Are 3rd Party Networks Wasting Your AdWords Display Budget?

By Nathan Pabich

You may have noticed some strange things happening in your display campaigns recently. If your campaigns utilize automatic placements, a tactic in which Google automatically displays ads on sites that it determines are relevant to your keywords, then you may have noticed extremely unusual placements where your ads have shown.

Monitor and Investigate Placements

It’s natural and expected that a search manager will encounter irrelevant placements and search queries when running ads on either the display or search networks, which is why proper account management requires regular inspection of placement and search terms reports. You need to be extra diligent when reviewing your reports to make sure that your ads are performing at a satisfactory level on appropriate sites. When using the display network, seeing where you ads have appeared is quite simple. Quickly head over to the Networks tab and click on the show details link that appears next to Automatic placements. Display and search campaigns should already have been separated for ease of management and to avoid confusing reporting data. From here you can easily see specific metrics and make decisions based on how your ads have performed for on each site. It’s important to physically visit placements that have had a significant number of impressions and clicks to ensure that irrelevant placements are not wasting budget. This is important for both smaller advertisers that need to receive the most bang for their buck and larger advertisers who can quickly burn through large amounts of spend.

Placement Reports Are Fun, Really!

Besides providing an entertaining break from analysis, manually inspecting placements can yield substantial insight into how the display network works under the hood. This is exactly what happened during a recent routine inspection of a client campaign. While viewing the Automatic placements report we noticed the domain Adnxs.com was using more than its fair share of spend and providing absolutely no value to the client. While the CTR’s were high relative to other placements, conversions were nonexistent. Needless to say, without any conversions I’d rather stay away. This of course led to the question of why there were so many clicks and yet no conversions occurred. Unfortunately, a manual visit to Adnxs.com and its sparse login screen only led to additional questions.

AdWords 3rd Party Advertising Partners

A bit of investigation revealed that adnxs.com is owned by AppNexus, a company that specializes in providing Real-time advertising solutions to trading desks, ad networks, and others. However, the real question is how and where are ads shown? Unfortunately, after multiple conversations with AdWords reps, the best answer that I received from Google was a somewhat cryptic explanation that AppNexus is a partner and display ads are shown on through AppNexus as 3rd party custom tailored ads. No further details could or would be provided, though there was a suggestion to block the domain from future impressions, which, of course, had already been done. Given the nature of AppNexus and its competitors, it appeared as though when advertising on Google’s display network, there was a chance that ads could appear through other networks with little to no control over which sites they appeared on. A visit to the Dimensions > Automatic placements report and its list of specific URL’s confirmed that this was the case. It also revealed the details behind a number of other networks such as Admeld and PubMatic, which also offer little to no control over your specific placement. Coincidentally, these were also poor performers and were instantly awarded a spot on the domain exclusion list.

Watch Your Placements

It is vitally important to remain inquisitive and pay close attention to where your AdWords display ads are shown. A little extra digging will often lead to a more complete understanding of the AdWords system itself, avoid unnecessarily wasting valuable budget, and ultimately deliver increased value to your business or that of your client. Quickly block placements that have proven unworthy of your advertising dollars. This includes placements that have not converted or provide content that is completely unsuited to your target audience. Next physically visit and investigate anything that looks even somewhat questionable. You may be surprised and enlightened by what you find.