How to Opt Out of the Microsoft Audience Network

Microsoft Audience Network

Microsoft Advertising has introduced some major changes to its platform in its pursuit of ‘maximising the power of search intent’. From 21st February 2023, all Search campaigns will now include Microsoft Audience Network participation – effectively introducing a multi-channel strategy as default.

This means that when running a Search campaign through Microsoft Advertising, your ads will also run on their Audience Network, with no option available to opt out of this network expansion via campaign level bid modifiers.

This is a significant change which will affect all Search campaigns on the platform, and with many advertisers still not familiar with Microsoft Audience Network, this is quite the shake up. However, all is not lost! There is still the option for advertisers to retain some level of control over their presence on the Audience Network via Website Exclusions Lists.

To dive deeper into this exclusion method and explore more context behind this ‘Multi-Channel Strategy’, let’s explore the following:

Table of Contents

What Is the Microsoft Audience Network?

The Microsoft Audience Network allows advertisers to reach their target audience with text, image, video or product ads, as they explore the internet and Microsoft owned properties. It expands the reach of advertisers to beyond Search results, with its closest likeness being Google’s Display Network.

Ads Across The Audience Network
Above: How ads can appear across the Audience Network (Microsoft Advertising)

What truly differentiates the Audience Network from similar platforms is its ownership by Microsoft. Microsoft has an incredibly large reach through its diverse portfolio, which includes Windows, Edge, MSN and Xbox. This portfolio enables Microsoft to reach over a billion people worldwide, and is what helps them to acquire its extensive collection of first-party data.

How Were Advertisers Previously Using the Microsoft Audience Network?

Before 21st February 2023, advertisers could opt out of having their ads shown across the Audience Network by applying a campaign level Bid Modifier.

Microsoft Bid Modifier
Above: Previous Audience Ads Bid Modifier option available in campaign settings

By setting their Audience Ads Bids to -100% Search campaigns would not feature their ads across the Audience Network. Whilst a simple solution, this option was still quite hidden within campaign settings and many advertisers did not realise that they had this option on and running in their accounts.

What Has Microsoft Advertising Changed and Why?

On 2nd February Microsoft Advertising announced that after successfully piloting a ‘Multi-Channel’ beta, it was introducing this approach to all advertisers. This means removing the option to apply a negative bid modifier to exclude Search campaigns from showing on the Audience Network, and allowing the platform to decide where ads should show. Their announcement said: 

‘Moving forward, you will no longer see the audience ad bid modifier in your campaign settings. Instead of using positive or negative bid modifiers to manually adjust participation in the audience network, all you need to do is define your goals, and Microsoft Advertising will fully optimize your campaigns across channels. This will help you more easily manage your campaigns and find the best users in every auction to drive a strong ROI.’

Microsoft credits its rich first-party data and artificial intelligence (AI) as being the fuel behind making this ‘Multi-Channel’ approach work for advertisers. By using signals and data collected from users across the Microsoft portfolio, the platform will ‘find your best customers wherever they are and meet them in the moments that matter.’ They state that this will make it easier for advertisers to manage their campaigns, and that by allowing AI to find the most relevant audience in every auction, drive a stronger ROI.

The reason behind this change? In order to understand the incremental value for advertisers, Microsoft studied the effect of exposing users to a brand’s ads on both the Search and Audience Network. Their studies found that someone who had seen an ad on the Audience Network was 2.6x times more likely to visit that brand’s website, than those who had only seen an ad in Search results. These individuals were also 6.6x times more likely to go on to convert (Microsoft internal data, December 2022). This led them to decide, as the two Networks perform better together, that this should be the default strategy for all advertisers on the platform.

How to Opt Out

Moving forward, the most effective way for advertisers to be able to manage their Search campaigns presence on the Audience Network is to request an opt-out. Whilst this solution is not mentioned anywhere in Microsoft’s documentation, Victress and other advertisers have successfully had the Audience Network expansion turned off.

This can not be done manually and must be requested either via customer support or through an account representative.

If you have an account representative then advertisers can ask them directly to turn off Audience Network expansion. If your account does not have a representative, then the request will need to be made through customer support. The case will then be escalated to the Account Specialist Team who will then action the request.

Please note that the change will not be immediate, so you should make the request as soon as you can. In our case it took around 4 working days for the process to be completed. In the meantime, you should consider using website exclusions lists to implement some form of control over your campaigns whilst the request is actioned. 

How to use Website Exclusion Lists

Website exclusions will stop your ads from showing on the URL of any website you define. Microsoft Advertising allows you to create a ‘Website Exclusion List’, an account level website exclusion list to stop your ads from showing on certain websites. Adding websites into this list will mean that all campaigns within your account will no longer show on those sites. If you are running Audience Ads then please read the section further below on how you can control Search campaign placements websites without tanking your Audience Ads campaigns!

Here’s how we’re going to do it:

Step 1: Create a ‘Website Exclusion List’.

