Google’s Smart display campaigns – 7 things to know

Google rolled out Smart display campaigns in April.
When it comes to digital marketing, efficiency is the name of the game. You’re busy, and there’s a never-ending task list filled with budgets, creatives and audiences. What if you could automate them in one easy workflow? You can increase your productivity, spend more time on strategy and finally plan that summer getaway to Italy.
Two months ago, Google (my employer) launched Smart display campaigns to automate display campaigns and scale performance. Today, I wanted to answer some of the top questions we’ve heard from advertisers.

1. Do I still need to bother with regular campaigns now that Smart display campaigns exist?

It depends. Smart display campaigns can help save time and drive better performance by automating bidding, targeting and creatives. That means you don’t have to build extensive audience lists or create dozens of ads in different sizes and formats. Advertisers who use Smart display campaigns have seen an average 20 percent increase in conversions at the same CPA (cost per acquisition), compared to their other display campaigns, according to internal Google data.
If you need to manually control bidding, targeting or creatives, you should use regular display campaigns. There are four specific use cases that come to mind:

  • You can’t measure conversions through AdWords tracking. To use Smart display campaigns, you need at least 50 display conversions or 100 search conversions in the last 30 days.
  • You have seasonal campaigns you turn on and off. If you need to change your budget very quickly within a short period of time (think Black Friday), just switch to manual bidding.
  • You want to create more customized audiences. Regular display campaigns let you build highly segmented lists for things like “past converters who spent over $1,000” or “shopping cart abandoners.”
  • You want full control over your creatives. Regular display campaigns let you fine-tune the colors, fonts or layouts used in the ads.

Finally, it’s possible to run both campaign types at once. Even better, the auction will favor the better-performing ad. If your Smart display campaigns drive more conversions, you’ll see more volume from these campaigns than your regular display campaigns.

2. What types of targeting can I expect?

Smart display campaigns use a combination of remarketing, display keywords, topics, placements, in-market audiences and similar audiences.

3. How do Smart display campaigns optimize across multiple targeting types?

Smart display campaigns use machine learning to optimize for conversions in each and every ad auction. They look at unique data signals like performance history, creatives, website and remarketing lists.
Let’s say your remarketing drives killer conversion rates. The algorithm will shift volume to remarketing to drive more conversions. Or let’s say the “Luxury Traveler” in-market audiences segment isn’t performing well. The algorithm will lower bids there or pause that segment.

4. Should I keep my existing remarketing campaigns?

If you already have highly segmented audience lists, you should keep your existing remarketing campaigns while trying out Smart display campaigns. If you have a simpler list structure (one or two lists), use Smart display campaigns to run your remarketing. In fact, we’ve seen many advertisers drive better results compared to running remarketing alone.
Smart display campaigns build lists based on your current tags and are designed to drive as many conversions as possible at the target CPA.

5. How can I tell what’s happening with my Smart display campaigns?

You still get the same good old reports like the Display Summary report. You get a bonus report with Smart display campaigns — the Assets Report. This report ranks your creative assets as “Best,” “Good” or “Low” based on how many conversions those assets drive relative to one another. It’s possible for your ad to get a “Learning” rating, which means the system is still learning and needs more conversions. It can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks for the algorithm to learn which ads work best.
We recommend you review this report on a bimonthly or monthly basis. For ads with the “Low” rating, you can swap them out for new creatives that are similar to your “Best” rated ads. For ads with the “Best” rating, you can apply your learnings (e.g., best headline and description combination) across your regular search and display campaigns. Pretty cool, huh?

6. How can I drive even better results?

You can use drafts and experiments to test different CPA targets. For example, you can test increasing CPA targets to see if volume increases offset costs (and leads to higher profit). When testing, it’s important to keep your CPA target changes to 20 percent or less; it takes the algorithm longer to adjust to large, sudden changes.
Keep in mind it should take a few days for your account to adjust to your new goals. If your test is a success, you can scale it to other campaigns.
The second thing you can do is focus on creative optimizations.

  • You have five headlines, five descriptions and five+ images that we’ll mix and match to find the best ad variation.
  • Try rotating in new descriptions, headlines and images.
  • Make sure your headlines are different from your descriptions. This will help avoid redundant messaging.
  • You should also upload a logo to increase the number of placements you’ll be eligible for.
  • And if you have a product feed, you can also link that seamlessly into Smart display campaigns.

If there’s one thing to remember, it’s this:
 When you provide more assets, you give yourself thousands more ad copy tests for the system to optimize. It’s essentially ad copy testing at scale, which could uncover breakthrough winners. In the above image, I used two headlines, two descriptions, two marketing images and a few logos. Just like magic, you can see some of the output ad variations below.

7. But wait, how do I keep my ads from appearing on the wrong sites?

We know some content might not be right for every brand. AdWords has built-in settings that help your ads show on the right content for your brand. For example, gambling sites are opted out by default on Display Network campaigns.
On top of these default settings, you can also opt into and out of sensitive content with site category exclusions in AdWords. Let’s say you don’t want to show your ads on crime- or military-related content. You can opt out of those specific categories.

You can also create an account-level placement exclusions list for off-brand domains. If you need ideas, take a look at your Placement Report. Keep in mind you have a 500-placement limit on account-level exclusions. This includes both websites and mobile apps. Once your list is ready, use the Shared Library in AdWords to apply the exclusions list across your entire account.


Smart display campaigns can be your new best friend. But don’t take my word for it. Create a Smart display campaign yourself to see if it works for you.
Here’s to a summer of productivity, automated tasks and finally taking that getaway to Italy!
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Written by Matt Lawson

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