Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 29 , 2021

If your Google Display ads aren’t bringing you the ROI you want, one of these reasons could be to blame.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Facts about the Google Display Network
  • Guidelines to follow when it comes to your ad creative
  • How to be mindful of your audience targeting
  • Success tips for setting up campaigns

More than two million websites feature Google Display campaigns, reaching 90% of worldwide internet users. 

But that doesn’t mean they’re a first-class ticket to high ROI.

Multiple factors — some you may not even be aware of — could cause your ads to underperform, from hidden settings that affect targeting parameters to creative that misses the mark.

Let’s dig into these potential Google Display problems.

Problems with Google Display campaigns

One of the major reasons your Google Display ads are underperforming could be that your targeting isn’t right. (Image via Rawpixel)

1. Your targeting is off

Google offers multiple options for display targeting. They fall into several broad categories, many with subsections to get even more specific. 

You can use audience targeting to narrow your focus to specific kinds of people. This lets you better reach the exact buyer personas most likely to make a purchase. 

Targeting types

  • Demographics: Demographic options target users based on factors of their identity such as age, gender, income, and parental status.
  • In-market: In-market users are qualified people who are actively researching or considering purchasing offerings similar to your company’s.
  • Life events: Focus on people at the stage in their life when a purchase is most likely. For example, insurance companies might want to target people who recently got married or bought a home, while car dealers might target minivan ads at expecting and new parents.
  • Affinity: Find the right potential customers using their own interests and personalities, for example, sports fans, travel enthusiasts, and foodies.
    • Custom segments: You can get even more detailed using custom segments. “Sports fans” is an affinity group, but custom segments allow you to narrow that further to people who like a specific team or play a particular sport themselves.
  • Customer match: Advertise additional or new offerings to current customers for upsell opportunities via an email list or your CRM.
  • Similar segments: This customer data can help you find new users whose data matches that of your existing users and customers to target new audiences most likely to be interested in your offer.

You can use data you’ve collected on your users, visitors, and customers via sources like Google Analytics and your CRM to target audiences more effectively.

One of the major reasons your Google Display ads may be underperforming is that your targeting isn’t right or the audiences you’re targeting don’t make sense for the campaign. Review what you have set up and make sure you’re targeting the right groups.

2. Your creative isn’t optimized

Launching Display campaigns without going through the steps to ensure your creative is optimized may lead to a low-quality ad with underperforming results. Luckily, there are a few best practices to keep in mind before you go live.

This checklist includes:

  • Making sure any images you use are high-resolution, not heavily filtered, and in focus
  • Avoiding overlaid text or logos on top of your images, since it can be difficult to read in smaller sizes like on mobile 
  • Avoid adding button graphics on top of images, as this violates Google’s ad policy

Pro tip: Google recently updated its platform. The “Audiences” tab is now where you’ll find your audience reporting. “Audience types” are now called “audience segments” and “remarketing” is part of “your data.” Lastly, standard Display campaigns and Smart Display campaigns have merged for a more streamlined experience.  

3. You’re not speaking to your audience’s pain points 

Once you’ve got the creative nailed down, you can focus on the copy. Along with keeping your written content short and to the point, it’s key to speak to your audience’s pain points rather than simply touting how great or award-winning your company is.

Think about your target audience and what might inspire them to click or want to learn more. A/B testing your copy can help illuminate what pain points or value propositions appeal most to your ideal client persona. Remember: It’s about them, not you.

google display campaign issues

Got a small audience but a high budget? You may be targeting the same people over and over, which can lead to “banner blindness.” (Image via Rawpixel)

4. Audiences are set to “observation” rather than “targeting” 

According to Google, if your audiences are set as “observation,” you’re able to “monitor how ads are performing for your selected placements, topics, or audiences while your campaign is running.” 

But this setting doesn’t affect your reach, who sees your ads, or where they’re shown. 

And because it doesn’t restrict your targeting, your Display ads will be shown to anyone in the geographic area you selected as a result.

When you’re setting up a campaign, you’ll notice an option for “Targeting Expansion.” This is turned on by default and basically allows Google to go outside the targeting parameters you set if they think the person will convert (which, as we’ve often found, is unlikely). 

Pro tip: Google has removed the option to exclude all mobile apps. Now, if you don’t want ads to show in mobile apps, you have to exclude placements manually (or through Google Ads Editor).

5. Your frequency is too high

Got a small audience but a high budget? You may be targeting the same people over and over, which can result in “banner blindness.” As HubSpot explains, this basically means that site visitors consciously or unconsciously don’t pay attention to the messaging in banner ads.

While this could be due to a low-quality ad or a site’s design layout, banner blindness can happen when the same person sees the same ad repeatedly and either never looks at it or feels it doesn’t apply to them. And either one can be the kiss of death for your campaign. 

Got more questions about Google Display Network ads? We can help.

How to set your Google Display campaigns up for success

Now that you know a few of the main 🚩red flags🚩 to look out for when it comes to your Google Display Ads, here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you stay on track:

  • Consider using responsive display ads in conjunction with uploaded image ads
  • Test HTML5 (animated) ads
  • Double-check to make sure your audience targeting is on point
  • Try excluding mobile app placements (unless you’re certain they’ll perform or you’re just interested in impressions)
  • Monitor placement performance, then exclude what isn’t working
  • Consider brand safety (Google allows you to opt-out of certain content types, such as “Tragedy and Conflict” and “Sexually Suggestive,” to avoid your brand showing near unseemly content)

The takeaway

When leveraged properly, well-planned Google Display campaigns can be great for increasing conversions and building brand awareness. 

But if you rely too heavily on Google’s machine learning and what their algorithm thinks is best, you may not be getting the most bang for your buck.

If something seems off, it probably is. Take the time to double-check your campaign settings and watch performance closely. Once you pull the data, we bet you’ll be glad you did. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2020.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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