February 9, 2017 | Sarah Danks

Are Your Ads Showing Up on Controversial Websites?

We’ve run into a fairly unique situation here recently involving a couple of our PPC clients: last week, within 24 hours of each other we received notifications that our clients’ banner ads were appearing on Breitbart News.

Our clients were very concerned that their name was showing up on a controversial 3rd-party website. But how were these ads showing up there in the first place?

Well, with standard display advertising ads, your ads don’t show up everywhere; they show up on websites related to what you’re promoting, and you choose where they display.

However, with remarketing, your reach is opened up to EVERYONE in the Google Display Network because you’re following people around after they’ve been added into a retargeting pool.

Remarketing Ads Follow Site Visitors…
…Everywhere They Go*

*Well, everywhere within the Google Display Network, of course!

In the case of our concerned clients, it was their remarketing ads that were showing up on the far-right website; not their standard ads. Said clients were each notified by an online group that’s evidently bent on identifying advertisers who’re spending money on politically “controversial” sites and alerting them…

…but of course when you’re remarketing, your ads are following your site visitors where they go; ipso facto the ads were simply showing up on a website that the remarketing visitor went to voluntarily.

Regardless, our clients were concerned — they didn’t want their brands associated with any type of political sites, controversial or not.

To that end, we set about righting the situation (har har) to ensure their remarketing ads won’t show up on those types of sites again — even if the targeted visitors do visit them.

Limiting Remarketing Ad Reach

Just as you can choose which sites your standard display ads can appear on, you have the ability to block your remarketing pool from seeing ads on specific sites or genres of sites.

I’d assume that, like us, most marketers want to get back in front of their (potential) customers wherever they’re wandering about on the web, so they don’t use this feature. Well, they don’t use it until their clients become nervous about their brand appearing on websites with which they don’t want to be associated.

So, how do you exclude your ads from 3rd-party websites that’re “iffy” in terms of subject matter?

Block Certain Websites on GDN

There are four ways to block ads from showing on websites within the Google Display Network right in AdWords:

  1. Keyword
  2. Topic
  3. Site category
  4. Placement (specific domain)

You can use one of these options to keep ads from showing, or for better control, use multiple to be sure you’ve covered your bases.

Block by Keyword

To block ads from showing on web pages using the keywords option, simply type in your keywords to exclude them:

As long as any of those words show up on a certain web page, your ad will not if you’ve selected them here.

Block by Topic

Google automatically lumps websites into topics if they’ve opted into the Display Network. To ban your ads from showing on sites by topic, choose from a myriad of options:

When using this exclusion method, you have to trust that Google’s accurately labeled the websites within; I’d say it’s pretty accurate.

Block by Site Category

Similar to the topics option, excluding by category allows you to effectively prevent your ads from showing on websites that’ve been placed into specific categories by Google:

This method is neat because instead of just choosing by category, you can choose by type of “site” — i.e., do you want to show up on forums or not? Location on the page? Etc.

Block by Placement

The most focused way to keep ads off of certain sites is, well, by excluding them from those specific domains:

This is the most time-consuming way to manage your ads and where they show, but it’s also extremely effective — of course you have to know beforehand which websites you don’t want to show up on before you can start typing them in.

You can’t possibly know every single website on the planet you want to be excluded from, so you can’t really use this option effectively unless you have a list in hand.

In the case of our clients, we already had two websites to add because they’d already shown up there.

Brand Protection & Perception: Saved

Obviously all this is specific to AdWords and the Google Display Network; something similar can be done in Bing with those ads, too.

See, PPC and remarketing isn’t just about getting the conversion, it’s also imperative to protect your brand — whether that means only showing up on certain sites or staying off others.

It’ll be different for every business, so the best way to figure it out is to have that discussion with your clients up front (in our case, it had never happened before so we dealt with it immediately upon learning of the situation).

So, there you have it — four ways to block your brand from showing on sites you absolutely do NOT want them to appear on:

  • by placement
  • by categories
  • by topics
  • by keywords

Use these exclusion options in AdWords for your clients’ brand protection and brand perception as their ads retarget potential customers.

Happy remarketing! We’d love to hear some of your stories of exclusion or what sites your ads have show up on that maybe were a tad controversial…








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