Demand Gen vs Display (the revenge): discover who won

Demand Gen vs Display (the revenge): discover who won

After the Discovery vs GDN test, we decided to run a new test to compare Demand Gen performance to “regular” Display campaigns.  As in the previous experiment, we set the same budget for about 30 days, using the same content & targeting options.  Go on to know what happened 5 weeks and 1,200€ spent later.

This time we promoted ADworld Experience video-recording sales.  The main target are seasoned pay per click professionals, who have been operating for some years in Google Ads, Meta Ads, Linkedin, Microsoft, Amazon, TikTok and other minor online advertising platforms.

During the previous test we found that experienced PPC professionals could be effectively targeted using an expressed interest in any advanced PPC tool.  So we selected the most renowned ones excluding those not directly related to the main platforms.  Here (in alphabetical order) the brands we targeted: adalysis, adespresso, adroll, adstage, adthena, adzooma, channable, clickcease, clickguard, clixtell, datafeedwatch, feedoptimise, feedspark, fraudblocker, godatafeed, opteo, optmyzr, outbrain, ppcprotect, producthero, qwaya, revealbot, spyfu, squared and taboola.

Using this list we were able to set up 3 different audiences based on:

  • PPC tool brand past searchers in Google;
  • PPC tool interested users;
  • Users who have shown interest in PPC tool website URLs in SERPs.

Then we created a Demand Gen campaign and a regular Display one, with 3 ad-groups each, based on one of the above audiences.  The key settings were:

  • In both campaigns we limited demographics to users aged 25 to 55 (the main age range of adwexp participants) + unknown (not to limit too much the audience) and in display we excluded optimized targeting (to avoid unwanted overlapping).
  • Goals were: past edition video-recording sales and navigating 5 or more pages in one session (to grant Google’s smart bidding enough conversion data to work on).
  • Geotargeting was limited to the home countries of the majority of ADworld Experience past participants (a selection of EU countries + UK, Switzerland, Norway and Finland).  We targeted all languages used in these countries and scheduled ads to appear every day from 8:00CET to 20:00CET.
  • In Demand Gen we had to accept Google’s default filter for moderate and highly sensible contents, in display campaign we could exclude all non-classified contents, fit for families (= mainly videos for kids on YT), all sensible contents and parked domains.
  • The bidding strategy was set for both campaigns on Maximize Conversions, not setting (at least initially) any target CPA.
  • The landing page was the same in both campaigns:
  • Daily budget was 20€ for each campaign.
  • Text and images were almost exactly the same, even if placements were different (GDN for Display and YouTube, Gmail and Discover newsfeed for Demand Gen).  We were forced to shorten some headings in display campaigns, but descriptions and images (mainly 2023 speakers’ photos) were exactly the same.  In Display campaign we were able to select also some videos and left auto-optimized ad formats on.

Regular Display Ad Examples

Demand Gen Ad Examples

In Display campaign we were soon forced to set different target CPA to grant all different groups/audiences a more uniform distribution of traffic, lowering it where it spiked and increasing it where it languished.  In Demand Gen we had to pause 2 out of 3 groups to give all of them a minimum threshold of traffic to count on (“Searchers of PPC Tools” adgroup in DGen did zero impressions for almost 20 days, until that).

In Display campaign we excluded all unrelated app categories (all except business/productivity ones) and low quality placements spotted in the previous test, starting with almost 500 exclusions.

Here are the numbers we had about 5 weeks and 1.200€ spent after:

Regular Display campaign

Demand Gen campaign

If we look at global conversion number & cost Google seems to have worked very well with Demand GenThese AI powered campaigns clearly outperformed both a professionally set Display campaign and the old Discovery Ads we used in the previous test to promote 2023 event registration (exception made for last week results, that were comparable).

Audiences performed quite homogeneously in Display, while there was a clear winner in DGen, with the audience built on PPC Tools’ URLs, getting conversions pretty soon (in just 1 week), while Discovery’s latency in our previous test have been 3 weeks long.  The only negative aspect of DGen traffic is the slightly lower percentage of engaged sessions in GA4 (session longer than 10 seconds or with a conversion event or at least 2 pageviews/screenviews).  It seems that GDN still can bring to your website more in-target users.

Almost all DGen placements were on YouTube (both the converting ones and the rest), making me say afterwards that probably would have been better to compare this campaign with a Video Campaign, more than to a GDN one.  The Display campaigns ran almost totally on AdSens network, with very few placements alongside videos (& with incredibly high CPCs in some rare, but remarkably cases).

I was also surprised to see that this time audience performances where comparable in both campaigns, while in Discovery vs Display test PPC Tool past searchers achieved the best Conversion Rates in GDN.  To explain that I can only suppose that this was due to the difference in the set goals.  Joining an advanced event live is probably by far more attractive to a PPC pro than looking at its videos afterwards.  The most laser targeted audience of someone who has recently searched for a related keyword should probably still be the best option in Display, while is definitely too narrow for DGen.

My final take away is that if your goal is not only to convert, but to drive low cost (but still well targeted) traffic to your site with a set and forget campaign, then DGen Ads are your must go.  While, if you has low budget but want to get results at an acceptable cost and have time and know how to optimize settings, then old style display campaigns may still be a good option.  In both cases tests with different audiences & assets are vital if you do not want to throw your money in Google’s vacuum! 😊

It is hardly necessary to remember that data referring to a specific case cannot be generalised, also because Google is investing a lot in perfecting its AI powered campaigns (which will inevitably end up completely replacing the traditional ones), and the test clearly evidenced the difference among Discovery and DGen, just a few months later.

If you are curious about specific aspects of the test, just comment, and we’ll be happy to drill down data for you, if we can.

Did you do any comparison between DGen and regular GDN campaigns?  What are your findings?

Gianpaolo Lorusso
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