One Ad vs. Many: Understanding Placement Targeted Ads on Google’s Display Network

Last time, we discussed the basic principles of placement targeting on Google’s Display Network. Let’s expand on that topic by looking at how placement targeting alters the performance dynamics of your display ads.

It’s easy to assume that placement targeting is as simple as hand-selecting the sites you want your ad to appear on and there ends the process. This is far from the truth. In fact, placement targeting success requires that you understand how placement ads compete for position on display sites and how your bids and quality score will decide your fate.

One Ad vs. Everyone Else’s Ads

For many advertisers, this may be a new concept, so brace yourself. When you place ads on the Display Network through placement targeting, your ads will be placed differently than if you were running an automatic keyword targeted campaign.

For the “auto” campaign, your ads will compete for the top spot based on Ad Rank (bid X quality score). The winner gets the number one spot and the rest of the ads appear in positions number two, number three, etc., depending on the size of the ad unit.

Things work a little differently when you run the same ads through a placement targeted campaign. The placement targeted ads and “auto” ads still compete for the top spot based on Ad Rank, but if the placement targeted ad wins — not only does it take the number one spot, but it will be the only ad in that ad unit!

What This Means for You

As the examples at left show, using placement targeting gives your ad a huge advantage for increasing CTR and conversions (assuming you claim the top spot). Bumping your competition entirely out of the picture is what every PPC advertiser dreams of. The effect is even more visible when an ad unit designed for three or more ads only displays a single placement targeted ad.

Don’t be misled by the apparent promise of increased CTR and conversions. Yes, that can and will happen if you properly manage your placement campaigns. As you might imagine, achieving the number one spot can be a challenge.

I’ve seen it happen in my own accounts and heard other advertisers discuss the same phenomenon: You run an “auto” keyword targeted display campaign and discover that a handful of sites are generating a ton of clicks and conversions. You decide to put these into a placement targeted campaign. To your dismay, after making the switch these sites seem to all but stop working!

What happened was your bid and quality score weren’t high enough to achieve an Ad Rank capable of winning the top spot. This resulted in your ad being displayed in a secondary ad unit or not at all.

What You Need to Do

I’m sure you’re already drawing some logical conclusions as to how you can ensure your placement targeted ads have a fighting chance to perform. Because your ad’s position will be determined by Ad Rank, we’ll break this down by the two primary pieces: bid and quality score.


The most important strategy for ensuring your placement targeted campaigns succeed is to increase your bids.

In a scenario where you’ve discovered a site through your “auto” keyword targeted display campaign, you already have a baseline CPC bid that works. When you move that site into your placement targeted campaign, assume that you’ll need to set the placement bid between 10 and 15 percent higher than the “auto” campaign’s max CPC. You may find that even this bid increase isn’t enough — in which case implement another bid increase test to attempt increasing your Ad Rank.

If you’re starting a placement targeted campaign from scratch, you’ll have to play the testing game by setting a bid, reviewing performance, and adjusting as needed.

Quality Score

No one escapes quality score! Quality score is derived from CTR and “other factors” related to relevancy. As such, CTR is your primary point of attack.

If you discover a site through an “auto” keyword targeted campaign and move it to a placement targeted campaign — move the best performing ad already associated with it. Obviously, that ad is generating results, so use it as a launching point.

For all placements, continue practicing your ad testing best practices to write ads that improve CTR and your other target KPIs.

Originally posted June 25, 2010 on