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Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 23 , 2020

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

Google Display campaigns are featured on more than 3 million websites and 650-plus mobile apps. But that doesn’t mean they’re a first-class ticket to high ROI.

There are multiple factors you may not be aware of that could be causing ads to underperform. We tapped our lead strategist Justine Rabideau to help break them down below, from hidden settings that affect targeting parameters to creative that misses the mark.

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:

  • Affinity audience targeting – potential customers you can make aware of your business’s products or services
  • In-market audience targeting – qualified people who are actively researching or considering buying offerings similar to your own
  • Demographic targeting – a type of Display Network targeting based on ranges for categories like age and gender
  • Customer Match targeting – a great way to advertise additional or new offerings to current customers for upsell opportunities via an email list

One of the major reasons your Google Display ads are underperforming could be 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 or use as a checklist before you go live.

You want to make sure any images you use are high-resolution, not heavily filtered, and in focus. You also want to avoid overlaid text or logos on top of your images, since it can be difficult to read in smaller sizes like on mobile. Google also advises against adding button graphics on top of images, as this violates their ad policy.

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,” that means 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 they’re on the right 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)

Pro tip: We often suggest companies also look into remarketing, one of the most common and effective targeting methods on the Google Display Network

The takeaway

When leveraged properly, 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, so take the time to double-check your campaign settings and watch performance closely. Once you pull the data, you’ll be glad you did. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Jul 20 , 2020

This primer can help you understand Amazon Advertising, determine which methods are best for your business, and ensure your ads are a success.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A breakdown of Amazon Advertising
  • How to set up your ads for success on Amazon
  • The various types of Amazon ads
  • The approaches you can take to ad creation

What is Amazon Advertising?

We’re going to guess that you’ve likely seen Amazon ads before. When searching for a product on Amazon, you’ll often see a few “sponsored” items at the top of your results. And it’s not just products — brands and entire stores can advertise themselves as well.

Amazon Advertising (formerly known as Amazon Media Group, Amazon Marketing Services, and Amazon Ad Platform) may seem daunting at first. But know that if you’ve launched a website or are familiar with social media for businesses, you’ll probably catch on quickly. The moving parts are different, but the way they interact will probably seem familiar.

How Amazon ads can benefit your brand

Amazon Advertising refers customers to your product pages, and traffic to those pages is a big part of influencing your placement in search results. The relationship between your product page and ad content is a lot like the relationship between your website landing pages and the Google Ads that drive traffic to them.

But there’s a key difference here: the diversity of ad choices and placement. Unlike search engine ads on Google or Bing, your campaign can also appear in recommendation emails, on-site product recommendations, and banner ads, in addition to the keyword-inspired campaigns that bear resemblance to Google Ads.

Alright, now that we’re on the same page, let’s break it down.

hawksem blog: amazon sponsored ads

Optimize your product pages

Before taking out ads on Amazon, you need a fully optimized product page. Each aspect of the page description and layout is integral to your success, so it helps to have a checklist. You can opt for a DIY approach and build your own internal team, or you can outsource your digital marketing to pros who know the platform.

Either way, deciding on your goals and tracking their success can help you best manage your outcomes. Here are some things that should be on your list:

  • Product descriptions with information vital to the buyer, including specifications for technology, cut and fit information for apparel, and other similar details
  • A narrative description connecting your brand and a small group of keywords to the product specifications
  • Selected keywords for the product page metadata
  • Quotes from editorial reviews, if applicable — often relevant for books and other media
  • A product title that’s accurate, descriptive, and thorough
  • Bullet points that will appear at the top of your product listing to highlight the most important item details and features in a skimmable way

While Amazon restricts the number of keywords you can include in a product listing’s metadata, you can use other keywords in your product description, and the algorithm will identify and weigh them accordingly. This is a great way to leverage multiple terms while giving extra support to your highest priority selections.

Select a format

There’s no one-size-fits-all method to Amazon Advertising, and new products are introduced regularly. Because of this, it’s wise to keep an eye on the site’s advertiser information to stay in the know about feature updates and developments.

These are the major sponsored ad categories you can choose from when setting up a campaign. It’s a good idea to experiment with them since it’s hard to predict which format will reach your audience best for a given product.

  • Product display ads work by selecting other products or keyword-related interest themes to seed your product as a recommended product or similar option.
  • Brand ads display as banner ads in search results for selected keywords, similar to the mechanism for Google Ads.
  • Product ads appear within the search results for selected keywords as promoted results relevant to the person’s search.
  • Brands videos are a new cost-per-click ad type that auto-plays a video while also showing an image, description, and link to the product below it.
  • Lockscreen ads allow you to target your audience with ads for ebooks they may be interested in reading.

