by Jennifer


Online Advertising

Changes Coming to Gmail Ads (and why not to panic)

Since September 2015, advertisers have been able to target users natively within personal Gmail inboxes using Gmail Ads.

The ads appear on the Promotions tab as a collapsed teaser ad which when clicked, expands to an email-sized space to reveal images, videos and/or embedded forms.

Gmail Ads can be targeted to potential customers using many of Google’s display targeting options including keywords, topics and demographics. With domain targeting, it’s also possible to target users who have received emails from specific websites.

At ConversionWorks, we’ve found Gmail Ads to be very effective, particularly for our lead generation clients. Of all the targeting options, domain and keyword targeting often yield the strongest results both in terms of new customer acquisition and CPA.

It was interesting, therefore, to hear the recent announcement that Google will stop scanning Gmail content for ads personalisation later this year. Interesting, yes, but perhaps not surprising, given the concerns raised by data privacy advocates in relation to the scanning of email content since Gmail Ads were first launched.  

For advertisers, this means an end to Gmail domain and keyword targeting as we’ve come to know (and love) them. However, we’re not panicking about these changes – and you shouldn’t be either.

Here’s why.

Over the last few years, Google has rolled out numerous audience targeting solutions: Similar Audiences, In-Market Audiences, Customer Match and Affinity Audiences (to name a few). When layered into a display campaign, these are all great ways of getting your display ads seen by highly relevant user segments.

Long gone are the days when contextual keyword targeting was one of the only options for matching ads to users across the Google Display Network (or the Google Content Network, as it was called 10 years ago when I launched my first AdWords campaign!). Now, the emphasis is very much on targeting the user based on what Google knows about them from peeking at their account settings. For example – what they’re interested in, how old they are, which products they’ve been looking at. These are all valuable signals that can be used to target ads to users on a granular level.

So, considering that Gmail Ads use many of the same targeting options as the display network, we shouldn’t need to rely on contextual methods (aka keyword targeting) within our Gmail campaigns to bolster performance. It will still be possible to add keywords, but ads will be matched to users based on their browsing behaviour, rather than keywords within email content.

Domain targeting is likely to be missed, particularly in regards to capturing competitor volume. But with some careful planning, it will be possible to offset the volume lost as a result of the changes, by testing out some new audience targeting tactics. 

For example – try adding keywords to your Gmail Ads campaign that relate to the products or service offered by a previously targeted domain. Go deeper by layering in a relevant Affinity Audience. This way, you’ll still be able to reach users in Gmail who are interested in said product or service, who may also be engaging with a competitor brand. The target domain ‘’ could be replaced with keywords such as ‘dog’, ‘cat’, ‘pets’, and the Affinity Audiences ‘Dog Lovers’ and ‘Cat Lovers’. You get the idea…


To advertisers worried about the changes coming to Gmail Ads: fear not. We anticipate that it will be possible to generate additional volume by experimenting with effective audience-based targeting options including Affinity Audiences and Customer Match, such that the loss of domain and keyword targeting may not have any impact at all on overall Gmail performance.  

Planning ahead will be key, so start testing now to ensure your campaigns are well optimised in time for the big switch-off in September.



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