Don’t Fall Victim To GDN Placement “Exclusion” Overkill

The foundation for every Google Display Network (GDN) strategy is placements. It doesn’t matter what campaign settings you use or how you set your campaigns up (keywords, topics, interest targeting, remarketing, managed placements), you will still optimize and base your success on the relevancy and performance of the placements where Google showed your ads.

Google AdWords Display Network Advertising

I have a terrible confession to make. I have never worked with any agency, company or individual that wasn’t using too many placement exclusions. There, I said it.

But after today, there will be no more excuses and Google Display Network campaigns all over the world will perform so much better with the right strategies in place for how and when to exclude a placement!

Some of the most common side effects of overkill include drastic drops in impressions and conversions. If you have ever worked on a Google display campaign that started off looking promising but seemed to perform worse and worse the more you optimized, you will be happy with the improvement in your future display campaigns with just a few changes to your strategy for placement exclusions.

The Quick And Dirty Placement Report Sort

Sorting Placement Performance Reports By Cost

It is okay to sort your Google Display campaigns by cost at the domain level shortly after you turn on your campaign or after making changes. Just do a quick check to see if there are problem domains that need to be flagged and possibly excluded because they are out of control. (It usually takes about two days before you can pull your first report.)

Right after a campaign goes live, or after certain account changes, sometimes a few domains will see very high impressions and clicks. At this point, we just want to exclude domains (placements) based on high cost and no conversions. In this first sort, you may also see high conversion costs or even what appears to be targeting to the wrong audience. We’ll check those issues as we pull more detailed reports later.

Timing Is Everything

A domain or URL may only convert once every few weeks. If I looked at my overall data for one domain or URL using a longer time frame (all time, for 30 days, for the last quarter, etc.) it is possible that I would consider that placement as a good placement based on the quality and cost of the conversions.

I don’t want to do my placement reports for short time frames because it is possible to exclude a good placement that just happens to get sporadic conversions.

Deeper Evaluation Of Your Google AdWords Placements

With the quick and dirty sort, we were taking a look at the domain level. The next, more in-depth review will be at the URL level. This is the report that separates the GDN rookies and the veterans.  This report is so important that we are going to run it twice (for different time frames) and download it to Excel.

The first report will be for the time frame that you need to report on and review. The second placement report will be for a longer time frame to make sure you are not excluding those good placement URLs that only convert sporadically.

Before you exclude an entire domain, especially at the campaign level, do a sort for all the URLs for the domain you are evaluating.

Sort your URLs again in alphabetical order (there may be duplicates across multiple AdGroups). Sum the total cost for all of the URLs across the domain and sum the total number of conversions for this one domain. Divide the total cost by the number of conversions to get your Cost-Per-Conversion across the full set of URLs.

Placement Report Formatting Tip: Use A Simple Macro

Proceed with the following:

  • Delete the first row
  • (Optional) Format the top row (use black fill, white text, bold)
  • Freeze the top row and the left column (at minimum, just to the right side of the URL)
  • Resize columns
  • Turn on Data Filtering
  • (Optional) Set up Conditional Formatting (conditions vary based on goals, costs)

To Exclude Or Not To Exclude Placements – Campaign Or AdGroup

I prefer category exclusions over placement exclusions. If I do exclude a top-level domain, it is because Google is still categorizing that domain as relevant, and I disagree with the relevancy based on the quality of the conversions or the cost of the conversions.

I will have more placement URL exclusions at the AdGroup level where specific URLs are not performing based on the ads and targeting options.

Your Feedback And Personal Experience On Placement Exclusions

Do you have placement performance report tips you would like to share? Please comment and share your own experience.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column | Google: Marketing


About The Author: is the VP of Media at Advice Interactive Group where she develops plans that strive to achieve the most effective spend plans possible to meet client's digital marketing and targeting goals.

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  • Pat Grady

    Wow, it’s like you have a copy of our internal GDN playbook! (We don’t actually have a document, am complimenting here, not accusing you of copying!) Good stuff!

  • Shelley Ellis

    Thank you, Pat.

  • Shelley Ellis

    You don’t have to wait 48 hours to see what placement URL’s your ads are showing on if you have your AdWords account connected to Google Analytics. You can actually seem them in (almost) real time.

    In Analytics go to AdWords | Campaigns | Secondary Dimension and choose Placement URL. You can see the URL’s by campaign or by AdGroup level. If you code your campaign and AdGroup names (I use -CD- for computer devices, -MD- for mobile devices, -TD- for tablet devices, etc.) then you can filter out your placement performance for various types of campaigns.

  • ellenfoley

    I need to go to a boot camp on these issues in the Midwest. anyone have tips on who might offer something after the holidays. I can’t go to Vegas.

  • Francis Shovlin

    You can also download an automatic placement report through the Dimensions tab. This way, you can easily see how a domain is performing across your entire account or at the campaign level instead of needing to do it manually!


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