Eric Frazzano

by Eric Frazzano | Google Display Network

If you mention Smart Display to a marketer they will fear the worst… Google replacing their jobs with automation and machine learning. There’s no reason to worry, we are here to squash those myths and let you know why you should be leveraging these new Smart campaigns to drive improved performance in your accounts.

What is Smart Display and how does it work?

Smart Display was Google’s first fully automated “Smart” campaign type, first launched in April 2017. The goal of this campaign is to help you reach customers at each stage of the buying journey by combining prospecting and remarketing all in one campaign. This campaign type was primarily introduced to make it easy for more search advertisers to get started on the Google Display Network (GDN), but it’s become a great campaign type even for long-time display advertisers.

Everything from creative to targeting all the way down to bidding is completely automated in this campaign. It combines Responsive Display Ads, Smart Bidding and a proprietary targeting feature to create campaigns, and retailers can also attach a product feed to the campaign to run Dynamic Product Ads.

If you have a Google rep assigned to your account or an agency with Google connections, and you’re looking for more details on an active Smart Display campaign, they may be able to share a backend report for its targeting. This report showcases custom in-market audiences that Google’s algorithm chooses based on site visitor behavior.

Why should you try it?

Google will tell you that Smart Display drives 20% more conversions than standard display at the same CPA, but that’s coming from Google. However, we’ve also seen great performance from this campaign type, especially with Dynamic Product Ads. In fact, here’s real performance change that one Metric Theory retail client saw year-over-year on their Smart Display campaigns after implementing a product feed.

Smart Display metrcis

*note this is comparing Smart Display YoY with dynamic product ads vs. without.

Is Smart Display a good fit for you?

While it can be a one-size-fits-all solution for some advertisers, it may not be right for all brands and needs. When deciding whether you want to try it out, consider:

  • If you are an eCommerce company already running Smart Shopping, this may be a nice complement to your Google strategy
    • If you’re running Dynamic Remarketing, it can get cannibalized by Smart Shopping, while Smart Display can actually serve alongside Smart Shopping, increasing your total reach
  • If you only want to run remarketing or just want to prospect to new users, this may not be your best bet
    • While you can exclude remarketing lists in order to turn this into a purely prospecting play, this greatly impacts performance as the algorithm uses site visitor behavior to build its custom in-market audiences
  • If you are a B2B advertiser, it will depend on what you are trying to achieve
    • You may find the lack of control over targeting to align with specific offers makes it challenging to see success with this, but if you have a simpler approach to demand generation, it can work well

How to set it up

You can get started with Smart Display in three easy steps.

  1. Set your daily budget
  2. Choose your bid strategy: Target CPA (tCPA), maximize conversions or Target ROAS (tROAS)
  3. Upload creatives and copy

Google recommends setting your daily budget to a minimum of five times your CPA goal, with 10 times the CPA goal being ideal. If running on maximizing conversions, we recommend using the account average CPA when setting budget. If you decide to run tCPA or tROAS, we recommend you set your CPA target to twice that of your average on search (or half if using tROAS), to give the algorithm some room to optimize. From a creative and copy standpoint, we recommend uploading the maximum number of assets to give Google more options in each auction. Additionally, if you have strong video assets or want to try auto-generated videos by Google, both are good options to add some motion to your ads.

How to evaluate

There are few key things to consider when evaluating the success of your Smart Display campaign. The first is the algorithmic learning period, which will vary depending on your conversion volume and how lenient you are in your budget and goal setting out of the gate. For example, if you set a high CPA target with ample budget, you will likely see a shorter learning curve than if you were to be more conservative out of the gate. The average learning period is around 5-7 days for most campaigns. You can check on the status of the bid strategy to see whether it is still in learning by looking at the bid strategy report. If it says active then it is fully operational, but if the status is “learning” then you can expect to see performance fluctuations until it comes out of that period.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there will likely be a conversion lag period associated with your campaign. By nature, prospecting audiences will always take longer to ultimately convert because they’re higher in the funnel, so you should consider that when evaluating the initial performance. If you hover over the conversions column, Google will show you how long it takes for all conversions to be reported for that campaign, and you can use that as a guide for when you should start measuring performance period-over-period.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that you are setting realistic expectations with this campaign. If you are looking for direct response results, you may want to consider running it on tCPA or tROAS where you can control the efficiency. By slowly constricting your targets over time, you can essentially funnel more spend toward remarketing in order to achieve better results if that’s your end goal.


Smart Display is a great campaign type to leverage if you’re looking to tap into Google’s full suite of automated products. The state of the art machine learning it uses has been proven to drive stronger performance in accounts. If you haven’t tested it yet, now is the time to get started! If you’re looking for help maximizing results from Display and more of your performance marketing universe, you can reach out to our team.