Introducing the PPC Ponderings Podcast. Delivering a thoughtful, investigative take on key PPC themes. Learn More.
Kirk Williams

Mobile App Exclusions in Google AdWords - UPDATED Details and Silver Lining

Mobile App Exclusions in Google AdWords - UPDATED Details and Silver Lining

10/25/19 UPDATE: Hello Facebook Agency Visitor Person!  We’re delighted to have you visit this awesome post. About a year ago, ZATO stopped offering Facebook Ads solutions so we could focus solely on what we do best: Google Ads. Because of this, we’re always interested in partnerships with great Social Advertising agencies (like yourself, wink wink!) and we offer referral fees for signed clients!  Anyway, back to it, and happy reading…

Smart Shopping Training by PPCKirk

Psssst, hey! Want to keep learning about Smart Shopping? Check out PPCKirk’s Udemy course, jam-packed with 5 hours of exhaustive content on everything from feed tips, to SSC structure, and ad creative recommendations. It’s the kind of thing people pay lots and lots of money for, but we’re selling it for $69.99. It also comes with exclusive access to a private Shopping Ads Facebook group where you can discuss Shopping Ads with your classmates, and get questions answered directly by Kirk himself. Grab the course now!

UPDATED POST: August 3, 2018

I'd love to not have to make this update, but we have some news here from Google. Read the whole thing though for my hot take at the end. Let's try to find the silver lining here!

First: Mobile Apps Are Now Opted Into the GDN on Mobile/Tablet Devices

This is where we rip the band-aid off. Google recently sent an email that caused confusion inside and out. ZATO's Google rep originally told us one thing, then when we noted the confusion, they did some more digging and came back correcting themselves. This has been a confusing release!

However, the final word is beginning to trickle out consistently now and that is this:

(1) You can no longer exclude to exclude the app network from your GDN campaigns.

(2) You will no longer be able to de-select the apps option in the device settings (pictured below).

google ads gdn mobile apps exclusion

(3) UPDATE August 2018: There is a new way to exclude All (most, the jury is still out) Apps and that is by excluding all app categories in bulk, you can do so with our easy to follow steps here:

How to Exclude 141 Mobile App Categories in Google Ads (the Easy Way)

Here is the original email release from Google that started it:

google ads email on mobile device changes for gdn apps

Second: Here's the potential silver lining

Finally, here's my hot-take on it.  I have two thoughts.

Thought #1: Gut Reaction

(and the one you would expect me to have if you know how advertisers have been reacting to this as a whole), and that is that Google is making this decision for the sake of lining their coffers and that lining will undoubtedly come primarily from ignorant advertisers here (those who don't know this is happening). It's a pretty easy move, a simple switch and all of us will be spending lots more money on the GDN since "users are spending the majority of their mobile phone time in their apps" (words from my Google rep).

Google is identifying that they are risking mobile ad revenue loss as people shift to apps, and they want to be part of that. From a business perspective, it does make sense. Whether it will long-term be beneficial to advertisers remains to be seen, though the App Category exclusions will be immensely helpful here.I am also frustrated as a Google advertiser, because I believe this will further hurt Google's and the GDN’s brands long-term (“we tried the GDN, it didn’t work” is about to be heard more).

I.e., I think good PPCers can make the best of this (see below), though that doesn’t mean I agree with Google's decision to force globally, rather than educate over time of the value of apps on the GDN. I think Google would claim they had educated about “value of apps” to GDN advertisers over the last 1-2 years… but in all reality that's a short-time to shift the thinking of an entire industry. Leading with app exclusions as an option would have been a good first step.

Thought #2: Silver-Lining.

Here's where I've been contemplating a few things. While I'm not happy about that SAAS company with a $100K product being shown on CandyCrush, we also don't want our ads to show on dumb GDN placements... so is the GDN really *that* different in audience intent than apps (the right kind of apps)?

To me the silver-lining is that we have a massive load of inventory that just opened up to us which should (could? hopefully? Please oh please?) force CPCs down. In that regard, the smart advertiser may be able to do some digging, find some app categories layered on with their audiences and get some ridic-u-cheap traffic.  I think that's so important I'm going to say it again:

This change may be that the smart advertiser can do some digging, find some good app categories layered on with their other demographic targets, and get ridic-u-cheap traffic accomplishing their goal of getting in front of TOFU (top of funnel) visitors at low cost. Isn't that what audience targeting is all about?

