The Google Display Network (GDN) enables your business to place advertisements on relevant websites. Learn how you can use its sophisticated targeting methods to reach your ideal target audience.

Google has a variety of targeting methods you can use when setting up a display network campaign in AdWords. If you are new to the network, all the different options can feel overwhelming but it’s important to understand the differences between them, so you can use them effectively.

In this post, I will explain how the key targeting methods work and what they are each best for.

Keyword targeting

This  method is similar to the targeting used on the search network, where advertisers select keywords that relate to their ad messaging. So, if you are targeting the keyword Car Insurance Provider, Google could serve the advert on web pages relating to cheap car insurance deals or best UK car insurance providers.

Users acquired from using this method vary in terms of where they are in the buying cycle. Like the search network, the keywords you choose dictate how broad or narrow your targeting is. One benefit of this method is that advertisers have a high level of control.

Topics targeting

This was one of the first forms of targeting to become available. It is based on Google grouping websites together according to the topics they cover. For example, if an advertiser is targeting the topic Finance, their ads may be served on sites like the or

Topics targeting has a wide reach and is more likely to increase brand awareness.  It is an economical way to increase your visibility in front of users who are not yet in the buying cycle, or are in the early stages of it.

In this example, we can see Financial Force’s ad (outlined in green) on the Forbes website.


GDN Topics Targeting

Interests targeting

While topics targeting is based on a website’s theme, interests targeting looks at a user’s behaviour to judge whether to serve them an ad. For example, if you sell a certain product, you can place your ads in front of users who are interested in similar products, and have even shown purchase intent. These are called ‘In-Market’ and ‘Affinity’ groups. The example below shows an ad that relates to my behaviour online before visiting the Guardian website.

This targeting method is useful for acquiring traffic from users who are further along the buying cycle. You can expect higher conversion rates than those you get from topics targeting.

guardian interests targeting

Placements targeting

This targeting method gives advertisers the highest level of control because they can hand pick the specific websites they want their ads to appear on.

We find that this is really useful after you’ve been running a campaign and identified the best performing domains. You can then split them out into separate campaigns, which you can treat differently.

In this example, the betting firm Bet365 are placing adverts specifically on the ESPN website:


GDN Placements Targeting


Like with other networks, the display network allows advertisers to control the demographic targeting in a campaign or ad group. You have the ability to apply bid adjustments, or exclude groups based on attributes like age, gender or parental status.

A key feature of demographic targeting is the option to narrow your targeting. In other words, it helps prevent people outside your chosen demographics from seeing your ads.

If you’re promoting a product or service with a specific target market, this is incredibly useful.



GDN Demographical Targeting


One of the most popular forms of targeting is remarketing to audience and email lists because they tend to produce higher conversion rates. It has clearly proven advantages but many advertisers are still failing to use it to its full capacity.

In Google Analytics, you have the ability to create complex and highly specific audience lists that you can apply to your display network campaigns. However, there are some conditions which need to be met. The main one is the minimum list size you can use in order to adhere to Google’s privacy policy.


GDN Audience List Targeting


As well as actively targeting audience segments, you can also exclude categories you don’t want your ads to appear in. Like negative keywords in the search network, this is a way for the advertiser to control the reach of their campaigns and limit the chances of their messaging appearing on an inappropriate, or poor performing site.


Category Exclusions on the Display Network



There are different targeting methods on the display network and each has their own benefits. By understanding how each one works, you can use them to meet your objectives. You can also apply more than one method at a time to improve the accuracy of your targeting.

Google’s Display Network is one of the most economical available, and with precise targeting, it can be highly valuable. I therefore recommend setting up a campaign to test these alternative methods, and see what results you can achieve.

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