Google Discovery Ads Dos and Don’ts For More Successful Campaigns

When Google Discovery Campaigns first hit the scene in 2019, I was skeptical it could amount to much.

Their inventory available across Gmail, YouTube, and the Discovery Feed seemed too small to be anything of importance to most advertisers.

As Google has iterated and expanded, it has changed my tune.

While not as scalable as standard Google Display or YouTube campaigns, I now know the value these campaigns can have, and I’m working to integrate them into most of the accounts I’m involved with.

So – what does it take to be successful with Google Discovery Ads?

The key is delivering the right message, to the right person, at the right time.

Fortunately for Discovery users, this ad unit has several advantages over standard Google Display campaigns (and search too).

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

  • Discovery’s #1 Targeting Difference.
  • Targeting layers in discovery campaigns.
  • Discovery + Retargeting.
  • optimal targeting.
  • Discovery 101s+ do’s and don’ts.

The #1 difference in Discovery: targeting

Because of its ability to deliver impressions at the moment of intent (the search), paid search is generally Google’s most efficient advertising product.

With Google Display, you can run ads for retargeting and is similar to Audiences based on a combination of clicks on previous paid search results, but you cannot explicitly target a group of people who have searched for certain terms before.

With Discovery, you can.

Within discovery campaigns, custom segments allow you to target explicitly based on Google search activity.

Never before have you been able to create an ad group that only targets searchers for specific keywords in YouTube, Gmail, and the Discovery Feed.

This is really powerful.

This targeting opens the wedge intent stage between display mining and paid search unique to Google Ads.

Custom Slides: How to Set It Up

Because Google owns all the real estate (Discovery, Gmail, YouTube) on which Discovery ads appear, you can ensure that keyword targeting serves impressions for previous searches of your keyword variants.

Setup is easy.

When creating your ad group, select New custom slide.

Screenshot by author from Google Ads, March 2022

From there, select File People who searched for any of these terms on Google Check button, and enter your keywords.

Target Google searches with a custom audienceScreenshot by author from Google Ads, March 2022

By doing so, you will be serving ads to anyone who searches for those terms on Google.

One note.

Assume that these keywords are treated as broad match.

However, this targeting option is a Discovery highlighter – and it’s a good one.

Pro tip: Divide this targeting into its own ad groups/campaigns to ensure you have the control you need over things like spending, budget, bid strategy, etc.

You’ll likely want to increase reach and frequency for this audience subset and differentiate the experience from other Display Network campaigns.

Sharpen through layers of targeting criteria

Like Google Display, Discovery supports market, life event, and demographic targeting options.

And just like Google Display, these targeting options can appear on top of each other.

One of my favorite groups is Custom audiences + target demographicsdue to the opportunities for personalization with images in responsive display ad units.

For example, if I was targeting high net worth individuals, I could list the top 10% net worth via HHI demographics targeting.

Identify high earners using Google Ads demographic targeting settingsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, March 2022

Pro tip: With Discovery, you can show ‘display’ ads to people who are interested in your competition.

Use keywords, competitors’ key pages (login, pricing), and apps to digitally envelop potential customers with a pre/post-personal experience.

The discovery visual element makes it a great tactic for these conquest campaigns.

Discover retargeting is a must

If you run standard display retargeting campaigns, discovery retargeting campaigns are a no-brainer.

Discovery offers inventory not available through the standard offering.

Since retargeting campaigns often bring the best return on investment for advertisers, increasing impressions as much as possible makes sense.

In addition to additional stock, Discovery’s 4:5 aspect ratio ads and carousels are unique to the campaign type. It provides an opportunity for a distinct experience compared to the standard screen.

Pro tip: Uses customer matching Lists to target lead ad customer lists with unbranded content relevant to them.

People who interact with the Discovery Feed are looking for content they can consume.

If you have content that you want to push into your high-value first-party listings, this is a great way to do it.

This is an excellent opportunity for you to showcase your expertise, communicate a value proposition, explain a feature, share a previous customer story, talk through the onboarding process, etc.

Things to avoid: Optimal targeting

optimal targetingformerly known as Expanding the audienceis a feature that Google enables by default when setting up new campaigns and ad groups.

Google will tell you that it is identifying potential converter signals to give you more leads in a similar CPL to your non-“optimized” initiatives.

The collective experience of colleagues and co-workers has been that there is very little case for keeping this setting enabled.

Most advertisers should avoid this.

It provides very little visibility or control with targeting, which means limited optimization opportunity.

With retargeting campaigns, it should be avoided 100% of the time, since it changes the campaign to target post-reengagement.

Discovery Ad 101 + Do’s and Don’ts

Discovery targeting is unique, but ad units also present some unique opportunities.

Like the display network, Discovery Ads is responsive. You give it a series of image and text entries, and algorithms select the optimal ad to display, depending on user demographics and behaviors.

Although they are almost identical to responsive display ads on Google Display, there are some differences between them and Discovery ads.

on the principle:

  • Discovery Ads Don’t Video support.
  • Discovery Ads an act Offers a responsive carousel ad format.
  • Discovery Ads an act Offers an aspect ratio of 4:5 for mobile and news feed.

The basic principles of display advertising apply to Discovery as well. It all comes down to customizing your pre/post click experience with content that is of interest and/or value and taking advantage of the unique features offered by the ad type.

Discover ads

  • Do Use an aspect ratio of 4:5. A Google tool can help you, or you can hire a freelancer to resize your existing logo for less than a dollar (when done in one go).
  • Do Optimize the images, titles and descriptions used for each ad. The more Google testing you can do, the better your ad strength will be.
  • Do Leverage creative learning from your social channels. The mindset of a Discovery ad viewer is very similar to that of a person scrolling social feeds.
  • Do Use pictures with the people in them. They usually drive better CTAs than photos without people.
  • Consider linking a major generic form to your discovery ad – especially for warm fans. Bonus credit if you integrate your own CRM to automate your lead flow.
  • Do Monitor your asset level reports For indicators that resonate in your ad text and image components.

Deleted Discovery Daily

  • No Implicit in interaction (for example, adding a CTA button). Google is a little stricter on this than standard display campaigns
  • No Use a lot of overlay text in your photos. It leads to a lower CTR on average. It also leads to sub-optimal formatted ad units for a given inventory
  • Do not overuse low funnel KPIs with cold masses. Like other display styles and social tactics, you’ll generally want to warm up your audience before delivering your call-to-action in a low-key trajectory.
  • No Use Discovery campaigns before setting up conversion tracking. Discovery bid strategies all use conversion data.


Discovery ads are a new(ish) format for Google Ads that is getting more and more important to use with privacy taking center stage.

They offer several unique advantages over other types of ads via Google Ads and Beyond, including targeting at the level of search keywords.

By keeping marketing best practices front of mind during campaign setup and optimization, discovery will become an essential component of your digital marketing efforts.

More resources:

  • Google Ads offers new recommendations for Discovery campaigns
  • Improving Google Discover: Key areas to focus on
  • Completely optimized content from start to finish

Featured image: art GALA / Shutterstock

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