In the menu bar, select: Tools – Shared Library – Website Exclusions List. Depending on your account setup, you may have to access the ‘Manager’ profile to create the list and assign it to the individual account.

Microsoft Exclusion Lists
Above: Create a ‘Website Exclusion List’ in Microsoft Advertising

Step 2: Exclude These

Open up this Google Sheets document, copy this list of URLs and add them into the exclusions list.

Thank you to PPC Greg, for his working document of exclusion lists for all sorts of PPC uses.

Populating a Website Exclusion List in Microsoft Advertising
Above: Populating a ‘Website Exclusion List’ in Microsoft Advertising

Step 3: Check The Account

Depending on your account set up, you will need to make sure that the list is assigned to the relevant account. It’s always worth a double check to be sure!

Website Exclusion List
Above: Assigning a ‘Website Exclusion List’ to an account in Microsoft Advertising

And you’re all set! Your campaigns will now no longer show on any of the websites included in this Website Exclusions List.

It is crucial to remember that these lists are by no means the only placements available in the Audience Network. It is unfortunately going to be down to us to keep on top of this, and make this process part of our regular optimisations. This will mean regularly reviewing the Website URL Report, pulling out URLs and adding them to our Website Exclusion Lists.

If you are running Audience Ads campaigns then you will need to set things up slightly differently. The bad news is that Website Exclusion Lists are applied to all campaigns in the account, including Audience Ads campaigns. This means that if you create a Website Exclusion List, then the URL exclusions will also be applied to your Audience Ads campaigns, which will stop your ads from showing across the Audience Network, which is of course the whole purpose of running this type of campaign! Instead, you will need to apply website exclusions via settings for each individual Search campaign in your account. To do so, complete the following steps:

Step 1. Copy the URLs from the Google sheet above, or if you’d prefer, use your own Website URL report data.

Step 2. Navigate to the setting section of the Search campaign you wish to add the exclusions to.

Step 3. Paste the URLs into the ‘Website’ box under the ‘Exclusions’ section. Make sure you click save

Microsoft Advertising dashboard showing campaign settings and website exclusions
Above: Assigning a ‘Website Exclusion List’ to an account in Microsoft Advertising

Step 4. You will need to do this for every Search campaign in your account. Do not add it to your Audience Ads campaigns.

Your campaigns will now no longer show on any of the websites included in this list.

These methods are by no means perfect and do not replicate the complete manually opt out option we are used to. However, whilst waiting for customer support or your account representative to make the changes from the back end, these can be a good way to control where your ads are being shown. 

Other Ways to Prepare Your Account

There are some other recommendations for ensuring that your account is set up correctly to handle these changes. And whilst all of these are your typical best practices, now is a good time to double check that you have them in place regardless as to whether or not you keep the Audience Network expansion turned on.

Adding Image Extensions to your Search campaigns is a great way for your ads to look more attractive in Search results. Now by providing some form of Image Asset, you are providing the system with options to use when it auto generates an ad for the Audience Network.

As advertisers we need to be feeding the machine with the right information, and the most important information we can provide is Conversion data. Whilst it goes without saying that you should already have a Universal Event Tracking (UET) tag set up, it is very easy to neglect Conversion Goals and not keep them updated with the latest changes on your website. Audit your Conversion Goals to ensure that you are tracking the right actions so that the systems know what your campaigns want to achieve.

Even when using Automated Bid Strategies, it should never be a set and forget approach. Review what Bid Strategies you are currently using, and check to make sure they are still relevant to your campaign objectives. If you aren’t already utilising Automated Bid Strategies, now is a good time to start. You can learn more here.

Final Thoughts

I have had great success running Audience Ads for my clients over recent months, and have encouraged advertisers to try the network for themselves. Engagement through the Network is cheap, and the increase in brand awareness and consideration has helped my clients’ Search campaigns to convert at a higher level than ever before.

However despite my love for the Audience Network, I do not agree with the decision that Microsoft have made.

I think that it is important for advertisers to be able to decide what is best for their accounts, and not be put into cookie cut structures which may not work for them. As advertisers we should have autonomy, especially when it comes to controlling where and how our ads appear across the internet. I’m also concerned that those running smaller accounts, particularly SMEs, may not have the technical abilities to be able to manage changes like these. Instead they will simply have to deal with accepting the changes the platform has decided for them, not understanding that there is a way to opt out.

Despite Microsoft’s decision being universally panned by users, Google Ads have recently been testing a similar strategy. Some advertisers have reported that the option to opt out of the Display Network has been ‘grayed out’ when creating new Search campaigns – understandably leading many to suspect that Google are going down the same route as Microsoft. And whilst this has been reported as simply a platform ‘experiment’, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar announcement on the Google Ads platform very soon. 

If you would like to learn more about the Microsoft Audience Network, take a look at my presentation: why advertisers should be using it during at PPC Live UK in February 2023.

If you want to know more about how Victress can help your business with Microsoft Advertising, book a free consultation and speak to our team. 

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