Hmmmmm... what if, (dang it) this really isn't a bad change over time once the dust settles and the targeting improves as it naturally will?My thoughts.  Either way, make sure you are ready for September, and if you're unsure, you can always opt your GDN campaigns out of mobile and tablet in the meantime until you figure out your strategy.

ORIGINAL POST: January 11, 2017

Do you remember those old Staples commercials where they would set up a complicated scenario, long for an easier way to make it through the scenario, and then push the "Easy Button" to make it happen in a second? It's really a great take on meeting business needs, and the ads were always well done!

I've often referenced these ads in longing for some sort of simple fix in Google AdWords, and finally, that moment has arrived in the form of mobile app exclusions!It's long been known around the PPC community that advertising on mobile devices means your target demographic basically became fat-fingered, finger-mashing toddlers (my own children have cost app advertisers millions of dollars, or something), so we've often noted that it is worth excluding all mobile apps from your GDN campaigns.

baby adwords app meme

The problem is, that it's not remotely intuitive, especially for someone not in the know. You had to find this random website (, I still have to look it up to make sure I spell it correctly... 7 years later), and then exclude it from every campaign. Oh for the day when there would be an easy button upon campaign setup for this.Joy upon joys, hallelujah upon hallelujahs, that day has arrived!

Step by Step for excluding Mobile Apps in your Google AdWords campaign... the easy way!

There is now an option in your GDN campaign settings tab for deselecting mobile apps. Follow these steps for this Easy Button of App Exclusions:

(1) Ensure your GDN campaign is set to "All Features" in the Settings Tab in a campaign view.

AdWords display remarketing campaigns all features

(2) Navigate to the "Device: target device types..." option at the bottom of the Settings Tab.

Google AdWords Display Campaign Device Settings

Then you will see this:

Google AdWords Display Campaign Device Settings

(4) Now, deselect both App Options from Mobile AND Tablet (make sure to get both!!).

Google AdWords Display Campaign Mobile App Exclusions

And don't forget the tablets!!

Google AdWords Display Campaign Tablet App Exclusions

(5) (Optional) Consider still excluding anyway...

My friend Julie on Twitter warned that she is still seeing some traffic. This is still anew feature that something could have either been missed in implementation or Google's application of the settings. Whatever the issue, she is correct that being overly cautious here is not a bad thing, so go ahead and still exclude the from the campaign placements!First find the Placements tab in your GDN campaign view:

Google AdWords Display Campaigns Placement Tab

Then scroll to the bottom and select the "Exclusions" option:

Placement Exclusions in Google AdWords

Then finally, add in as a campaign level exclusion (or use a Shared Placement list of course!):

Google AdWords Display Campaigns Placement Exclusions

Hope this was a helpful exercise. I'm excited about changes that help us all get better at AdWords together!Was this post helpful? Please share it on your favorite Social site (or just push that little RT button below... c'mon, you know you want to...).

Ever longed for an @adwords Easy Button to exclude Mobile Apps in your GDN campaigns? It’s here! Details: #ppcchat

— Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk) January 11, 2017

Kirk Williams
Owner & Chief Pondering Officer

Kirk is the owner of ZATO, his Paid Search & Social PPC micro-agency of experts, and has been working in Digital Marketing since 2009. His personal motto (perhaps unhealthily so), is "let's overthink this some more."  He even wrote a book recently on philosophical PPC musings that you can check out here: Ponderings of a PPC Professional.

He has been named one of the Top 25 Most Influential PPCers in the world by PPC Hero 5 years in a row (2016-2020), has written articles for many industry publications (including Shopify, Moz, PPC Hero, Search Engine Land, and Microsoft), and is a frequent guest on digital marketing podcasts and webinars.

Kirk currently resides in Billings, MT with his wife, six children, books, Trek Bikes, Taylor guitar, and little sleep.

Kirk is an avid "discusser of marketing things" on Twitter, as well as an avid conference speaker, having traveled around the world to talk about Paid Search (especially Shopping Ads).  Kirk has booked speaking engagements in London, Dublin, Sydney, Milan, NYC, Dallas, OKC, Milwaukee, and more and has been recognized through reviews as one of the Top 10 conference presentations on more than one occasion.

You can connect with Kirk on Twitter, and Linkedin, or follow his marketing song parodies on TikTok.

Continue reading

Find what you're looking for here: