Pulling Ads from Google: Smart Move or PR Stunt?


Recent headlines and Tweetstorms about Google ads—specifically ads on the Display Network and YouTube—appearing alongside potentially offensive domains or videos have caused an increasing number of globally recognized brands to pull their whole Google advertising budget. Take Pepsi, the latest domino to fall, for example; they “just pulled all ads from Google and YouTube.”

removing ads from gdn and youtube

While this creates the illusion that these brands are doing “the right thing,” it’s little more than an ill-informed, feel-good PR stunt.

Here’s some potentially shocking information: Google is a search engine, a smart advertising company, and a bastion of innovation. It is not a moral compass.

As such, there are websites on the Google Display Network and videos on YouTube that may very well offend or upset some people. It makes sense for Google to cast as wide a net as possible: a broader network of websites running AdSense and videos bookended or interrupted by ads means more revenue. Inevitably, this net will scoop up driftwood, garbage, and the occasional body part. 

However, since advertisers pay for clicks or impressions, and Google cares about its customers continuing to pump billions per annum into advertising, it behooves Google to give advertisers some measure of control over where their ads are shown.

In fact, these controls have existed for some time now; you just have to know where to find them.

By simply dropping all of their Google ad spend on principle, these brands are going to lose out on valuable advertising opportunities that, for the most part, would have had limited affiliation with any kind of offensive content. For “limited” to become “zero,” all it takes is an understanding of negative placements and content exclusions.

How to Prevent Your Ads from Appearing on Offensive Content

If you feel there are websites or YouTube channels that don’t align with your brand, you can eliminate them from your campaigns with ease.

Here’s how.

Google Display Network: Negative Placements

 display network campaign ad exclusions

There are two ways to eliminate websites that trade in offensive content from your GDN advertising strategy. The first involves making sweeping changes to the types of website eligible to display your ads using “Site Category Options.” The second involves curating a list of custom placements that you’ll add as campaign-level exclusions.

The easy, catch-all way

You, too, can cast a wide net.

By using site category exclusions, you can negate websites that Google has identified as fitting into one or multiple categories from your Display campaigns. You can find this option at the bottom of the Display Network’s “Placements” tab.

display network site category exclusions 

While this isn’t going to eliminate all potentially offensive websites, content, and placements that your banner creative might appear near, it’s an excellent start.

The #granular way

If you already know there are specific websites you’d like to avoid, there’s no need to leave their exclusion to chance.

excluding display network placements 

Negating specific website is like the bizarro version of Managed Placements. All you need to do is enter a single site (or list of them) in the field depicted above and Google will stop showing your ads there. You can leverage placement exclusions across all Display and Remarketing campaigns, ensuring your ads avoid any content that exists in opposition of your brand’s mission.

YouTube: Content Exclusions Settings

Today, the ability to control the types of videos your ads are shown on is more limited that the controls available to advertisers on the GDN; per Google, that’s going to change soon (more on that in a moment).

youtube ad content exclusions 

For now, advertisers making use of pre-and-midroll creative can adjust their content exclusion settings from the default, “all content except mature and unlabeled content” to the more discerning “all content except mature, unlabeled, and sensitive subjects.”

Again, this isn’t a perfect solution; it’s ostensibly the YouTube version of site category exclusions.

Coming soon though…

Google’s New Expanded safeguards

Starting in Mid-March, Google rolled out a suite of advertiser-focused measures they’re calling them “Expanded Safeguards.”

Per Google, these changes will make it easier for advertisers to control when and where their ads are served. Google aims to establish a “safer default for brands,” adjusting automatic settings to make site and YouTube channel exclusions easier. This means companies can balance morality and business growth without feeling compromised.

In relation to video specifically, there’s talk of tightening safeguards and making it easier for advertisers to eliminate offensive content placements. Google’s also taking a hard look at what kind of content (paid or otherwise) should be allowed to exist on YouTube.

It’s also worth noting that brands can opt into the original, broader audiences if they choose.