As you can see, your choice of keyword is vital to your success on the platform. Even with product display ads, identifying the right interest or theme is important, and on-target keywords can help with that, too.

Again, it helps to run test campaigns in each format to figure out which one delivers the best return for a particular product, and to see if using a few ad campaigns together provides even better results.

Pro tip: Amazon recently released new product targeting capabilities for U.S. sellers leveraging sponsored display ads. This beta feature allows you to target shoppers actively browsing similar or complementary products and categories to yours.

amazon dog bowl sponsored ad results

Take advantage of the available features

Amazon is consistently updating and expanding its ad features. At the end of 2018, they began offering portfolios for sponsored campaigns to silo and organize campaigns. For keywords, Sponsored Brands broad match can now use “modifiers +” to ensure the word is in the search, rather than pure broad match that can match with related words or phrases.

More recently, they rolled out ad groups for Amazon Advertising vendors. This gives you the ability to further organize and efficiently structure your campaigns. (It was originally only available in the Seller Central platform.) 

Decide on sponsored brands vs. sponsored products

A sponsored brand campaign can be effective for more general or broad keywords. These campaigns also let you show an array of products instead of a single item. For example: If someone searches for “running shoes,” you can show several of your best-selling sneakers to give the user more options and highlight variety. 

Sponsored products, on the other hand, will show a single product. These ads are great for more specific searches. If someone is looking for “women’s minimalist trail running shoes,” you can show a more specific product than you would in the previous example. 

Conduct keyword research

The research you put into appropriate keywords is the key to getting the returns you want out of Amazon Advertising. You can do manual research by plugging words into Amazon’s search bar and seeing when you find products similar to your own (though it can get time-consuming). 

You can also make use of negative keywords. Look through your Search Term report for negative keywords to prevent irrelevant traffic, which results in wasted clicks and spend.

Amazon offers its own marketing tools to assist new advertisers, which can give you some starter keyword recommendations. These aren’t always right for your product, but they can be a place to begin testing.

Pro tip: You can send traffic from other sources (such as social media, email marketing, or your main website) to one of your Amazon store pages and make use of tags to see the performance of these sources. 

hawksem blog: amazon ads

Have a thoughtful bidding strategy

Outside of your main bids on keywords or ad groups for automatic targeting, you have the ability to adjust bids on placements where your ad shows. For automatic targeting, you can bid on targeting groups. 

When it comes to deciding between manual and automatic bidding, we’ve found that manual targeting is the best way to control what your ad shows for as you put in keywords with match types and bids. You can run manual targeting with more budget focus in tandem with an automatic campaign with less budget focus — the campaign can help you discover new keywords to strengthen your manual targeting. 

The takeaway

Using Amazon as a marketplace and order fulfillment hub is a great opportunity for businesses of all sizes, but it’s not a guaranteed road to riches. 

You’ll need a good strategy and determination to play the long game to get the results you want. Follow the steps above to create Amazon ads that shoppers can’t help but notice.

This article has been updated and was originally published in September 2019.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jul 16 , 2020

Before you launch your next display ads campaign, here’s what you need to know. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • What display ads are
  • Why display advertising is important
  • Types of display ads
  • Best practices for display ads

More than ever before, we’re living our lives online. With millions of people still working from home across the globe, everything from shopping to connecting with loved ones has become fully digitized. And digital marketers have noticed.

Digital ad spending is expected to hit $225 million by 2022 as more businesses turn to digital advertising as an effective medium to reach prospects, grow awareness, and boost their bottom line.  

What’s more, Google display ad click-through rates rose to 0.6% in 2019 compared to 0.41% in 2018. This highlights the growing efficiency of display ads as a bonafide marketing strategy. Curious how to make it work for your company? Read on.

hawksem blog - peacock

A display ad for streaming service Peacock on Vox’s website.

What are display ads?

A display ad, also known as a banner ad, is a visual-based form of online paid advertising. You usually see these ads on websites, apps, and social media platforms. 

These ads typically feature a photo or designed graphic along with copy. The ideal result is an interactive display that encourages users to engage with the ad. To reach customers through display ads, you’ll need to work with a display ad network. (Google has one, of course, but there are dozens more.)

The benefits of display marketing

Display marketing can offer numerous business benefits. The visual nature of these ads helps capture the attention of your audience and convey your message in an eye-catching, direct manner. 

With PPC ads, you can persuade users to click through to a landing page, effectively creating brand awareness and, ideally, inspiring them to take the next action. When placed on the right platforms, these ads help target people who are most relevant to your business and increase your online visibility. Lastly, these ads provide crucial data and support retargeting.

