A Closer Look on Google’s Display Placements

If you are running ads on Google Display Network you’d better check the placements where your ads are shown. You might be wasting precious budget on spam.

It seems to me that there are a lot of situations where website owners make a lot of money with AdSense running on crappy websites that doesn’t offer any kind of value. How is that possible? After all, Google keeps informing us about the new AI solutions in their Google Ads product. So how come they don’t classify those pages as “spam” or “bad”, and stop those placements wasting your budgets? I do not believe that.

Building quality measures for display placements

There are some KPIs that can be directly used out of the Google reports for your display placements:

  • Cost per Order: Normally you’ll need some sample size to deduce results from your CPOs. To get a larger sample size, you’ll need to pay for some hundred clicks per placement. If you think about over 100.000 placements, it will be quite expensive.
  • CTR: You can identify bad placements by checking your CTR. It even works with a small amount of impressions but you should manually check those placements that have a CTR that is too good to be true.

Let’s enrich those KPIs with some data outside the Google reports. For this we use some approaches that analyzes the placement domain:

  • ads.txt available/not available: This is a great source of information. If a placement is not providing an ads.txt file you should have a closer look. I found funny examples where the website owners where very creative to avoid regex parsing of their publisher-ID out of the website source code.
  • website made for AdSense only: Google makes it very easy to apply for AdSense program, even with a thin content site. This is completely different for other networks. We use the identified networks in the ads.txt as a quality metric – websites with just AdSense should get a detailed look.
  • the number of ad slots: We search in the source code of the website for the ad slot IDs and count them. You all know those examples of websites that are full with ads. Probably a placement you should set as negative.
  • content quality: A mix of counting unique words and total words gives you a good fingerprint of the website. Be careful with thin websites with a lot of keyword stuffing.
  • use the publisher-ID network: We had a look on a lot of placements and started to identify networks of websites that share the same publisher IDs. If you catch one bad placement, you can also block a lot of others. Off topic: If you search for SEO niches that are monetizing with AdSense this is a very good method for analyzing some very smart approaches out there.

When you put all mentioned approaches together, you will have something like this for your daily work, that helps you to label negative placements but also discover some interesting placements that should be added as managed:

Placement examples where Google has “no clue” that your budget is wasted

Build a serious website that offers a tool, converter, etc. Put some nice content on the website with system requirements and such, so the user will feel that he wants to download/test this tool. Now flood your website with ads that use the call to actions of the responsive display ads saying “Download”, “Start”, etc. and keep them in the same styling like your website elements. You are right Google – this is no fraud but it is obvious what is happening here.

Seems to work pretty well – have a look at the connected domains over the publisher IDs now:

same layout, same pattern
same same

Even when you use pay for conversions (e.g. for starting a trial software version) you are paying a lot of money for those placements because a lot of users will download and start your software searching for the button for starting the file conversion. 🙂

Final thoughts

  • If you use automated placements, you have to review the placement domains continuously. Even when you use pay for conversions on soft conversions you probably will waste budget.
  • In this blogpost I only mentioned the bad placements – with the same KPIs you can also identify and add new quality managed placements.
  • There seem to be a lot of placements out there that never ever will drive SEO traffic (where they get the traffic from is a different story). A good approach is to search for valid placements that also rank in Google for your money keywords. For scalability think of a process fetching the SERPs for your top 10000 keywords and scraping each of the websites and look for an ads.txt file with Google AdSense.

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