How to Exclude Mobile Apps on the Google Display Network

May 29, 2013

I’ve finally found the Holy Grail to exclude mobile apps on the Google Display network from showing your ads. Don’t worry I’ll share it with you and make sure you know exactly what to do to make it work. But before I do let me tell you what led up to this discovery and why I think it is so important.

Mobile App Traffic on GDN Rages Out of Control

Over the last couple months I have noticed a big uptick in mobile app traffic on GDN campaigns in AdWords. One of our clients in particular saw a 422% growth in clicks and a 480% increase in Cost overnight. That isn’t a small change! Interestingly, 98% of the change came from mobile apps and AdMob served ads.

Guess what happened to their GDN conversion volume?

It actually dropped and then stayed flat for days. You can get a good visual on what happened in the image below.

I went through the usual double checking of segments. I also dug into ad groups to try to determine where that drop stemmed from. Turns out the entire shift happened via mobile devices with full browsers. This campaign went from 98k impressions, 48 clicks and $10 in spend on mobile one day. To 283k impressions, 578 clicks, and $185 in spend the next day, with no changes in bids or budget.

I immediately looked in the next logical place, the automatic placements report for GDN campaigns. Out of nowhere I saw a huge number of mobile app publishers within the placements, including “Mobile App: Anonymous AdMob Publisher” or “Mobile App: LOL pics”. Those are most definitely quality placements (please sense the sarcasm here).

None of these apps had any relevance to this advertiser and the performance proved it. I started to add mobile apps to the negative placements list. But the list kept growing day after day.

What’s an Advertiser to do? Shut off Mobile?

I did the only thing I could find available at the time. I shut down Mobile on this campaign. The incremental conversions we had received before the app invasion, weren’t worth the new nuisance of constantly adding new mobile apps to the negative placement list.

And I’m not the only one who has had to do this in the past as Melissa Mackey pointed out.

I was hoping this would be an isolated incident, but figured it probably wouldn’t be. Just recently Aaron Levy sent a tweet out asking for help on the #ppcchat hashtag on Twitter.

Enhanced Campaigns & Mobile Apps on the GDN, it’s about the $$

Notice that Aaron wasn’t just having problems with apps on mobile phones, but also with tablets; which he hadn’t seen happen before.

Aaron is seeing this problem with Enhanced Campaigns in AdWords where we are given no control over tablets. This is going to become a bigger issue with the forced Enhanced Campaigns roll out in the near future. With most of the focus by PPC professionals on the impact enhanced campaigns will have on search campaigns it looks like Google Display Network is something we should watch for changes.

Clearly Google is trying to increase mobile and tablet revenue on the Google Display network as well. This will mean more automatic irrelevant mobile app placements, increased costs and higher CPA.

Is There Another Way to Block Apps on the GDN?

How do we combat this? Do we shut everything down on mobile for GDN campaigns? Do we keep manually adding the thousands and thousands of apps as negative placement for the Google Display Network? Or is there another possibility?

I have to hand it to Google AdWords and their Twitter team. They have really been starting to monitor things and respond with possible solutions. This was what Sarah on the Google Twitter team had to say about blocking apps on the GDN –

Now this rang a bell but with the all of the info and changes being thrown around I couldn’t really remember why.

After reading that tweet the first thing I did was go to “”. I was expecting a sales page about… well AdSense on Mobile apps, but what I actually found was an AdWords help article about showing ads on mobile apps. Buried under one of the drop downs was a little paragraph about blocking your ads from showing on mobile apps. I’m not sure it wanted to be found.

If you are not sure how to exclude mobile apps based off that little bit of info here are the steps for you to follow:

1) Go into your Display Network tab in AdWords

2) Head to the exclusions are and make sure you are on placements

3) You are likely going to want to add this to the Campaign not Ad group level and then click Add exclusions

4) Simply add to the excluded placements. Make sure to not add a “www.” to the beginning!

That’s it! If you have multiple campaigns or ad groups to block mobile apps in, you can always use AdWords Editor (their bulk desktop editor) to do it quickly. Now you have a way to block mobile apps from showing your ads on the Google Display Network. How happy are you?

Have you had issues with mobile apps on the GDN? How did you deal with them? Let us know in the comments.

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