Mark’s Take: Eliminate Bad Placements, Not You AdWords Account

When the first wave of advertiser backlash began back in November, our resident data scientist Mark Irvine wrote about excluding ads from certain sites. When asked to touch on brands pulling their ad spend from Google, here’s what he had to say:

 “A few months ago we began to notice that clients became more selective in how they bought programmatic ads. Before November, our clients didn’t think twice about their ads appearing across 1 million different sites (in fact, that was considered a value prop). Over the past few month, though, about 40% of our clients have asked about removing different controversial sites and content categories from their targeting. Google’s ad inventory is large enough that removing 1 domain or one category of domains doesn’t strictly limit your reach on the platform nor does it reduce spend.”

In short, the GDN and YouTube are so large that eliminating one or even a whole industry’s worth of websites and video will have no discernable impact on your advertising.

In Conclusion

If you implement negative placements and content exclusions, you can continue using AdWords with a clear conscious and without passing on valuable prospects and brand-building opportunities. No gestural morality needed.

Moving forward, Google’s promise to provide more in-depth reporting on video ads. They’re developing tools and throwing money behind new measures to improve their ability to identify questionable content, and escalation procedures to fix issues that slip through the cracks in “less than a few hours.”

About the Author

Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Data is distinct information that is formatted in a special way. Data exists in a variety of forms, like text on paper or bytes stored in electronic memory.

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Why Building Relationships with Your Employees Is Better Than Just Managing Them


By creating strong relationships with your staff members, you’ll build a better workforce and develop bonds that will help you and your business be a success.

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Google adds rich results for podcasts to SERPs


On its Developers blog, Google stealthily launched some new guidelines for structured data to bring rich results for podcasts to search results.

To date, this is only available via Google Home or the Google Search app v6.5 or higher on Android devices, but support for Chrome on Android is coming soon. 

This was first noted over on Search Engine Roundtable, and Google provided an image to show how this will look in practice:

Podcasts can be indexed and embedded in results, which could be a particularly useful functionality for Google Home and smartphones.

The example above shows just how much SERP real estate can be occupied when this is implemented correctly. An embedded podcast player within the search results also means users won’t even need to click through to a landing page to listen to an episode.

How can I get my podcasts indexed?

The first stage to achieving this is to get podcasts indexed, and Google has provided very clear and thorough guidelines on how to do this:

  • Expose a valid RSS feed describing the podcast that conforms to the RSS 2.0 specifications as well as the feed requirements described below.
  • The feed must contain at least one episode that conforms to the requirements given on this page.
  • The podcast must have a dedicated homepage with the elements described below. The homepage must have a <link> pointing to your RSS feed.
  • The homepage, the RSS feed, and any non-blocked audio files must be exposed to Googlebot; that is, they must not require a login, and must not be protected by robots.txt or <noindex> tags.

Adding Structured Data for Podcasts

Structured data implementation can lead to increased SERP presence and click-through rate, but it also provides search engines with valuable guidance when they crawl your content.

The full list of required tags required within a podcast’s RSS feed is provided in Google’s post and it includes the following:

Tags must be added at both a podcast- and episode-level within the RSS feed in order to show up via rich results. This is an essential consideration and is one that will need a bit of extra time from developers on an ongoing basis.

We can surmise from these elements and the zebra podcast example provided by Google that the typical structure of a podcast listing will therefore look as follows:

Are brands taking advantage of this yet?

These are very early days for this feature, but I have conducted a number of searches via the Google Search app in the US for a range of podcasts and have yet to see this live.

However, Google has been quite surreptitious about this recent release, and it will take some time for brands to implement the requisite changes too.

Nonetheless, support for Chrome on Android is coming soon and presumably, other Google software and hardware will follow suit. That will provide quite a wide audience and any brand that releases podcasts will want to avail of this new opportunity to attract visits.

Vector graphic of the Android robot sitting behind a desk with a laptop and a cup of coffee.

In summary

Combined with its developments in voice search, mobile, and personalization, it makes strategic sense for Google to add podcasts to its rich results-enabled assets.

