First things first. What do I need to know?

The Google Display Network (GDN) is huge – spanning over 2 million websites that reach over 90% of people on the internet. So good luck avoiding it.

Since it allows a variety of ad formats across the digital universe, it’s able to reach across websites, YouTube, Gmail, and mobile sites and apps. Basically, it’s everywhere and reaches everyone.*

 *Well, almost.

What does this mean for brands?

They’re able to use different programmatic targeting options including contextual keywords, topical and interest overlays, in-market segments and affinity audiences alongside remarketing and similar audience targeting. Specific websites and mobile apps can also be targeted directly with manual placements. Simply put, it’s how brands can be super creepy and send you an ad for that thing you were just shopping for.

Ahhh, Google’s so smart. What’s the big deal?

Believe it or not, the Google machine has its flaws. Turns out, it was improperly vetting publisher sites so advertisers’ content was appearing beside not-so-good content on both GDN and YouTube ad networks. For example, this not-so-good content consisted of alt-right propaganda, fake news and fundamentalist messages. Which isn’t the ideal distraction when you’re trying to get people to think about your brand.

Being associated with content like this poses a huge threat to a brand’s reputation. This led several of them to pause campaigns until Google solved the issue.

An advertisement for the Mercedes-Benz E-class has been found on a pro-Isis video which overlays the image of a machine gun on a song praising jihad. On another video, an advert runs for Halifax while the preview of an axe-wielding militant lingers in the corner of the screen. Commercials for HSBC, Eurotunnel and JD Sports have all been found on alt-right and Islamist websites, including one promoting a “Holocaust Amnesia Day.” – Times UK

Problem? Solved.

Since our digital strategists analyze our clients’ placement reports daily, we noticed some of these sites creeping into reports. To put an immediate stop to this, we built a robust exclusion list using Google Display Estimator. This was applied to every account in addition to Google’s own sensitive site precautions.

This list is ever-expanding and continually updated to ensure our clients’ brand reputations remain intact.

To solve for this issue over the long term we have:

  • Built an extensive, ever-growing excluded placement list
  • Used a centralized Google sheet and continue to run script to apply to campaigns
  • Used Google Prediction API to take blacklist and look for similar sites to add to the exclusion list

Hey, Google! Tell us things.

During our recent trip to SMX, we spent time with Google Product Managers for Display, YouTube, Attribution and Search. These are the people responsible for the latest innovations and product updates. Through them, we’re able to get the newest information and help shape future Google products.

We spoke with Tris Warkentin (GDN Product Manager) at length about this and the other initiatives Google is working on to solve this issue across all their products. He even shared their updated blog post with us before anyone else.

Google gave us firsthand insight into the changes they’re making through AI and machine learning to introduce stricter controls and more accurately distinguish between authentic content producers and impersonators propagating offensive content.

Some of the initial platform updates include:

  • Safer account defaults

Brands will be opted in to campaign exclusions, beyond the previous sensitive/explicit topic exclusions and site category exclusions, that were in place. Brands will still have the option to opt in to advertise on broader types of content if impressions, volume and efficiency is the campaign goal.

  • Simplified management of exclusions

They are finally updating the AdWords platform to include account-level controls allowing the ability to exclude specific sites, channels and platforms from all video and display network campaigns.

  • Increased feedback options

Google is focusing on building better machine learning algorithms to identify offensive sites, while also making investments in reducing the timeframe for reporting sites and blacklisting.

So don’t worry, you’re safe.

Technology got us into this mess, and now, technology’s going to get us out.



The Guardian

The Times



Andrew Halfman

- Author -

Andrew Halfman

Senior Digital Strategist