Brad Geddes / PPC Geek
Official Google Ads Seminar Leader.
Author of Advanced Google AdWords.
Co-Founder, Adalysis.
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Brad Geddes's Theories on Marketing 3 Ways Topic Targeting Can Improve Your Display Advertising

3 Ways Topic Targeting Can Improve Your Display Advertising

Google AdWords has a feature known as topic targeting. This feature allows you to target topics and not necessarily placements or keywords across the Google Display Network.

If you just use topic targeting, you will usually receive a lot of impressions; but not necessarily a lot of conversions. It is fantastic for reaching a large number of people; but targeting on just topics is fairly broad.

However, you can use topic targeting in conjunction with other AdWords features to improve your content advertising performance.

Fixing the Multi-Intent Keyword Problem

There are some words that have very different user intents. Often these words are in completely different topics. Using topic targeting along with keywords can help refine your ad serving so that your ads are only shown to those you wish to target.

For instance, if you are selling Bleach you often have a problem with targeting. There is a Japanese show named Bleach. Bleach is also used for laundry. Using the keyword ‘bleach’ is not very useful.

If you are selling Bleach DVDs (the Japanese show), you might think that words such as ‘Bleach DVD” would not be displayed on bleach cleaning sites as why would someone buy a DVD about doing laundry?

The problem is that Clorox did a large promotion with the TV show Mad Men so there are plenty of sites that mention Clorox, Bleach, and DVDs when talking about laundry.

There are many cases like this where it is almost impossible to have both a large display reach and have that reach targeted.

Enter topic targeting.

To fix this problem, you can create your display campaign as usual with keywords and ad copy. Next, navigate to the topic tab and add the categories that are relevant to your topic – in this case it would be Comics and Animation.


In addition, you can have negative topics. If you wanted to ensure that your ads were not displayed on pages associated with cleaning supplies, you can also add those categories as negative topics.

Before you are finished, you need to make sure Google is limiting your ad serving based upon topics. Navigate to your campaign settings and make sure your ads are only being displayed on ‘Relevant pages only on the placements, audiences, and topics I manage’.


Once you have followed those steps, your ads should be displayed more appropriately to an audience that is interested in the Japanese show and not to those doing laundry.

Finding More Inventory On High Traffic Sites

According to Double Click adPlanner, the New York Times has 540 million pages views per month. Very few people would want to buy ads across that entire site. However, with AdWords you could buy ads just in the travel section, which would narrow down your impressions to about 10,000 per day. If you sold airline tickets, you could also input some keywords about air travel so that your ads are only shown on the New York Times travel section when the article is about airline tickets.

While that can be nice targeting to a small to mid-sized account; it ignores too much inventory for a large account. There are articles in the business section about travel where you would want your ads to show.

This is another place topic targeting can help.

Using placements and keywords together is fantastic targeting; however, often keywords can narrow down your inventory too much due to Google’s theme matching. Using topics with placements can help to find a larger set of relevant inventory on a placement.

To set up placement plus topic targeting, follow all of the steps in previous example except when it’s time to choose keywords – choose placements instead.

Remarket Only To People Interested in Your Topic

Remarketing is an effective way of brining people back to your website. However, what commonly happens is that a user is sent a link from a friend or an outside source and visits an article on your blog,  looks at a product for a friend, or was just curious about a product and has no intention of buying.

However, since they were on your site – they have a remarketing cookie on their browser so you show them lots of ads regardless of the site they are on. These types of scenarios lead to accounts having 100,000 impressions and 4 clicks from their remarketing campaigns.

If you only wanted to show your ad when someone was on a site about your topics; you can combine remarketing with topics.

This can help you reach users only when they are researching a product or service that you offer, and you will not show ads every time they are on a page in the display network.

To accomplish this targeting, follow all of the steps listed in the first example, but instead of adding keywords – add a remarketing list.

Please note: I would not always recommend using topics and remarketing in this way. There are many reasons to show your ads to someone regardless of the site they are currently visiting. This is a technique that some will find useful and others will not.


Topic targeting by itself can drive lots of traffic to your site. However, most people do not have the budget nor the desire, to advertise at the category level.

If you are having problems reaching your market due to multiple keyword intents, topic targeting can help.

If you like using remarketing, but your budget is small, topic targeting can improve your ad serving.

If you want more inventory, but still want it to be relevant, topic targeting with placements is a good combination.

Of course, if you just want lots of semi-targeting impressions, you can use topic targeting by itself to serve your ads on a large variety of sites.

The most effective AdWords accounts place some restrictions around their ad serving. Topic targeting is one of those restrictions you can use to improve your ad serving, which should help increase your account’s profits.

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