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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

5 Ways to Use Negative Targeting on the Display Network

If you advertise on Search, you should already know how important it is tofind negative keywords – they stop you wasting money by stopping your ads showing on irrelevant searches.

But if you’re on the Display Network, things are a bit trickier. You still want to avoid wasting money showing ads to people who aren’t interested (and you want to avoid unfortunate appearances), but negative keywords don’t work as well. For best results you’ll need to look at all of the negative targeting options.

  • Placements
  • These are websites you exclude. If a placement is a domain, that stops your ad from showing anywhere on that domain (or its subdomains). You can also specify subdomains or subfolders, or even individual pages.

    Unfortunately there isn’t an ‘exact match’ for placements, so you can’t block a site’s homepage while still showing ads on deeper pages.

  • Topics
  • Topics let you exclude swathes of websites according to theme. Google’s categorisation isn’t perfect, but excluding a topic is more powerful than just excluding a keyword or individual site.

    To get an idea of what websites are in a Topic, use the Placement Tool.

  • Categories
  • They aren’t available for positive targeting, but if you scroll down to the Exclusions section of the Display Network tab you’ll see ‘Categories’. If you want to stop your ads appearing on sexually suggestive content or pages about death and tragedy, go here. You can also see how you perform when your ads appear in videos, or on pages with videos, or in games. There are also particular types of website, like forums and parked domains.

So now you know the negative targeting options, how do you work out how to use them? What placements, topics and categories do you exclude?

1. Allow for Ambiguities

Think about what your terms could mean.

Say, for example, you want to sell apples. Think of what the word ‘apple’ can mean: a fruit, a tree that produces that fruit, the company who make iPads, early computers made by said company, the corporation set up by The Beatles, an episode of Star Trek, and many more things.

You can then work out what keywords and Topics are related to these alternative meanings, and exclude them. To continue the apple example, you could exclude Topics like ‘Computers & Electronics > Consumer Electronics’, ‘Arts & Entertainment > Music & Audio’, ‘Arts & Entertainment > TV & Video > TV Shows & Programmes > TV Sci-Fi & Fantasy Shows’.

2. Speculate on Situation

Consider context. Some sites may be about your product, but read by people who have already purchased (although these may be opportunities for cross-selling). Some sites may be purely informational, like dictionaries.

Remember to check performance data before making decisions, as sites may have more than one audience: a ‘how to’ guide might be read by people researching before purchase as well as people needing help with what they already own. People may look up apple pie recipes because they intend to buy apples or because they already have apples they want to use up.

3. Consult the Contextual Targeting Tool

This will give you an idea of what websites Google will show your ads on. You might go for the keyword ‘apple fruit’, but the predicted placements include and which you might not deem relevant to your fruit shop. You can then either use different keywords or continue with ‘apple fruit’ but with the suggested placements as negative placements.

It can also be useful for keyword research, helping you find alternative meanings for your terms or new areas to advertise on. Remember the Wonder Wheel? Turns out the Contextual Targeting Tool uses the same engine.

4. Ponder your Placement Report

This is the most obvious place to look if your Display Network campaign is already up and running. I recommend looking at both domain and URL level. To see the latter: go to the Dimensions tab, view Automatic Placements, then go to the columns settings and make sure it shows URLs.

Don’t just exclude sites without looking at them – see what they’re about. This is another way to find ambiguities.

5. Watch Out For These Websites

Some domains are specialised; some are not. A page in is going to be about travel; a page in could be about anything.

Here are some particular websites or types of websites you should be careful with, because they can cover anything and so could advertise anything.


Newspapers could cover anything – and if your term does appear in a newspaper, it could be in many different contexts.

If a country is mentioned in the News it is likely to be in a different tone than if it appears in the Travel section: if there’s a tragedy it’s more likely to be in the News section. It’s also more likely that someone reading the Travel section will be interested in buying a holiday than if they’re reading about the country’s politics in the News. In some ways newspapers are like several different sites, all with their own angle and audience.

Generally different segments will be in different high level folders: looking at a newspaper’s homepage should give you a good idea what sections they have and what URLs they use. For example, if you wanted to advertisethe Guardian, it has various folders and sub-domains, such as:

  • Television (
  • Travel (
  • Jobs (
  • … and several folders containing News (,, etc).

So if you’re advertising jobs you might want to target just the jobs subdomain, or if you’re advertising DVDs you might want to target just the TV and film sections. If you’re advertising apples you may only want


The problem with YouTube is that you can’t tell anything from a video’s URL.

You could exclude individual videos, but this is often too precise: you can exclude but you’ll still turn up on, and other such videos.

There are placements for YouTube that specify what category the video is, such as ‘ » Entertainment 300×250,Middle right’ and ‘ » Film &Animation 300×250,Middle right’. Look up on the Placement Tool to find these. These can’t be used as negative placements, but you could exclude from your purely contextual targeting ad groups and then have a YouTube only ad group with just the relevant categories as positive placements. handily organises itself into subdomains. A lot of subdomains. There are a mere 11 on video gaming, and around 75 on sports. There’s an alphabetic list here.

If you’re trying to exclude a particular topic, you can look up subdomains by category.

So if you’re advertising apples and want to avoid Apple Inc, you’d look in the Computing and Electronics categories. You’ll want to exclude the subdomains on Macs (, iPhone / iPod ( and iPad ( – but you probably also want the unbranded subdomains like PC Hardware / Reviews ( and Cell Phones (

You might even be better excluding from purely contextual ad groups and having an ad group that only targets the most relevant subdomains.


The Internet Movie Database is all about films, TV, video games and actors – but as films, TV and video games can be about anything it can still stray into your placements.

Scanlation Sites

These are sites hosting translated scans of manga (ie Japanese comics). As there’s usually one page of manga per webpage, people will view many webpages fairly quickly, so there’ll be high impressions. And as manga can be about anything, the ads could be about anything.

You may spot some if you look through your automatic placements for URLs with ‘manga’ in them.

Gmail is a black-box – keywords go in, impressions and clicks go out, but you’ve no idea what happens in-between. You can’t see what emails are causing your ads to trigger, so you can’t tell if your ads are showing on unrelated topics.

It’s generally worth having as a manual placement, so you can lower its bids. If you have it in its own ad group, you can then see keyword level data which may give you some clue what’s going on. Also there are some tactics specifically for Gmail – for example, PPC Hero suggests using keywords matching the subject of standard emails.


When a publisher doesn’t want advertisers to know their site’s details, it will turn up in placement reports as something like You can’t see the actual URL.

While anonymous placements will appear in the Placement Tool’s results, you can’t use the anonymous placement as a search term. So unless someone feels like searching through every category and recording what anonymous placements turn up, you’ve no clue what type of site it is.

All you have to go on are performance data. So feel free to presume that an anonymous site with high impressions and no clicks is irrelevant to your ad, and exclude it.


Moral of the story: advertising apples is harder than you think. And remember to look at all the negative targeting options – placements, topics and categories as well as keywords – to optimise the Display Network.

Have you any tips for Display Network targeting? Any particular sites that turn up again and again in your Placement Report? Did I succeed in Rick Rolling anyone? Share in the comments.

About The Author: Tamsin holds a MPhysPhil Physics and Philosophy degree from Oxford University and works on paid search advertising for SEOptimise. Tamsin contributes to the analysis and optimisation of all paid search accounts, with experience of B2C advertising as well as B2B marketing. Tamsin is a Microsoft Advertising Accredited Professional, has taken the Google Analytics Individual Qualification, and has passed all Google AdWords exams with an average score of over 90%.