Managed Placements As An Underrated Way To Build A High-Performing GDN Campaign

Managed Placements As An Underrated Way To Build A High-Performing GDN Campaign

14th February 2019

Display campaigns are considered a great way to spread the word about your product or service among millions of users. But the flexibility of settings provided by GDN and other networks and platforms allows you to use display ads not only for mass awareness, but also for very specific audiences.

If you’re aiming to focus your targeting and try a more granular approach to picking the websites (and apps) for your campaigns, managed (targeted) placements are a must-try option.

Why You Need Managed (Targeted) Placements

When you use other targeting options, such as topics and keywords, you allow Google to decide which websites will be picked to show your ads. It’s less time-consuming, but you can never be sure that your banner has been shown on a particular website you consider relevant. Managed placements, an optional yet powerful feature in GDN, help you to have more control over it.

You can indicate which websites, YouTube channels or app categories you’re going to target with your ads. Or, going even further, listing specific URLs, videos or apps is also possible within the interface.


Let’s take a look at several ways to find relevant placements and keep the right balance between over-targeting and going too broad.

How to Identify Relevant Placements to Target

If you decide to take on managed placements, adding just a couple of websites won’t help. You’ll need to gather data from multiple sources to get a number of valuable impressions. The following are some ways you can spot the most relevant websites to show your ads on:

Review Existing Placements

If you are already running GDN campaigns, it’s never a bad idea to take a look at your existing placements and identify those deserving special attention.

Let’s say you’ve spotted a website that brings you a high-quality audience and conversions. Google recommends that you add those websites as managed placements, set a higher bid and increase your potential exposure to their audiences. But according to some experts, this tactic is questionable: you can actually see a drop in impressions and conversions when moving a website to managed placements. Instead, you need to run it “in both the automatic and managed placement campaigns, while also bidding a little higher in managed placements to gain exposure on a site you know works for the account”.

Top-performing websites can also be useful to gain more insights into their target audience and, based on this data, look for similar websites to add to your campaign.

Explore Referrals

Going through referring websites can help you to find hidden gems in terms of audience. You can identify audiences and interests you have never thought of as potentially profitable for your niche. They are already mentioning you, but having a few links in a couple of articles won’t help you get the exposure you’re looking for; running GDN campaigns on these particular websites will certainly help boost your visibility. You just need to make sure these sites are part of the Google Display Network.


Analyze the Competition

Have you ever dreamed you could access your competitors’ Google Ads account and see their top-performing channels and placements? (Although, if others could access yours it would be a nightmare, obviously). There’s no way you can legitimately do this, but you can reverse engineer your competitors’ GDN strategies with the help of competitor analysis tools.

The Display Advertising report in SEMrush is one of the ways you can do this. Enter your competitor’s domain and open the ‘Publishers’ report. It will show all the websites the competitor’s ads were spotted on. You are also able to sort these websites by the number of ads from the analyzed advertiser and the time an ad was seen.


The data from competitor analysis tools should always be taken with a grain of salt, as it’s impossible to figure out if these placements were chosen automatically or manually. It’s also important to remember that you can’t say for sure if a certain placement was effective. However, a glimpse at your competitor’s strategies can often give some food for thought and for testing.

Consider Specific URLs

This should be approached as a very granular tactic, and it’s certainly not the way to go if you’re aiming to get broad exposure. However, it can be a nice addition to the mix.

For example, you’re organizing an event for women in tech. You can target an entire website, like Forbes or CNN, but you can also launch a more targeted campaign for female entrepreneurs adding the ForbesWomen section as a managed placement.

However, there are some pitfalls in choosing managed placements you need to know before launching your “granular” GDN campaigns.

Things To Watch Out For

Be Careful with News Sites

Websites like Forbes, BBC, CNN and other media boast high-quality audiences and high traffic volumes. But there’s always a chance that Google’s automated algorithm will consider a certain page relevant for your ad without taking the context into account (this happens quite often if you use keyword targeting in GDN).

If you’re lucky enough, your ad can be immortalized among the top GDN fails of all time:

Since GDN is highly automated, you are never absolutely safe from similar fates. But you can take measures in advance by excluding tabloids and sensationalist news media.

Consider the Traffic Volume and Mind the Geo

You find a good niche website, packed with useful content, but then you discover it has only several hundred visitors per month. And consider that on average every third visitor is using an ad blocker, which makes the situation even worse.

Checking the website traffic is crucial if you don’t want to end up gaining 10 impressions per month after spending hours on the research.

Either Similarweb or SEMrush Traffic Analytics can help you get an understanding of a website’s traffic and, most importantly, the audience behavior (watch out for websites with a 90% bounce rate!).


When it comes to geo targeting, most likely you have excluded at an account level the countries you don’t work with. However, when choosing managed placements it’s better to double check if a website is relevant in terms of audience geo distribution, using competitor analysis tools.


Bonus: Excluding Placements in GDN

Excluding irrelevant websites is a must in every GDN campaign, even if you don’t leverage managed placements. Most probably you’ll start doing it after you launch a campaign: checking the performance regularly and removing the low-performing placements is part of a PPC specialist’s routine.

But there’s something you can do from the very beginning: exclude the placements considered spammy or inappropriate. There are several exclusion lists you can use (this one, for example) to make this process easier.


We hope you found this list of tips useful! If you’ve got any others, please let us know in the comments.


Written By
Maria Raybould is a Online Marketing Specialist at SEMrush.
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