Google Ads Brand Safety Overview

Author: Warren Howe
Each media channel comes with its own brand safety challenges. Given the reach and breadth of Google Ads–specifically Google Display Network, YouTube, and Search–they’re no exception.

In addition to brand safety scares over the past year and a half, YouTube has recently struggled to eradicate inappropriate and predatory comments on videos involving children and has since taken steps to disable comments on videos involving minors. In every incident, the power given to content creators to post and monetize content on this platform is what makes YouTube valuable and troublesome from a brand safety standpoint.

Further, with GDN offering advertising on more than 2 million websites, confirming your ads are running alongside the content you want is no small feat. So what controls and tools are currently available to advertisers to help ensure that Google ads run in brand safe environments? Below is an overview of the landscape, as well as where and how they are best used.

Sensitive Content Categories (Display, YouTube)

Historically, Google offered the below category options that advertisers could exclude:

  • Tragedy and conflict
  • Sensational and shocking
  • Profanity and rough language
  • Sexually suggestive content

Most advertisers don’t want to appear alongside Sensitive Content Categories, and if they do, they can leave unexcluded.

Inventory Types (YouTube)

While Sensitive Content Categories will continue for Display, they are being replaced on YouTube by Inventory Types, which instead of offering control over individual potentially sensitive categories, offers a high-medium-low tolerance option termed Expanded, Standard, and Limited Inventory. Learn more about the specifics in Google’s documentation.

Digital Content Labels (Display, YouTube)

Similar to movie ratings, YouTube videos and sites in the Google Display Network are assigned one of the following ratings based on their suitability for various audiences: G, PG, T, MA, or Not Yet Labeled. And similar to Inventory types, these settings offer a way for advertisers to set their comfort level by the age-appropriateness of the content they appear alongside.

While Sensitive Content Categories, Inventory Types, and Digital Content Labels help advertisers avoid this type of content, most want to go a step further using additional exclusions, keywords, and other brand safety enhancements:

Topics Exclusions (Display, YouTube)

Within Google Ads’ Topics targeting, there are a number of categories that many but not all brands might want to avoid appearing alongside. These include News, Politics, Medical Issues, Horror, etc. Keep in mind, these exclusions are in addition to any Sensitive Content Categories, Inventory Types, and Digital Content Labels already in place.

Negative Keywords (Display, YouTube, Search)

Getting one step more granular beyond Topics is Keyword exclusions. If the above still results in objectionable content, negative keywords can be added to avoid ads appearing next to videos or on pages with those keywords. This is also where Search comes in. Any negative keywords should be added here after filtering through your keyword search terms report.

Placement Exclusions (Display, YouTube)

Lastly, if there is one particular troublesome page, domain, YouTube channel or video that is slipping through all the filters you’ve put in place, you can block a specific entity by URL.

Third-Party Monitoring (Display, YouTube)

While Google does provide some ability to analyze what content your ads appear alongside, if advertising at scale, it can be nearly impossible to verify ads are appearing in brand-safe environments. This is where third-party monitoring platforms such as DoubleVerify and Moat become valuable. Both are a means of validating brand safety results, as well as identifying opportunities for improvement.

What does this all mean?

Taken together, these measures provide a high level of brand safety when advertising on Google. We expect both Google and third-party monitoring platforms will, at some point, use data analytics to become more sophisticated in helping advertisers understand the types of content their ads run alongside, especially at scale given every video and site cannot be manually reviewed. Moreover, as the most recent YouTube struggles exhibit, providing a window into comments placed alongside ads would also be a particularly welcome change.

As always, brand safety requires vigilance and a watchful eye on potential threats and looking for ways to improve using available preventative tools.