Shawn McKenzie
By Shawn McKenzie | SEM | August 22, 2017

Recent Changes to Adwords Display Network Campaign Options

Like all new media, Internet advertising has evolved considerably since its inception. Gone are the days of pop-ups crashing your web browser, or misleading hyperlinks. And thank goodness! Hard to imagine using that version of the Internet now. But as digital marketing has gone mainstream, a new set of problems has emerged; in particular, there have been issues surrounding advertising platforms such as Google’s when they made changes to AdWords display network categories, meant to help determine where your ads are placed on their Display Network.

Sometimes, an algorithmic error (or categories that are too broad or incorrectly organized) can result in awkward ad placements, like this one:

Image result for weird google ad placement

Sure, that’s an inconvenient juxtaposition, but ultimately can be resolved without offending or scaring anyone. Unfortunately, unpleasant ad placements can result in worse reactions from those who pay to advertise their products or services on the network. For example, when a story broke on March 17th about ad placements by British government offices appearing on the videos of extremist hate groups, many people responded by pulling their paid ads from the entire Display Network to avoid similar fates for their brands. Google, in turn, promised to roll out a new set of categories that would (hopefully) prevent unintended or inappropriate ad placements on the Display network.

In a previous blog post, “Advertisers Pull YouTube and Google Ads,” I examined this issue and promised to follow up when Google had taken action and actually changed the category options. Before getting into what has changed, check out MacAdam’s post, “Display Network: Site Category Options,” for a refresher of how things were before the recent changes.

Google’s Reaction

In March, Google’s rebuttal to those complaining about unfortunate Display ad placements was that advertisers weren’t using all available means to limit such placements. So Google aligned display and video campaign options and added account-level content exclusions as the main two points of the new Adwords experience.

Starting in July, “content exclusions” became the new name of what most know as “site category options” for Display Network campaigns.  These options are located in  your campaign settings, and now align with Video campaign options. By merging the options across Display and Video, Google was able to finally introduce account-level content exclusions, instead of exclusions by network. 

Whats changing?

Google started the transition to the new list of options last month, and new campaigns automatically use the new categories. For existing campaigns, you can manually update the options for Display Network. Google strongly recommends that current campaign settings are updated by the end of 2017.  Keep in mind that some options are going away as part of the alignment with Video, and once deselected, those options can’t be used again, even before the end of year.

Site category options that are being removed:

  • Forums
  • Error pages
  • Gambling
  • Photo-sharing pages
  • Social networks
  • Video-sharing pages
  • Crime, police, and emergency
  • Military and international conflict

The chart below summarizes the changes and includes Google recommendations of how to navigate the changes to Adwords Display Network category options.  It’s a useful window into how Google views the changes but, as always, the ad performance data is the true indicator. 

Sensitive contentCrime, police, and emergency “Crime, police, and emergency” content will be classified under “Tragedy and conflict.”
 Recommendation: Use “Tragedy and conflict” instead.
Sensitive contentMilitary and international conflict “Military and international” content will be classified under “Tragedy and conflict.”
 Recommendation: Use “Tragedy and conflict” instead.
Sensitive contentDeath and tragedy Name is changing to “Tragedy and conflict.”
Sensitive contentJuvenile, gross, and bizarre Name is changing to “Sensational and shocking.”
Sensitive contentSensitive social Issues This is a new option. It includes content related to discrimination and identity relations, scandals and investigations, reproductive rights, firearms and weapons, and more.
Digital content labelContent suitable for families This is a new option. If you exclude “General audiences (DL-G)” you’ll exclude “Content suitable for families” as well.
Content type / Type of placementGambling Google AdSense policy restricts the placement of ads on gambling sites and gambling-related content. Since manual exclusion of gambling content is now unnecessary, this option is no longer needed and will be removed in early 2018.
Note: If you had this option selected, it will now appear as disabled in your settings. Keep in mind, ads cannot be served to this content type.
Content type / Type of placementError pages Google AdSense policy restricts the placement of ads on error pages. Since manual exclusion of this content is now unnecessary, this option is no longer needed and will be removed in early 2018.
Note: If you had this option selected, it will now appear as disabled in your settings. Keep in mind, ads cannot be served to this content type.
Content type / Type of placementForums, Social networks, Photo-sharing pages, Video sharing pages These options will no longer be available. The classification technology for these options was created before the growth and prevalence of user-generated and social content.
 Recommendation: Use “Digital content labels” (Mature audiences, Content not yet labeled) and “Sensitive content” exclusions instead to opt out of subject matter or types of content that don’t fit your brand.

Digital Content Labels

While not a new feature of display or video campaigns, content labels are a means to limit the audience of your campaigns and worth mentioning.

  • DL-G: Content suitable for general audiences.
  • DL-PG: Content suitable for most audiences with parental guidance.
  • DL-T: Content suitable for teen and older audiences.
  • DL-MA: Content Suitable only for mature audiences.
  • Not yet labeled: Content that has not been labeled.


My initial reactions to these updates was underwhelming. At first glance, it seemed they were taking away options instead of adding to our ability to control ad placement. With some time to digest, the changes should not be a surprise and are directly in-line with Google’s original stance from March: users weren’t using all the tools available to them and that is why ads were placed in unfavorable locations.

Adding account-level control of content exclusions, along with aligning display and video, is a simple way to ensure users are aware of their options and can implement them across their account. There are undoubtedly instances where the changes negatively affect advertisers but, on the whole, advertisers will benefit from the ability to run display and video campaigns with unified exclusion rules for the brands they work with.

Need more help handling the recent changes to Adwords Display Network?

Here at Digital Reach Agency we are always happy to help you pinpoint the best content exclusions to use for your Display ads. Reach out or leave a comment and we’ll be in touch!

background dots

Related Topics

Mastering Your GTM Pt 2: Techniques on How to Improve your GTM

by Ryan Rosati

In part 1 of this series, Master your GTM Pt 1: Auditing Your Google Tag Manager in 3 Steps, I showed you how…

Programmatic Advertising Unpacked: Why You Need it in Your Digital Strategy

by Nick Rennard

Marketers understand the importance of incorporating a digital strategy—leveraging various channels to achieve their performance marketing efforts—into their omnichannel marketing mix. Historically, advertisers…

Navigating Your GA Part 1:
3 Tips for Understanding Your Audience

by Rebecca Berin

So, you’ve spent all this time working on creating the perfect site in hopes it will resonate with your audience and ultimately convert…

In the time it takes to read this sentence, you could be on your way to a well-oiled demand generation machine. Ready for your blueprint?

yes, i want my Digital blueprint