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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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