By Sergio Lopez

There are many ways to reach the right audience with display. Find out how the different targeting methods work and how to choose which ones are best for you.

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It doesn’t really matter if you are a big company or a start-up, your customers are on the Internet in almost every aspect of your life; they use it for fun, work, information, shopping… and I’m sure that you want to reach them wherever they are and not only when searching on Google, but also on the Google Display Network.

What is the Google Display Network (GDN)?

Just to make sure that we all are on the same page, the GDN is comprised of Google properties like YouTube, Google Finance, Gmail, and others that offer display advertising, as well as a network of millions of partner sites and mobile apps on which you can place your ads. Having said that let’s add some interesting data here; the GDN allows you to reach the widest possible audience globally (582M total unique visitors per day), having access to almost 93% of the web.

Well, I know what you are thinking - “93% of the internet is far too broad to target” - and I agree, but I’m sure that we can both imagine how vast the diversity is. It has been proven that there's a severe disconnect between where Internet users are spending their time, and where marketers are spending their money trying to reach them. As I don’t want it to happen to you I’ll try to give you an overview of the different targeting methods that can be used in order to reach the users that you are looking for.

Why use the GDN?

Display ads on the GDN can be an effective media choice across a large variety of goals frombranding to direct response and can reach consumers at every stage of the purchase funnel. They also help to drive engagement on Search; after being exposed to a Display ad, research has shown that consumers are significantly more likely to click on a sponsored link.

For example, a user may first become aware of your brand by seeing a GDN ad while browsing one of their favourite websites. They may then click on this ad, take a look around your site and make a mental note to revisit it in the future. After they have left your site you could use Remarketing to remind them how awesome you are or even offer them a discount to encourage a direct response.

Purchase Funnel

Using the best targeting methods, bearing your goals in mind and optimising the campaigns accordingly are a must. We’ll have a quick look at the five core targeting methods that can be used to reach your audience but first we need to understand that there are two main ways to target on the GDN:

  • Content: We’ll reach our audience using the web content at the point of relevancy
  • Audience/behavioural: We’ll reach our audience based on online behaviour using cookie data

Targeting methods


Google’s engine scans the content of every page on the GDN and categorises them into one of over 1,500 pre-defined categories. You can target categories from as broad as sports to as specific as football, which means that you can be as broad (due to the massive amount of inventory behind it) or as specific as you want while still staying relevant to the subject you want to target. Find all the categories in the Ad Planner tool (it’s free!). As Google analyses each page, this is a content based targeting method.


If you already know some specific websites on which you’d like to run your ads, the placement targeting method is what you are looking for. This is a very precise solution as you are picking the websites you’d like to appear on. You can choose to target the whole site, or go even further and run on multiple pages of a single site, on just one page within a site or only on specified parts of a page within a site. If you need some ideas to find placements you can again use the Ad Planner tool (it’s still free!). Don’t forget that this targeting method is auction based which means that you’ll need to bid and win the auction to see your ads running!


If you are familiar with search you’ll find this targeting method very friendly, as you’ll need to build a list of keywords to run your ads. It’s worth mentioning that keywords are broad match on the GDN and that now there is no limit to the number of keywords you can use per ad group (the limit used to be 50 keywords). Start being specific with brand keywords and product keywords and then expand your keywords list. Make sure you are using your best keywords from your search campaigns.

The way it works is simple: Google’s engine scans and analyzes the page in real time as it loads and matches the keywords that you are bidding on. The analysis made by Google here is different to how it works for topics. In this case the analysis matches individual terms rather than concepts; it’s based on words within the content of a page instead of subjects of the page and your ads will be eligible to appear on any page conaining the keywords.


This is a behavioral/audience targeting method which lets you reach users based on their interest. You might be wondering… how does Google know my interests? Well, don’t be scared, but when we surf the web, Google stores a cookie to remember every visit on GDN websites and will infer interest based on the content, recency and frequency of our visits. This is how we’ll see ads based on our interest, regardless of the page content (If you are now curious, click here to find out how Google categorized you!). Don’t forget that the topics targeting method is based on content whereas interest is behavioral based. There are more than 1,600 interest categories that you can find in the AdPlanner (did I mention that is free?)


This is another behavioral/audience targeting method which allows you to reach users who have already visted your website. Bear in mind that 97% of new visitors leave your site without doing what you want them to do so we should make the most of this amazing targeting method to chase our visitors and remind them how awesome we are. I would recommend reading the post that my colleague Tom wrote a few weeks ago to find out everything about remarketing.

Targeting methods based on your goals

Even though this is just an overview you can see that there are many ways to reach the right audience with display. At Periscopix we run many campaigns on the GDN and have had great results. If you are thinking of testing it but are not sure how, give us a shout!

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