The short answer: It can be.
Brand safety has become the latest buzz phrase among agencies and advertisers alike, with major brands having knee-jerk reactions upon discovering slews of grossly irrelevant, low-quality, borderline fraudulent ad placements –- and rightfully so. After all, if spending exorbitant amounts of marketing dollars on phony sites does not warrant such a reaction, I’m not sure what does.
Although fake news and questionable content placements were the most recent triggers for the outrage, brand vulnerability on Google Display Network is hardly a recent dispute. In fact, GDN is plagued by some harsh realities, many of which are widely known. An overwhelming majority of GDN placements are low quality. To add to that, there’s a likely chance that less than 10 percent are valuable contributors to your campaigns — and that’s a generous estimate. In most cases, it will be less than 5 percent. That means that the rest of the 95 percent and above of placements are a complete waste of your marketing budget. In addition, trying to counter that by making daily, weekly or monthly exclusions will be futile considering GDN’s infinite catalog of sites.
Consequently, gauging GDN will not be a reactive approach, but a proactive one through the process of exclusion layering and managed placements.
How narrow, or broad, you decide to make your exclusions will ultimately depend on your brand’s tolerance level. However, the following four steps can be used as a general guideline to ensure the most appropriate targeting for your brand.
Category exclusions are the first step for advertisers of all tolerance levels. Google has millions of sites that are part of GDN, so it’s important to ensure that you are targeting the most appropriate sites and content for your audience base. Although this is a great first step, do not rely solely on it, as you will be disappointed in its inability to work to your advantage. Sure, categorical exclusions help, but they’re hardly a primary solution in a catalog of millions of websites. Their generic nature allows for many sites to slip through the cracks and their category thresholds are nothing short of a mystery –- I mean, who decides what’s bizarre and gross? Perhaps that discussion is best saved for another time.
Here’s what your categorical settings should look like:
Optional Exclusions: Any in-video options and/or live streaming video placements and below-the-fold.
Keyword exclusions will serve as an additional layer and assist in areas that categories may have missed. They can range based on preference and tolerance, like general profanity to more specific themes relating to site content. You can create a general profanity exclusion list that you’re comfortable with or, if you’d like to take it one step further, consider grouping thematic keywords for greater leverage over the content of publisher sites.
There are only a handful of category exclusions, but there are numerous topic exclusions that can serve as a filter for everything that category exclusions will miss.
For example, there are no category exclusions for political sites; however, those related topics do exist and are available for topic exclusion.
If you’d like to find a general theme among the placement you’d like to exclude, go to the Google Display Planner, enter the website(s) that you’d like greater detail on and see which topics it’s associated with:
If there are common topics that the websites you’d like to exclude fit under, you can look for them in the Topics exclusions section to prevent your ads from serving on similar placements.
If you are a low tolerance or direct response-focused advertiser, using managed placements is the most recommended course of action and, while this may limit volume, performance won’t be compromised.
This is the most appropriate action for almost any advertising objective in this day and age. Until there are greater restrictions placed on which sites are eligible to be part of GDN, managed placements/channels are the surest way to protect your brand.
In fact, Chase has recently made a bold move in their display advertising efforts by eliminating the use of automatic placements and relying on managed placements following a thorough vetting process. They went from advertising on over 400,000 placements down to 5,000 with no change in performance, thus proving that, when it comes to GDN, less is more.