Common types of display ads

When creating and running a display ad campaign, you’ll have to choose the ad type and format that will have the greatest impact. There are several types of ads that you can access. These include:

  • static ads
  • animated ads
  • interactive ads
  • video ads
  • expanding ads 

Regardless of the type you choose, there are a number of sizes and formats to pick from as well. The key here is to understand your target audience so you can opt for the ad type that’s most likely to encourage engagement.

Tips for successful display advertising

To make the most of display advertising and grow your business, following best practices is crucial — no surprise there. Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating display ads and executing your marketing strategy.

1. Get your targeting right

Successful targeting involves identifying your ideal client persona and doing research to understand your customers better. With keyword targeting, your ads will be displayed on websites whose contents match the chosen keywords. 

Placement targeting lets you choose the specific websites on which the ads will appear, while demographic targeting focuses on your audience’s demographic profile. Display targeting allows you to serve ads based on what users enter in search engines, and topic targeting involves selecting websites that fit within a certain topic.

hawksem - vrbo

A video display ad from Vrbo seen on The New Yorker’s website.

2. Create ads that stand out

You not only want to attract the perfect leads, but you also want them to click your ad and take action. That’s why content and design are such important elements of a successful display ad. Using high-quality images that convey a strong message can help elicit an emotional response from your ideal audience. 

Research suggests ads with 80 characters or less deliver 66 percent more engagement. You can also take advantage of programmatic advertising to serve various iterations of the same copy to differently segmented audiences. Lastly, short-and-sweet ad copy can establish urgency and serve as a teaser to make users curious.

3. Explore rich media

Unlike traditional static display ads, rich media features an element of interaction. This could be in the form of an audio, video, Flash, or the ability to expand when a mouse cursor hovers over the ad. 

Taking advantage of the popularity of video content and the effectiveness of this form of multimedia advertising can capture the attention of your audience and keep them interested in what you’re offering. Although being more interactive comes at a (literal) price, investing in rich media can be worthwhile for your ROI if leveraged well.  

4. Create effective landing pages

The main goal of any digital marketing campaign is usually to generate leads and sales. In addition to an attention-grabbing display that gets users to take action, make sure the landing pages you’re linking to are equally as thought-out and optimized. 

The most effective landing pages often follow a few guidelines, including:

  • An impossible-to-ignore call to action (CTA)
  • A design that’s consistent with the ad
  • An easy-to-complete form
  • A mobile-friendly experience 
hawksem blog - display ads

An example of a remarketing display ad from Target on Apartment Therapy’s website.

5. Ensure ads are mobile-friendly

Speaking of mobile-friendliness: Making your ads mobile-friendly will enable you to reach a wider online audience. After all, roughly one-in-five American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users, according to Pew Research

Designing your ads with smaller screens in mind will provide a great user experience for people who access the internet through hand-held devices. 

Your landing pages may also need to be optimized so that they adjust to different screen sizes. This process will go a long way in improving the customer journey and increasing conversion rates.

6. Take advantage of remarketing

We talk a lot about remarketing around here, but that’s because we know it can be a highly effective tool to have in your marketing arsenal. Remarketing (aka retargeting) serves ads to users who have clicked on an ad, been to your website, or shown an interest in your products in the past. It’s a great way to remind them about your company (and their previous interest) without being too intrusive.

Often, people who stumble upon your site for the first time aren’t necessarily in the place to make a decision. With remarketing, you’ll have a higher chance of converting these potential customers when you serve ads that can suggest they pick up with you where they left off. 

hawksem - smitten kitchen

A display ad from CallRail on the Smitten Kitchen recipe website.

7. Stay true to your brand

To make your ads feel seamless and professional, it’s important to prioritize brand consistency. Ads that mirror the look and feel of your website and landing pages will make it easy for users to connect them with your brand. 

When both your brand and products are easily recognizable every time a user encounters your ads, you can create trust, promote brand recognition, and foster loyalty. 

8. Test and measure your ads

The importance of measuring ads cannot be denied. A/B testing different ad formats will help you identify, optimize, and serve the most effective ads to your target audience. You can A/B test things like CTAs, images, and ad copy — just make sure to only test one element per A/B test. 

As you run your campaign, it’s key to carve out time to evaluate whether your efforts are bearing fruit. Make sure you set up proper tracking at the beginning of your campaigns, and have established KPIs to measure against. These include impressions, reach, clickthrough rate, and conversion rate. 

You can then use the data you collect to regularly optimize your targeting and ads to improve overall performance. Experts suggest spending about an hour every week looking at the performance of your ads. 

The takeaway

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it provides a few tips that you can use to ensure you’re running successful display ads for your brand. 

With the numerous opportunities this form of digital marketing presents, you can try out different techniques during your campaigns and see which ones resonate most. 

Want to tap into the expertise and experience of digital marketing professionals to fine-tune the campaign and maximize your efforts? Let’s talk.

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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