Hacking the Google Display Network for Insanely Low CPC

The Google Display Network is massive; across this network of millions of websites, apps, and videos, you can reach 93 percent of all Internet users. In years past, though, it was considered a lower-quality way to advertise than search.

That’s not at all true. The GDN has way more ad inventory, lower CPCs, and is often the better choice for some advertisers. The key is in knowing how to make the most of Google Display, to lower your CPCs, increase conversion, and improve your ROI.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written here ever, you probably know I’m a big fan of Quality Score (QS) in AdWords.

GDN uses Quality Score to help determine your placements and costs, but they’re pretty quiet about it – in fact, Google tries to downplay its importance. Yet we’ve found in our analysis of thousands of AdWords accounts that higher QS typically means lower CPCs. The key to those higher Quality Scores is higher click-through rates (CTRs).

So how do you achieve insanely low costs per click on the Google Display Network? Use these five GDN hacks, which are all geared to improving CTR and driving higher QS.

1. Get to Know Display Ad Builder

Sure, you can use vibrant, eye-catching images on the Google Display Network, yet 67.5 percent of the ads there are actually just text ads. Yawn.

Those text ads, by the way, get far fewer clicks than image ads (0.23 percent vs. 0.31 percent, based on internal research).


Using Display Ad Builder, you can actually get Google to pull images from your website and do about 80 percent of the work of creating ads with your colors and branding.

2. Exclude Mobile Apps

In-app activity accounts for a sizable chunk of the average mobile user’s time spent on their device. Mobile is great – yet not all mobile activity is great for your GDN campaigns. In fact, unless you’re targeting app users, you may want to exclude them altogether.

Google places your display ads on relevant sites and while there are definitely a lot of places advertisers want to be in mobile, inside games apps probably isn’t one of them. Have you ever tried to close an in-app ad and accidentally clicked on it? If the app isn’t geared toward your target audience, there’s no reason for you to be there paying for clicks that have more chance of being unintentional or otherwise useless than not.

3. Use Google Web Designer for HTML5 Ads

Google rebuilt its Web Designer last year, adding a ton of new features including improved integration with other Google products. The greatest part is the interactive, animated HTML5 ad builder.

Check it out:

Animated HTML 5 ads will draw in more attention and clicks vs. static image ads alone.

4. Target In-Market Audiences & Specific Demographics

In-market audiences and demographics targeting are two powerful options for reaching your target audience on the GDN.

In-market audiences are people whose search and/or browsing history shows they may be in the market for a type of product or service. Someone who has been searching for “flowers” and visiting flower retailer sites could be identified as in-market for Mother’s Day gifts, for example. In-market targeting also works well for products/services with longer buying cycles.


Demographics targeting can actually be layered with other targeting options to further narrow your audience, so these aren’t mutually exclusive. Further improve your CTRs and reach the most relevant people possible by using gender, age, and parental status information to segment your audience.

5. Tap Into the Power of Remarketing

Remarketing ads are one of the most effective ways to improve your relevance and Quality Score and therefore lower your CPCs. Visitors to your website are tagged so you can get in front of them with ads as they move around the Web, browsing sites, watching videos, checking their email, and more.

Pauline Jakober shared some good tips recently on optimizing your remarketing campaigns.

Focus on Improving CTR and Quality Score for Big Wins on the Google Display Network

In a nutshell, a key success factor in Google Display Network advertising is to get a high Quality Score (essentially, a high click-through rate). You don’t want to pursue a low CTR strategy here; sure, you’ll pay for fewer clicks, but the ones you do get will cost way more!

My own research shows that on average, every increase/decrease of 0.1 percent in CTR results in an approximate 20 percent increase or decrease in CPC. See my previous SEW column, “Google Reveals 4 Things You Need to Know About Quality Score,” to learn more about the QS calculation.

Keep those objectives in mind as you’re creating and optimizing campaigns.

Are you using the Google Display Network? Share your best tips for other readers in the comments!

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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