GDN Placement Optimization

Tired of wasting budget on spam? Detect and optimize display placements at scale.

One of the most important success factors in Google Display is the optimization of the placements where your ads are shown. But it seems that Google Display Network is also full of spammy websites. Blocking them and having quality placements on websites that provide great content and value will help you drive quality traffic and increase conversions.


In my opinion you should use both possible targeting options. Let’s look at the benefits and challenges of both approaches.

Automated Placements in GDN

You can start right away with automated placements. If you have some learning budget this is a great way to get some numbers for different placements. Important: Spend a lot of time for reviewing the placements right away. Don’t wait for bad ROIs and watch out for CTRs that are a way above average. Check how the website is looking like and block them if they share that typical spam pattern.

Managed Placements in GDN

Add well performing, quality websites as managed placements to your campaign! You will find them for example within your automated placements but also in your retargeting display campaigns. This should be the biggest part of your display traffic. However this is a long running process and you have to waste a lot of your budget for bad placements to discover the good ones.


In theory the process of running automated placements and separate them into good and bad ones sounds good. In reality it is a lot of work when you spend a lot of money in Google Display Network. First I want to talk about the challenges we are facing.

Low sample sizes for many placements

When you just look at conversions you need some hundred clicks before you have a stable conversion rate. A good proxy is to look at high CTRs. But then there are thousands of placements with a few impressions and clicks where CTR can not be considered as stable. So we can’t run actions on these observations.

Every day a new (bad) placement

It is like running a generic broad match keyword in search network and you try to find negative keywords. Your traffic is full of noise. The same is true for GDN and its placements. When doing this manually this is a lot of work. At one point I realized that the only possible way is doing this in an automated way.

There are not only bad and good placements

Sometimes it is hard to make a decision. Block the placement forever? It some cases it will be a difficult decision – and they cost you time. In my opinion a scalable solution has to classify the GDN placements based on estimated traffic quality. We do not make a decision that lasts forever but we are able to spend your budgets on placements where the expected traffic quality is higher.

  • When sample size is not enough the way to go is to some additional attributes we can derive from the placement. Some of them you can create right away by applying some excel functions. For others we need a scripting language like Python.

Group by top level domain

Take for example .com domains and compare them to the rest. You will realize right away that there is a huge gap in performance. Exotic top level domains with too good to be true Click-Through-Rates and bad conversions rates can be moved to a low quality bucket.

Does the name contains a number?

The simplest way is to compare two groups of placements – one with numbers the other one without. In all accounts I have seen the CTRs of “contains number” placements was significant higher. I think the reason is that some publishers have hundreds of (bad) placements and it is very easy to add some numbers to your domain to find an available name.

How long is the domain name?

Longer domain names have higher CTRs. I think the reason is similar to adding numbers to your domain name. At some point you struggle to find a domain name for your website. Taking a longer domain name helps in the same way like adding numbers.

  • The 3 attributes above will improve your placement performance significantly. They are easy to build in Excel with some functions and using pivot tables. Don’t be afraid of running actions based on your numbers: By just bucketing placements a wrong decision can be corrected later.
  • When you are spending a big budget in display you are probably willing to go one step further. If you are able to hack around in Python this is the part you are waiting for. You will make huge gains in Google Display optimization when you enrich the placement domain with additional information.

Lookup the IP Address of the placement

If you are a publisher that runs hundreds of websites you have to look at the costs. For that reason you will find a lot of spammy placements that share the same IP Address. Grouping your placements by IP address will give you some new insights.

Where is the placement located?

The top level domain does not tell you where the placements is located. By knowing the IP Address you can look up the country where the server is located.

What is the hosting provider?

If you are a high quality website you will probably choose a good hosting provider. On the other hand – when you have a large network of websites you will probably choose a cost efficient hoster.

Does the placement only run Adsense?

A lot of GDN placements would never pass the quality control of other display networks. This is also a great perspective for analyzing the placements. AdSense only websites will have a lot more fraud patterns.

How many ad slots are found on the website?

Do you know the websites that are full of ads all over the place and you have trouble clicking somewhere without hitting an ad? Counting the ad slots per page is a great attribute to look at.

Is it a thin content website?

What is the total word count per placements – what is the ratio when you compare it to the number of unique words? Websites with keyword stuffing or thin content will more likely be spam.


If you want to start right away with high quality managed placements this approach is a perfect fit for you. It works well if you know your most important keywords your target group is searching.

Scrape SERPs for your keywords

If websites rank in organic search google has very strict quality assurance – none of those spammy placements would have a chance to rank.

Check domains for AdSense

To get some share of the valuable traffic take the ranking pages – check whether AdSense is available or not – and add it as managed placement if possible.

Hypertarget on page level

Using the full domain as a target will provide results but there’s a more accurate way to optimize placements. For better results, also consider the full URL as a target that is ranking for your relevant keywords.