last Updated 27 August 2020

How to Target Ads on the Google Display Network

The Google Display Network (GDN) is often dismissed as being a waste of money that drives low quality traffic to your website and generates little or nothing in the way of conversions.

That view was probably justified back in the early days of the GDN when advertisers had little control over where their ads appeared and had a limited range of design options available to them.

In recent years it has become much easier to create eye-catching display ads. And the targeting options for controlling where your ads appear and what sort of people see them have become far more sophisticated.

In this article I'm going to explain how each of these targeting options works and gives examples of how you could use them to supplement your Google Ads search campaigns.

What is the Google Display Network?

The Display Network is a collection of websites that have agreed to show ads on their pages by signing up as publishers for the Google AdSense programme. Google gives these publishers a small share of the fee it charges the advertisers each time one of their ads is clicked.

The websites in the GDN are also known as placements. They range from well-known news sites through to niche blogs.

Unlike the text-only ads that appear on Google search results pages, ads on the Display Network can be made up of text and images.

Targeting Options for Google Display Ads

There are six different types of targeting available for GDN advertisers.

The first three targeting options are about narrowing down where your ads appear.



Keyword targeting is a form of contextual targeting. You give Google a list of keywords relevant to your products or services (a bit like you do for Search Network ads) and then your ads are displayed on websites across the GDN which Google feels are relevant to your chosen keywords.


You can run a placement report to get a list of the sites where your ads have appeared. You can then exclude any placements that you think are irrelevant.



Topic targeting is another form of contextual targeting. It works in a similar way to keyword targeting except that now you are telling Google to choose the placements based on the topic of the page. You can select from a pre-defined list of topics that you want to target.


Managed Placements

This is the most precise option for determining which website(s) your ads will appear on. You can raise and lower your bids for individual placements (publisher websites) in accordance with site performance or relevancy.

However, not all of the Display Network sites are available as managed placements and those placements which are available tend to have a higher demand and cost associated with them.

The remaining three targeting options are for determining what type of people will see your ads rather than for controlling which sites they'll be shown on.



Audience targeting lets you show your ads to specific groups of people based on their hobbies and interests, regardless of what kind of site they are looking at. For example, if you sell golf equipment you could decide to show your ads to people who Google knows have an interest in golf, irrespective of whether they are viewing a website to do with golf or a website to do with share prices.

Within audience targeting you have two lists of interests you can choose from. The affinity audiences list allows you to target people who have a long-term interest in a particular subject – e.g. petrol-heads who love cars. Google would determine their interest based on their long-term browsing habits.

You also have the in-market audiences list which lets you target people that Google has identified as currently being in the market to buy a particular product or service. For example, if someone who doesn’t usually show any interest in cars has suddenly started visiting a lot of car review websites then Google will take this as a sign that they are looking to buy a car at the moment.



With this option Google allows you to determine who sees your display ads based on their age, gender, parental status, and household income.

Google will know the age and gender of anyone who is logged in with a Google account; in other cases they will make an educated guess based on the person’s browsing history. 



By using remarketing you can target your ads so as they are only shown to people who have previously visited your website.

You can refine this further by specifying which groups of past visitors you want to target. For example, you could opt to show ads to everyone who's visited your site in the past 30 days, or you might decide to show ads only to people who visited your site but didn't submit an online enquiry. 

By using different targeting methods in combination with each other you can get even more control over where your ads are shown and to whom. For example, you could combine interests and demographics to show ads to people aged 18-24 who are in the market to book a holiday.

With the right targeting, advertising on the GDN can be a very cost effective way to increase brand awareness, reach new markets, or re-engage with existing customers or prospects.

What experiences (good or bad) have you had with display ads? I'd love to hear from you, especially if the advice in this article has helped you get better results. So please do leave a comment in the box below.

About the author 

David Miles

As a digital marketing consultant, author and trainer, I specialise in helping businesses in the financial services sector use the internet to get more enquiries and increase profits.

Related Posts

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Discover How to Generate More Leads From Your Own Website