Is Your Google Display Remarketing Campaign Struggling Lately? This Sneaky Setting Is Why.

robot fail google ads

google ads machine learning failScenario: You have seen your Google Ads Display Network (GDN) Remarketing campaigns struggling lately. I mean, it seems to be spending well (even too much maybe), but in some weird ad groups with oddly specific audiences set. Alarmingly, your CPA or ROAS has been worse since it started spending more and you haven’t been able to figure out why.

Does this scenario ring a bell? Even if it doesn’t, I’d suggest you cautiously read the following because this impacts all accounts.

If you have been running existing audiences, it appears to us that sometime in the last few months (we observed a spend surge on July 27 as the earliest in our account so far, but have heard of earlier dates from others since releasing this post) Google surged spend to existing GDN Ad Groups with an automatic targeting audience setting that finds users beyond your set audiences shows ads to them as well.

 

The Setting That Has Been, But Now Is

A WORD OF CAUTION: the Display Targeting Expansion Setting is not new, but we are now seeing this setting switched to audience expansion on older audiences that were in place before that audience setting came into being. Again, it appears that the end of July was when something was changed (either in algorithm to more aggressively target expanded audiences. or in importing older ad groups into this setting… we’re unsure) as we saw certain ad groups surge with no other changes until we discovered the setting.

That’s why this is so sneaky, the only way you can find it after the fact is in the Ad Group Settings, by clicking on the small Audience link (see screenshots below).

 

It Can Be Difficult to Catch a Spend Surge From This

To further gum up matters, you also cannot see any spend discrepancies if there *is* a surge in your account simply by monitoring the Audience tab graph or Audience rows… because any spend from automated targeting doesn’t show up in those two places… you know… the two places you monitor to catch sneaky stuff like this!

google display automated targeting

 

A Particular Remarketing Problem

What this does for GDN Remarketing ad groups (specifically those ad groups only targeting Remarketing audiences, or return visitors to the website) is particularly problematic, because it expands your targeting BEYOND return visits to new visitors Google thinks will be a good fit (based on our decreased sales, nope, they aren’t correct. #MachineLearningFail). This is a fairly big deal because at ZATO we segment our audiences by their relative place in the funnel, pulling our return visitors and prospecting visitors so we can serve them different messages, bids, budgets, goal targets, etc. With this setting, it seems to make GDN Remarketing audiences null since the automated targeting expands your ads beyond return visits in your remarketing audience, and into expansion audiences that Google thinks will also convert as well (narrator: “they don’t”).

I’ve just begun hearing people discuss this, and we also found it only recently so I wanted to share it with you to assist anyone we could.

 

How can you tell if your account has been impacted by the Google Ads targeting expansion setting? Click Display Campaigns and then navigate to the bottom of the audiences tab to locate the “Display automatic targeting” row. If your Display campaigns included impressions, clicks, cost, etc data in this row, the targeting expansion setting is mostly likely on in one or all of your Google Display ad groups.

google ads automated display targeting

 

If you happen to want the targeting expansion setting turned on, then by all means ignore these instructions, but for everyone else, here is how you turn it off:

 

STEP 1 – Go to a Display Campaign in your Google Ads account. THIS ONLY IMPACTS DISPLAY CAMPAIGNS.

 

STEP 2 – Choose an Ad Group, THIS IS ONLY AT THE AD GROUP LEVEL.

google display ads targeting expansion

 

STEP 3 – Navigate to Ad Group Settings and click on the “edit ad group targeting” link.

google display ads targeting expansion

 

STEP 4 – Find the Targeting expansion and move the slider to “Off”.

google gdn remarketing targeting setting

 

 

STEP 5 – Update your Ad Groups in the UI, or in Bulk in Editor

EDIT: we have heard from Timothy Jensen, as well as the Shape software team about a possible Google Ads Editor fix that they are seeing working. We had investigated this fix for this post and had seen it showing a disparity between the UI and Editor so hadn’t originally included it, however we believe we have discovered why it doesn’t always work:

What we determined if you see the UI not matching Editor, is you need to set the “Display Network Custom Bid Type” to “Audiences” and that will the set the UI slider to the “Off” position when you set the Google Targeting Optimization to Disabled.  Phew, this is getting complicated!  If anything hopefully this is a good note that you should doublecheck everything, and that this is a messy situation all around.

 

Here are the specific steps for editing in bulk in Editor:

EDITOR BULK EDIT – STEP 1 – Download account into Google Ads Editor.

EDITOR BULK EDIT – STEP 2 – Select All Display Campaigns.

EDITOR BULK EDIT – STEP 3 – Select Ad Groups.

EDITOR BULK EDIT – STEP 4 – Highlight the Ad Groups You Want to Change.

EDITOR BULK EDIT – STEP 5 – Set Targeting optimization option to “Disabled”.

google audience targeting

EDITOR BULK EDIT – STEP 6 – Post Changes and Verify in UI.

(OPTIONAL) EDITOR BULK EDIT – STEP 6 – Set “Display Network custom bid type” to “Audiences” if applicable.

google ads audience targeting in google editor

 

 

 

 

Know when this was implemented or have additional information on it? Let us know and if it’s a great edit, we’ll add it into the post and give you credit.

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