have my display ads show only on a site I’ve chosen, and only on a page on that site relevant to my ad.

    My question is, can you simply leave your display ads for just your chosen placements and use no other targeting. If I am advertising for a local business can I put their ads on a local news website on any and all pages unrelated to the ad, with the goal of having the public associate them with their industry in our city? Or is Google going to automatically pick and choose which pages and articles of the news site the ad will show for based on context?

    I hope this makes sense. Looking forward to your reply, thanks for the help!

  • Jeff C

    A combination of two targeting criteria does help insure your ads are displayed in the right context but I believe that still is not the most optimal way but the best way if you’re somewhat lazy. Well, it could also be characterized as trying to use your time most efficiently. You see the problem is you are still relying on a machine to determine proper context and a machine is never going to do it as good as a human. And not to mention a machine placing your ad on more web pages than it should is simply getting Google more revenue potential. Therefore, I always review each website placement manually to determine how apprpriate it is. Unless the website covers multiple topics, this eliminates the need to use keywords, topics, etc to target.

  • Stephen Kapusta

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the reply and good argument. The intent of this article is purely to get advertisers away from the keyword-only approach and to explore other options. Research, testing and analysis are ALWAYS required prior to and following campaign launches.

    The idea posited here, and the first example mentioned, is to use keywords in combination with relevant, hand-picked placements to further refine the context of ads. It would be very difficult for any advertiser to stay up to date on the ‘best’ available targets given the dynamic nature of web content and the limitations within AdWords on placement targeting, only up to the second sub-directory.

    If we cast a wide net, analyze and optimized as needed we can still effectively target ads while reaching a broad, valuable audience. Of course, implementation and analysis can only be defined and interpreted by the person running the ads. There is no blanket strategy that will be effective for everyone, and everyone has different goals in mind when running their ads.


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