Optimising Adwords Display Campaigns Using Exclusion

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Optimising Google Adwords Using Exclusion

Advertising on the Google Display Network (GDN) provides an enticing set of targeting options to Adwords campaign managers. If you aren’t careful, however, you can easily end up displaying your ads to a huge number of people who don’t fit within your target audience.

I have noticed that even the most inexperienced Adwords manager feels comfortable choosing basic targeting settings. What they aren’t so great at is optimising their campaigns using exclusion strategies.

This post, then, will focus on Google Adwords display ad campaigns that aren’t being aggressively managed (managed according to Adwords parlance is where you choose each placement manually). A start broad, then whittle down approach if you will.

I hope to give you a few ideas that you can immediately implement to improve your own Adwords display campaigns.

The 3 exclusion types that I will focus upon are: placements, topics and demographics. These are found under the Display Network tab in any display campaign.

Google Adwords Placements Topics Demographics

We will see that getting the basics right doesn’t take much effort, once you know where to look.

Campaign placement exclusions

Quick reminder: a placement is a website, page, video or app where your ads may appear. This doesn’t include the Adwords search network, of course.

To find the place where you can exclude placements, look under the Display Network, then Placements tab (see below).

Google Adwords Display Network Placements


You will find that down on the left-hand side there is a section titled ‘Campaign placement exclusions’.

This is the first place where you may find yourself making exclusion decisions for your display campaigns. This is especially true when targeting placements using keywords (you’ll be surprised by some of the automatic placements that appear in your reports).

When you find that certain websites are not suitable, or simply not performing, you should add them as a placement exclusion. This ensures that your ads will no longer display on those websites.

You can exclude placements in two ways:

  1. As an exclusion for a given campaign.
  2. Add the placement (website) to an exclusion list, which can be reused by other campaigns.

I find that placement exclusion lists (option 2 above) are most useful since many websites that you determine to be of little use for one campaign will be just as ineffective for others. I then use the campaign level, one-off exclusions if a given campaign needs more precision or has unique exclusion requirements.

Below you can see that I have excluded an entire list of placement websites. I have titled the list ‘Excluded From All Display Campaigns‘ since this is my master list of excluded placements for this client.

Google Adwords Campaign Placements Exclusions


I update this list regularly to ensure display campaigns are kept well targeted.

Site category options

You can make changes to the ‘site category options’ on any Display Network sub-tab apart from the Summary tab.

Below you can see a number of site categories that I often exclude in client accounts since these categories are not at all suitable. Those I have highlighted in purple are rarely of any use for organisations interested in protecting their brand’s reputation.

Google Adwords Site Category Options


Some of these categories may suit your campaigns and tactics, and that’s fine. But I would warn against using the highlighted ones simply to increase ad impressions, even for remarketing campaigns.

Using the site category options to exclude placements is a great way to reduce low value impressions, while also increasing your click-through rate (CTR).

Topic exclusions

In Adwords, topics are broad buckets that group placements in general themes. While we are talking about exclusions here, topics can be great for targeting large groups of placements for broad reach campaigns.

Below you can see 37 topics being excluded (they are the ones on the right-hand side).

Google Adwords Campaign Topics


One thing to note about topics is that a parent topic is more than the sum of its child topics. This is because some placements don’t fit into a sub-category, but are within the broader parent category.

Once saved you will see the current list of excluded topics.

Google Adwords Campaign Excluded Topics


Topic exclusions are one of my favourite ways to cut down the number of websites eligible to show my client’s ads. I find news websites exceedingly wasteful of ad budgets.

Demographic exclusions

At present Google Adwords has very few demographic settings that you can use to manipulate ad targeting. Gender, parental status and a handful of age groups are it.

The image below shows a campaign with three age groups excluded.

Google Adwords Campaign Demographics Overview


As we know, every campaign has it’s own demands. However, I often find benefit in excluding certain age brackets from seeing display campaign ads. This works well for remarketing campaigns too.

Here’s an example: you may be promoting a product that is of interest to (among others) the 18-24 age bracket. But if this product is only every purchased by older generations, perhaps because of the high price, then it pays to exclude the younger, non-converting age groups to stop them from chewing up your budget.

Using campaign exclusions together

Putting all of the ideas mentioned above together is a powerful way of keeping your grip on your targeting and budget.

Unless you are targeting a very tight list of managed placements, mixing campaign settings in this way is almost mandatory for an Adwords expert.

You can always see a summary of the exclusion settings that you currently have in place (see below). This is handy for obsessive compulsive worrying types!

Google Adwords Campaign Exclusions Overview


Once you have refined your settings and found a way to target your audience within your return on ad spend (ROAS) targets, you can then look at increasing or decreasing bids for maximum efficiency.

Turning on the autopilot

One easy way to remove non-performing placements is by using automated rules. This approach is little bit short sighted but it does the job just fine.

My criticisms aside, automated rules can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. For example, you could create a rule that pauses any placement that has over 5000 impressions with 0 clicks.

Google Adwords Pause Placements


This will pause a placement, however it won’t add it to any exclusion lists that you may be curating. This is one of the reasons why I prefer using lists.

These rules can be applied to ad groups and keywords in the same way.


Tweaking Google Adwords campaign settings are a daily function for Adwords consultants. Display campaigns have their own quirks and the optimal settings change from campaign to campaign.

Monitor your results. Let the data guide you.

There are numerous tools used by professionals such as myself to manage client accounts that improve our efficiency. You may choose to try them yourself. Either way, human intelligence should always oversee automation.

If you would prefer to put all this into the hands of an Adwords certified consultant then get in contact with me.