What Are Google Discovery Ads, and Do They Work?

Ryan MootHart, PPC Architect

Paid SEM advertisers have often resorted to Google’s Display Network for awareness campaigns designed to grow the top of the funnel. The problem many advertisers run into when doing this is that the quality of traffic can be questionable at best and dismal at worst. Some of this is to be expected when expanding advertising outside of search; you’re less likely to show an ad to someone lower down the funnel with less reliable intent signals than a search query. Your site usage metrics aren’t going to be as good as they are in your paid search campaigns. However, it can be deflating to an advertiser to browse through their display placement report and see a majority of the domains and mobile apps showing up to be irrelevant and spammy-looking.

Realizing this, Google sought a solution that would allow advertisers to use more robust, visually appealing display ad units and keep them on properties that were more likely to attract a higher-quality, or at least more reliable, user. In doing so, Google created campaigns for a new ad unit they called Discovery ads. These ad units were designed to fit a mobile-friendly environment and appear only on three apps owned by Google: Gmail, YouTube, and the Google app.

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Image courtesy of Google

How Discovery Ads Work

Discovery ads work similar to responsive display ads in that you, as the advertiser, provide Google with a series of images (including your company logo), headlines, and description lines that Google then automatically rotates through to find the best-performing combinations. The difference with Discovery ads is that these ad units are designed specifically for three Google-owned mobile apps and tailored to be aesthetically congruent with them. For example, Google has more stringent image guidelines for Discovery ads meant to encourage a higher-quality standard of lifestyle and product images.

Once an ad unit is created, you can target it to your specified audiences. These audiences can be as broad and as simple as an interest target or an in-market segment Google provides for you. They can also be more complex or specific such as a remarketing list or a custom intent audience. You then finalize your other settings as you would any other campaign (location, ad schedule, etc.) and select an automated bidding strategy to use. Discovery campaigns allow you to use a pay-per-conversion model if your account has the required conversion data, which is another way to help ensure you don’t overspend on these ads in the long term.

Results You Can Expect

With every instance a Discovery campaign runs, results will be unique to any given account. However, there are three things we’ve learned to expect:

  1. While Google does not explicitly divulge metrics by app, you can assume an overwhelming majority of impressions and clicks from these ads will come from the Gmail app.In this sample, out of 210,054 users who visited the site from a Discovery ad, 208,859 came from GMail, compared to 1,260 came from YouTube.
  2. Once a user clicks through these ads, on-site usage metrics are typically comparable or better-than-average versus other incoming traffic from display channels.In this sample data set, users who clicked through Discovery ads visited 1.22 pages per session, which was the median pages/session for all display campaigns.
  3. Using a remarketing list as your audience will typically give you the best chance at producing (relatively) high conversion metrics.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking to grow the top of the funnel through display advertising and have been discouraged from previous efforts using standard display ad units or tactics, give Google Discovery ads a try. They’re not going to magically solve all of your outbound marketing needs, but they’ve proven to us they can be an effective high-funnel tactic that helps drive your desired KPI results beyond just going after more cheap traffic.

Ryan MootHart, PPC Architect
PPC Architect

Ryan is a PPC architect at Portent, with more than a decade of experience managing large-scale e-commerce, international B2B lead generation campaigns, and everything in between. He became a published author in 2016 with the release of his book, Towards Cascadia, which is a non-fiction exploration of Pacific Northwest identity, bioregionalism, and nationhood. Outside of work, Ryan and his husband, Paul, enjoy traveling and are avid followers of Sounders FC, Seattle’s Major League Soccer club.

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