Data from Edison Research show the significant year-on-year growth for this medium in the US, with further increases expected in 2017:

Column graph showing the increase in monthly podcast listening from 2008 to 2016. It begins at 9% in 2008, and increased to 21% in 2016. The legend beneath it reads: % listening to a podcast in last month.

As such, it is worth paying attention to this now for any brand that produces podcasts – especially those that exist in a competitive niche.

It may take some time to implement the technical changes and see them go live but, as with all such industry updates, the early adopters will reap the greatest rewards.


Article graphics by Chelsea Herbert

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ETA (and More) Coming to Dynamic Search Ads


Still mourning Exact Match Keywords?

Maybe the changes to Dynamic Search Ads, announced earlier today, will lift your PPC spirits.

While fundamental best practices remain the same (leverage the hell out of negative keywords to avoid cannibalizing search campaigns; combine with RLSA to enrich your remarketing strategy; only bid manually), Google has made three significant alteration to DSA, all of which could have a profound impact on your account performance.

The central theme to Google’s update is specificity: all three changes will give advertisers a better handle on the quality of both targeting and ad creative.

Whether you use DSA to wrangle a gang of products or your sprawling site architecture into a coherent, profitable AdWords strategy, the addition of page feeds, ETA, and quality enhancements should have you laughing all the way to the bank.

Dynamic Search Ads Improvement #1: Page Feeds

According to Google, Page Feeds give you an added layer of control over your DSA campaigns.

Your customers are more likely to convert when the ads they’re served relate to products and services that fill a need or solve a problem. This is marketing 101. Unfortunately, previous iterations of DSA didn’t always make it easy for advertisers to display hyper-relevant creative to their prospects.

 adwords dynamic search ad page feed template

Page Feeds allow you to create a feed (read: spreadsheet) of what you want to promote and add it to a new or existing dynamic search campaign. Google will incorporate this information when determining when your ads show, who they are shown to, and which landing page a prospect will land on.

You’ll also have the opportunity to apply custom labels to your newly created page feeds, affording better organization. As an example, Google suggests creating a label called “Holiday Promotion” and applying it to a group of products that will go on sale; you can also use labels to identify products that are out of stock (or sell out quickly), making it simple to cease paid traffic to those pages when active.

A time-saver like this will be a boon to eCommerce advertisers on AdWords looking to simultaneously save time and deliver hyper-relevant content to prospects.

Dynamic Search Ads Improvement #2: Expanded Ads (FINALLY)

Expanded Text Ads are making headlines again.

While the transition to ETA on search occurred back in January, the new, larger ads were yet to make their way over to DSA.

The wait is almost over, people.

The new Expanded Dynamic Search Ads pair extremely pertinent copy and landing pages with a higher character count, giving you even more room to get specific with your ads.

Here’s what the current DSA creation interface looks like: existing dynamic search ad creation ui adwords

Now, check out the screenshot below, which illustrates the ad creation screen for Expanded DSA.

dynamic search ad expanded text ad creation adwords 


The new, expanded description section gives you additional space in which to woo your prospects, while the other features remain dynamic as ever.Google says ETA are coming to Dynamic Search Ads “over the next month.” We await with baited breath.

Dynamic Search Ads Improvement #3: Quality Enhancements

“Quality Enhancements” is admittedly murkier than the other two improvements to Dynamic Search Ads, but who can argue with better quality when every click is money from your pocket?

Per Google’s description of what “quality enhancements” entails, it would appear the focus here is on location-based targeting. “If you’re a baker in Palm Springs, your ads should only show to people who are looking for baked goods in Palm Springs.” While this is a no brainer, if Google’s latest round of DSA upgrades makes it easier for me to find a cronut in the Back Bay on a dreary Tuesday afternoon, I’m all for it.

Google says that, so far, with the updates to DSA, “advertisers are seeing on average an increase in conversion rate and a decrease in CPA.”

If that ain’t the dream, I don’t know what is.

About the Author

Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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