It is not a secret that running any AdWords campaign requires a lot of knowledge, time and effort, but Display campaigns are in the league of their own. Most of the accounts that I manage include Search, Shopping or Call-Only campaign, along with Search and Display remarketing, but almost never a purely Display campaign.

It seems like regardless of the company, product or service, I could never get positive results and high enough ROI no matter what I’ve tried. Unfortunately, Google AdWords targeting doesn’t make it very easy to find the right placement for your ads and show them to relevant users.

In my last attempt, I set up a very straight forward display campaign to generate leads for my marketing business, I’ve selected very specific keywords, added interests and topics highly relevant to my service and set up geo targeting along with demo targeting to get in front of business owners on websites related to AdWords and PPC.

It didn’t take long to get my first clicks, but the results were less than worthless. First of all, the placement report analysis revealed that my ads showed up on the websites that had absolutely nothing to do with my service, keywords or interest targeting, they were all over the place, from adult websites to news and gossip websites. Not one placement that had impressions contained a single keyword from my keyword list or interest that I picked. What’s worse is that 99% of the clicks resulted in 100% bounce rate and 0 seconds on site, so the traffic and clicks that I’ve got were absolutely worthless and most likely weren’t even real users.

Naturally, I picked up the phone and called Google rep. They assured me that if I use keyword targeting, my ads would only show up on the pages that contain those keywords OR they could also be shown to users who recently searched for similar keywords. None of that was the case, ’cause all of my placements with impressions were completely random. I asked Google about 100% bounce rate and 0 seconds on site and they promised me that their sophisticated algorithms will determine invalid clicks and I won’t get charged for them, however, only 3% of all clicks were deemed invalid and I did get charged for the other 97% of useless clicks.

I didn’t want to give up, ’cause GDN clicks are anywhere from 10x to 20x times cheaper than my search network clicks and I couldn’t believe that there was no way for a GDN campaign to general clicks from real users and relevant placements. So I changed the strategy a little bit, I kept all of my keywords, geo and demo targeting, but instead of interests and auto placements, I picked websites and page placements manually that I knew were highly relevant to my service and to my marketing persona. The traffic volume did drop quite a bit, but the engagement rate improved instantly, now I could see that users who clicked on my banner ads actually stayed on my website long enough to read my marketing message. They visited several pages to check out the pricing for services that I offer and I’ve started to receive form leads and phone calls pretty much on the next day.

So to sum up, I can say that it is possible to set up and run a successful Display Campaign, but just like with Search campaign, you will have to spend a lot of time on the research and run your ads only on those websites that you select manually. Which is kind of similar to Express AdWords, if you let Google use all broad match keywords that they pick for you, chances are you’ll spend a lot of money on search terms that have nothing to do with your ads and end up throwing money away.