Search engine display networks allow advertisers to show ads on a wide range of websites. These websites share the revenue that search engines earn from advertisers when site visitors interact with the ads e.g. by clicking on them. The expansive nature of the display networks provides tremendous potential for immediate and extensive brand awareness for advertisers. Google’s display network alone includes more than 2 million websites.

However, many marketing professionals overlook display networks in their digital marketing campaigns. The reasons for the oversight are both academic and experiential but in my opinion, overly pessimistic. Academically, display network advertising is an example of interruptive advertising. This type of advertising is of limited effectiveness because it disrupts the user’s consumption of desired content. An everyday instance of interruptive advertising is TV commercials. The commercial disrupts the viewer’s consumption of the show and motivates them to change the channel or get a snack to avoid the commercial. For the advertiser, such viewer behavior represents wasted advertising spend. Similarly, as display network ads appear within web pages, they disrupt the viewer’s consumption of non-advertising content resulting in low ad click-through-rates and consequently, few visits to the advertiser’s website.

So Where are the Opportunities?

The opportunities in display network advertising lie in the targeting methods available to the advertiser. These include keyword targeting, topic targeting, managed placement targeting and audience targeting. In addition, the individual targeting methods can be used in conjunction with one another.

Keyword targeting causes ad display on any web page that uses the advertiser’s chosen keywords. The drawback to this targeting method is its disregard for context. For example, a healthcare research company that partnered with us for digital advertising services wanted to create awareness among neurologists for its neuroscience webinar. If we had chosen keyword targeting to cause ad display on web pages that use our keyword “neuroscience”, the ad would have appeared on pages describing college neuroscience programs. As a result, we would have drawn prospective college students to our client’s neuroscience webinar as opposed to the desired audience of neurologists.

The effective solution we created used keyword targeting in conjunction with topic targeting. We chose to show ads on websites that Google considers to be topically related to medical research and use the word “neuroscience”. The result was a sharp surge in visits to our client’s neuroscience webinar page that lasted the duration of our advertising campaign and our client expressed their gratification with the large number of neurologists who attended the webinar.