What is the Google Display Network

In a nutshell, the Google Display Network enables online publishers (websites and mobile app owners) the opportunity to monetise the content that they produce. Hosting a website costs money – there’s the cost of the “physical” hosting of the site, which is where all the websites files and resources are stored, and which serves the content to other people. Then there’s the cost of the domain name, or the website address, which is typically a yearly renewal as you’re only ever “renting” the use of the domain name. These costs (hosting and domain name) are just for your bog-standard website, and there will be other additional costs to factor in (cost of the website design, any fancy technology used, costs of tools used to manage the site and any digital marketing, etc, etc).

The above costs might sound like a lot, but what if on top of that you also have costs of hiring writers or employing members of your team – these, more tangible, “business” related costs, will all mount up. So Google’s Display Network was a welcome initiative (actually introduced back in the year 2000 around the same time as the AdWords product was launched), which enabled a website/blog owner to very quickly monetise their product. To become a member of the scheme all you need to do is register at Google AdSense (the name for the publishers program – whereas AdWords is the name for the advertisers program), where you just need a Google account, plus the website address or details of your app. Google will then automatically review the content of your site, and either approve or reject your application. After this you can login to the site and download their advertising code, which you then insert into relevant positions on your site where you want to show ads to your visitors.

The Google display network

Benefits for Advertisers & Publishers

The great thing about the Google Display Network is that because it’s owned by Google, whom also have the biggest online advertising network available, you’re instantly connected to millions of businesses that are choosing to advertise their products or services online. Google’s display advert code will intelligently serve relevant adverts on your website. So if you have a blog about Nike trainers, and you add Google’s advertising code to your pages, visitors to your site will likely see an advert that is selling Nike trainers, or some kind of trainer. This ad relevancy is crucial to publishers, and to advertisers to, and Google’s ability to intelligently match the two is pretty much unmatched online (although Facebook has closed the gap in recent years, thanks to all the user data they are able to sell to advertisers).
Without using Google Display ads to monetise a website, publishers are a little stuck. The options they have would be 1) to join an affiliate program where they can serve ads promoting products belonging to another company, earning a percentage commission on any sales (eg a site like Amazon), 2) they could join a different advertising network, one which likely serves lower-quality ads, which also pay less, or 3) they can try and monetise the site privately, such as by selling their own ad inventory directly to other businesses, but with this method there’s a huge amount of infrastructure required, as well as ongoing management – it’s just not feasible for most websites.

The introduction of Remarketing

What’s happened in recent years is that Google has introduced a new model for their advertising, which suddenly makes the ads that you’re seeing far more personalised, and in their opinion far more relevant to you. This is called remarketing (or retargeting) advertising, and it’s based on the websites you’ve previously visited and the actions you have (or haven’t) performed, as well as reading your Google account profile demographics. Now website owners could show adverts to people which were even more relevant, which encouraged the viewer to click the advert, thus generating them more money (and generating Google money too). This cookie-based advertising allowed Google to generate more revenue from their advertising network, whilst at the same time helping publishers to make more money – and the advertisers didn’t mind because it also helped them to sell more product, so everyone’s a winner.

One of the problems we’ve seen with the Google Display Network is that it seems they’re far too lapse on which type of website they’re allowing onto their scheme. There are a number of very right-leaning newspaper groups who use Google Display Ads on their website to generate revenue, where you can find adverts mixed in along anti-immigrant, body-shaming, or sexual content, just to name a few examples. Although Google claims to have strict conditions to bound by when joining their advertising program (see list below), and various terms and conditions to accept, it seems they are happy to turn a blind-eye when it comes to big publishers ignoring these requirements.

Google Adsense guidelines

You can find the list of terms and conditions of the Google AdSense program here.

On the other-side of the fence, as an advertiser, when you’re creating an advertising campaign on the Google Display Network there are options to exclude your adverts from appearing on certain types of content. These include adult material, material of a sensitive-nature (tragic events and such like), etc. However even by excluding these types of ad placements, it doesn’t seem to actually work most of the time – ads may still send up on the likes of The Sun or the Daily Mail.

Excluding categories on Google Display Ads

You can find more info on the Google Display site category exclusions here.

Take this example from the Sun Newspapers website. Here you can clearly see their Google Display Ads (in this case showing an advert for BT) highlighted alongside content which to us (and call us old-fashioned), is of a sexual nature.

Adult adverts on The Sun website

Or this advert for New Balance trainers on the extremely right-wing Breitbart website.

Google ads on Breitbart

So why does Google turn a blind eye to these blatant examples of breaking their own terms and conditions? Is it simply because by doing so their own revenue stream would be hit? And as a consumer of BT or New Balance would you be willing to buy their products considering they advertise (and fund) the likes of The Sun, or Breitbart? Remember – ads on these sites fund both the site they appear on, whilst Google also takes a slight cut of the deal. For example, the CPC (cost per click) of a retargeting ad on The Sun might be £0.40 (cost to the advertiser, say BT in this example), whilst Google might pay out £0.30 to the website owner (The Sun, or News Media UK), so Google keeps £0.10 from the “action”.

This is the big reason behind the Don’t Fund Hate campaign – ultimately we want to make more people aware of businesses which are helping to fund these right-wing, hate-spreading and fear mongering groups. This isn’t about shutting these sites down, but more about pulling the funding in which they need to be able to operate.