X Joins Google Display Network: What Marketers Need to Know

September 28th, 2023

On September 28th 2023, X (formerly Twitter), officially joined Google Display Network.

This means the social media platform will now participate in online auctions to sell ad inventory on its main timeline feed via Google Ads Manager. 

While this might ease pressure on X’s severe financial struggles, the move has already raised notable concerns among marketers. And with good reason. 

Having ads placed next to controversial and explicit content on X creates brand safety issues. And given X’s notorious bot problem, it also increases exposure to invalid traffic (IVT). 

In our recent Wasted Ad Spend Report, we analysed ​​2.6 billion paid ad clicks and an estimated 104 billion impressions from more than 60,000 ad accounts. And when we narrowed the focus of our analysis on X, we found the platform had an average IVT rate of 23.61% 

This means roughly one in every four paid ad clicks coming from X are invalid. Given the average IVT rate across Google Display Network was found to be 7.32%, adding placements on X to those campaigns is likely to result in higher volumes of fake traffic hitting your website. 

For more information and analysis on IVT rates across all major ad platforms including Google, TikTok, Bing, Pinterest, LinkedIn and more, check out the report in full. 

Download the 2024 Wasted Ad Spend Report

In this post we quickly cover everything marketers need to know about the new partnership, its impact on Performance Max campaigns, ways to opt out, and how to experiment with ad placements on X while mitigating exposure to invalid traffic. 

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X’s Financial Troubles 

Even before Musk took charge of X in October 2022, the platform was always a tricky place for advertisers – especially those who don’t want their ads running next to contentious political debates or discussion of breaking news events.

But Musk’s leadership has made things much worse. Failing to fix the bot problem paired with changes to content moderation rules which significantly increase brand risk has caused advertisers to abandon the platform in droves. As reported by the BBC, X has lost almost half of its advertising revenue since it was bought by Musk. 

Given this, the new partnership with Google seems like a desperate attempt to try and revive X’s ad revenue. No other social media platform sells ad inventory via Google Ads Manager. The new partnership coincides with the social media site unveiling a restructuring of its ad sales teams. New appointments include Carrie Stimmel as the new global agency leader.

The Official Statement From Google 

Google sent the following email out to advertisers and agencies on September 25th ahead of the launch of the integration: 

“Today we announced that X (fka Twitter) is joining Google Display Network to monetize the Home Timeline on its iOS and Android apps. This opportunity will open up access to a platform that has over 200 million daily users, helping you reach customers in more moments that matter. 

Like many apps and websites that want to monetize their content, X has signed up to monetize its content with Google Ads Manager. The integration with X means that a portion of their inventory will be available to Google advertisers with Display Campaigns via our Open Auction. The ads will be limited to the home feed, not individual accounts. 

As always any publisher who participates in this type of partnership must abide by our publisher policies, which are publicly available and apply equally to user generated content. 

Google provides advertisers with robust controls – including inventory modes – as part of our approach to Brand Safety and Brand Suitability. X (fka Twitter) ad inventory will only be available in Expanded inventory mode and content labelled as “Mature Audience” and “Content not yet labelled”. If you wish to not target this expanded inventory you may want to consider excluding X (fka Twitter) as a web and open placement in our account settings.”

How to Opt Out of Placements on X 

Brands can choose to opt of placements on X altogether. A move many will likely be taking. 

When running Display campaigns, you can select from the following three inventory types. 

  1. Expanded inventory – Placements may be sensitive for some brands, including, for example, videos that have strong profanity in the context of comedy or a documentary, or violence as featured in a video game.
  1. Standard inventory – The content you can show ads on is based on YouTube’s advertiser-friendly content guidelines that take into account, for example, the strength or frequency of profanity, or the appropriateness of subject matter like sensitive events.
  1. Limited inventory – Intended to be used by brands with very strict guidelines around inappropriate language and sexual suggestiveness. 

By selecting Standard or Limited inventory mode, your ads won’t appear on X. 

If you want to run Expanded inventory mode without running ads on X, you can exclude the platform as a web and open placement in your account settings, as mentioned in Google’s statement. 

What Are Marketers Saying? 

On the day the partnership was launched, there were several posts circulating on LinkedIn discussing the news. Two notable examples came from Dan Chorlton, CEO at GOA Marketing, and Scott Carruthers, Head of PPC at Journey Further. 

So we dove into the comments section to gauge the general consensus among performance marketers. Needless to say, most weren’t too excited about the development. 

One commenter honed in on the growing desperation of X’s revenue revival attempts. 

Frederick Vallaeys, CEO at Optmyzr, took a neutral stance. Whatever your opinion of the partnership, it highlights the importance of staying on top of the latest developments in a rapidly changing paid media landscape. 

Is X Inventory Going to be Added to Performance Max? 

Performance Max (PMax) allows advertisers to run ads across the entire Google Network from a single campaign. That includes Search, Shopping, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, and Display.

So in the wake of the announcement, many advertisers were left wondering whether ad inventory on X would be automatically incorporated into their PMax campaigns. 

And the answer is yes. 

But as with standard Display campaigns, you can opt out. Dan Roberts, Head of Paid Search at Wavemaker outlined the steps you need to follow in the helpful comment below. 

Brand Safety Concerns 

Since Elon Musk took over X, hate speech and offensive content have flourished, according to industry watchdog groups. 

Unsurprisingly, Musk denies these claims, going so far as suing the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate over a recent report. Not a great look all things considered. 

Back and forth arguments over the validity of such claims are largely irrelevant though. Perception is reality in this case, as advertisers clearly don’t want to run the risk of having their ads run alongside offensive messaging and content. 

And for this reason, it seems many brands will be choosing to completely opt out of all placements on X via Google Ads Manager, for the foreseeable future at least. 

It remains to be seen whether X will be able to alleviate these concerns over brand safety. But newly appointed CEO Linda Yaccarino is clearly making a concerted effort to do so. 

For example, X recently announced a partnership with Integral Ad Science (IAS) to provide brand safety and suitability “sensitivity” controls for advertisers on the platform. 

This enables brands to bid for placements according to their risk tolerance. Options include “Conservative” “Standard” or “Relaxed”. 

Invalid Traffic (IVT) on X 

Brand safety concerns aside, advertisers who choose to experiment with placements on X via PMax or dedicated Display campaigns are at risk of increased exposure to IVT. 

The ease of account creation makes it easier for the automated proliferation of fake users. There’s also a high prevalence of scrapers on X, designed to ingest all forms of publicly available data on the platform, often for the purpose of training new AI models. 

Bad actors also routinely use bots in an attempt to manipulate political and social discourse on X – a problem set to get much worse with the advent of large language models like ChatGPT.  

With an average invalid traffic rate of 23.61%, marketers are highly unlikely to get the performance they’d expect out of X placements without an IVT prevention system in place. 

To frame the problem in financial terms, when the average IVT rate is applied to X’s 2024 ad revenue forecast of $3 billion, it equates to $708 million in wasted ad spend. 

Regardless of whether you choose to run placements on X, it makes sense to adopt a diversified marketing mix. That should include both demand capture (e.g. Google Search) and demand generation (e.g. social brand awareness campaigns), paired with a strategic approach to mitigate wasted ad spend due to IVT.

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