Targeting Methods with Display #DigIntoDisplay

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Once upon a time, there weren’t many ways you could target display. Nowadays, there are a lot of options, and the best part is, you can use more than one at a time to laser-focus the users you want to go after. The Display option bar within Google AdWords notes the types available, but let’s dissect them one at a time.

Display Keywords

This method is keyword-focused strategy, which has been around for awhile. Unlike search, where keyword it tied to a user’s input, in display, keywords are used to guide a contextually-focused match for an ad to show on a webpage. Google looks at the text patterns on a page and aligns it with the keywords you have expressed interest in to make a determination about where your ad might be relevant to that webpage user.

This relies on the content of the page, and not the site type itself to decide where to show ad. This can work both for and against you.

It can work for you because you’re not limiting yourself to the type of site you think would work best; you’re letting the page’s content make that determination.

It can also work against you, because if the page is somewhat of an anomaly on the site type its shown on, you might not be hitting the user you think you are. Also, you are bidding on keywords in somewhat of a vacuum, where once you see the actual sites it’s showing you on, you might realize there are meanings of your word you never considered. For example, I once managed paid search for a company that sold jewelry, and when Pirates of the Caribbean’s “Curse of the Black Pearl” movie came out, the numbers started to look weird b/c we were getting matched contextually to articles about that.

Like regular search, you can implement negative keywords to help this, but it should be done sparingly so you don’t completely cut off your volume.



I love the idea of demographics, and while I’ve gotten it to work well before, you need to exercise some caution. Demographic options let you choose to target by things like age, gender, and parental status.

The problem is, in most campaigns there will be a large chunk that comes up as “unknown” and sometimes those are your best performers!


This option allows you to specify the exact websites you want to show up on as opposed to letting Google choose for you. The nice part is, you have control over where your ads show, but you’re also making assumptions about where you think things will work if you’re picking this tactic right out of the gate. Usually I’d recommend doing one of the other tactic types first, learning what sites do well for you first, and then creating Campaigns that are placement-targeted so you can dedicate a certain budget towards those efforts.

Also, the placements are limited to what’s on Google’s Display Network, so you might have sites in mind where they don’t have inventory, or the inventory might be very limited. Just important to keep in mind as you plan your budgets and allocations. The Display Planner Google offers can help jump start some ideas for specific websites in their network that might be of interest to you.


This reminds me a little bit of contextual, but on a broader scale. The Topic selection lets you pick websites based on what they’re about: news, cars, children, babies, whatever you have in mind. It’s a very hardy targeting type, but it can also limit you.

For example, sure, websites about babies mean there are a lot of moms visiting that site, but those same moms visit a LOT of other sites, too. They are bombarded with mommy-focused ads targeted towards them on mom-focused sites, so you might actually see better performance on completely different site types since you’re not competing so hard with other mommy-focused selling.


In-Market and Affinity Audiences

This option is found in the “Interests and Remarketing” section of your Display setup. This leaves a little more up to Google,

customaffinitybut the results can be great. The idea of In-Market and Affinity audiences is that Google targets users who have a browsing history that indicates their intentions. You are showing to a type of user, instead of to a type of site.

In-Market are users that have indicated they are actively looking to purchase something, or have
recently done so. For example, maybe you are a provider for something in the real estate sector. You can target people in-marketing for home improvement services, home inspection services, property for sale, and many other things.

Affinity users are people that have shown to be an enthusiast of something. For example, maybe you are heavily into classic cars, but aren’t necessarily looking to buy one anytime soon. Based on your browsing historyrealestate_inmarket, you could be considered an affinity audience for things related to classic cars. You can create Affinity audiences based on what Google has available, or you can have it create a Custom Affinity Audience, where you tell it the types of people you’re looking for, and it will custom create a user pool for you.

The difference between In-Market and Affinity is In-Market people are active purchasers, so their interest in
the topic is most likely for that period of time, whereas Affinity groups are people who are consistently interested in a thing.

All together now…

Now that you know what each of these targeting types are, consider how you can best layer them to reach your intended audience. For example, if you sell specialty ribbon for door wreaths, you could do a Topical target for Christmas-focused  then add in keyword targeting using wreath terms (which would naturally be organized into tightly-themed ad groups!).

If you get too specific your audience might be too small to glean meaningful data samples from, so be flexible. You may want to start with a more general setup and layer in over time, or start with more layers and remove them if you need to, it really depends on your budget sensitivity. 


Display can be very powerful when you know exactly who you’re trying to reach and know the strings to pull in Google to find those users. Dig in and start targeting smartly!