Whether you’re new to the Google Display Network or a seasoned veteran, paid search advertisers across the board are always looking for ways to garner more impressions, clicks, and conversions. When you’re in this realm of thinking, anything that promises to help can sound pretty appealing. You may have heard of targeting optimization, an AdWords feature that vows to “add high-potential targeting to an ad group in your ‘Display Network Only’ campaigns.” The bigger question is, “what exactly is going on behind the curtain here?” We’ll take a look at the AdWords option to give you some background and help you determine if and when you should use it for your paid search campaigns.

What is Targeting Optimization?

Targeting optimization is an AdWords feature for display network only campaigns that allows AdWords to add “high-potential targeting” to your ad group in the effort to attract new customers at a similar cost. This targeting works in addition to targeting that you’ve setup and is enabled by default.

Targeting Optimization on the Display Network

According to Google, advertisers should use targeting optimization when they’re interested in finding new customers, they need help identifying targets, or they’d like to maintain their current cost per customer or conversion. These parameters are pretty broad, and while they do note that targeting optimization isn’t for individuals who want complete control over their accounts. New or unfamiliar advertisers may opt for targeting optimization without knowing exactly what they’re getting into.

There are two types of targeting optimization; conservative and aggressive. In the table below, Google highlights when and where you can use each type of optimization along with some restrictions. For more info and how to opt-in or out of this feature, check out the targeting optimization article on AdWords support.

Conservative and Aggressive Targeting Optimization

So, What’s Not To Like?

While targeting optimization sounds like everything you’ve ever wanted, there are several reasons to think twice about using it or at least keep an eye on your paid search ad groups where you do opt-in.

First of all, AdWords has a great feature that estimates the size of your target audience and shows you your potential reach on the display network. It looks something like the section to the right in the image below. You’ll see for this ad group that we don’t have targeting optimization selected and AdWords is warning us that the potential reach of our targeting may be limited.

Potential Reach Preview on the Google Display Network

In the image below, we’ve enabled targeting optimization for that very same ad group. You’ll see that the warning has gone away. What’s happening is that even though our targeting is still limited, we have the potential to reach many more individuals since we’ve opted into targeting optimization, so they don’t display the warning. Since targeting optimization is enabled by default, your targeting may be limited without you knowing. We suggest disabling targeting optimization even just to check your potential reach before re-enabling it.

Targeting Optimization on the Google Display Network

If you do decide to leave targeting optimization enabled, be sure to monitor your ad placements. Keep an eye on your placements and be sure to exclude those that aren’t relevant to your business. For help excluding domains, check out our blog 4 Common Paid Search Marketing Mistakes That May Be Costing You Money.

The last reason to be wary of paid search ad targeting optimization involves remarketing campaigns. Most advertisers set up targeted and specific remarketing lists with plans to show even more targeted ads to individuals who have visited specific pages within our site. That’s a great plan, and remarketing is definitely something you should check out if you haven’t, but what if we told you that targeting optimization could throw off your remarketing? Well, if you allow Google to do additional targeting for you, you could potentially be showing your remarketing ads to individuals who aren’t on your remarketing list. For some people this may not be a big deal, but for those who have very targeted ads for remarketing – ads that might not make sense to someone who hasn’t actually been to the site – this could be very problematic. If you’re going to enable targeting optimization for a remarketing campaign, be sure that your ads will make sense to someone who may not be on your actual remarketing list.


We hope that you have a better understanding now of targeting optimization, what it offers, and some potential drawbacks. If you decide to enable the feature, just make sure that it’s actually doing what it’s supposed to do and optimizing your campaign. Until next time!