Online Marketing | Search Engine Advertising

Quality Assurance for Your Ads in the Google Display Network and on YouTube

The Google Display Network (GDN) and YouTube received a lot of criticism in the past few weeks. This was after research was published by renowned newspapers like The Times that showed that ads from famous brands appeared next to extremist, populist and pornographic content. Since then Swiss television aired a story about this issue in Switzerland. As a result, many Swiss companies are wondering whether they can still advertise on the Google Display Network and on YouTube without compromising their image.

Who Is Affected?

This problem primarily affects big brands that use very broad targeting for their ads to reach as many users as possible. Furthermore, interest based targeting such as remarketing increases the risk that ads appear next to problematic content. There is no doubt that it is very negative for the brand image if ads do appear next so such content. It is however also important to keep in mind that “decent” users who do not visit such platforms do not see the advertising in this context.

What Does Google Do?

There is a lot of pressure on Google due to the large media presence and because several big brands have completely stopped their advertisement on the Google Display Network and YouTube. As a result, Google have already announced measures to fight this problem. The following actions are planned according to Google – however, a binding timeline has not been communicated:

  • Stricter guidelines: Google raises the quality requirements for content that provides ad space.
  • Better tools for advertisers: Google will launch more and better tools for advertisers to control the quality of their GDN and YouTube ads:
    • The new default is that ads can only appear on content that Google classifies as safe.
    • It will be possible to block pages and channels on the account level so that there is no more need to do this for every campaign.
    • There will be refined possibilities for advertisers to exclude risky content.
  • More resources for quality assurance: Google also promises to increase their resources for quality control. Furthermore, there will be more possibilities for users and advertisers to report problematic content.

What Should You Do?

You do not have to live without advertising on the Google Display Network or YouTube. You should however pay special attention to where your campaigns appear. You can reduce the risk that your ads appear next to unwanted content by implementing the following measures:

  • Targeting: Define a specific targeting for your campaigns based on placements, topics or keywords. The broader your targeting is, the higher the risk that your ads will appear on problematic platforms.
  • Category Exclusions: Make sure to exclude all categories under “Sensitive content” for your campaigns in the Google Display Network. You can find this option in your Google AdWords account in the tab “Display Network” at the very bottom (Site category options). You should also exclude sensitive categories for your YouTube campaigns. In addition, it is advisable to exclude content only for adult users (Mature audiences) and content that is not yet labelled.Google Display Network:
    Options for Website Categories GDN

    Options for Website Categories YouTube


  • Placement Exclusions: Periodically check where your ads appear (under Display Network > Placements and Video targeting > Placements) and exclude all questionable placements. Furthermore, we recommend excluding known problematic websites from your campaigns entirely in the shared library. We have created a Google Sheet with several such websites that we know about. YouTube also provides the possibility to exclude specific channels or videos.


We would appreciate if you would help us expand this list of placement exclusions by sending us problematic websites and YouTube channels by email.

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