How to Disable Mobile App Traffic in Google Ads

Tl;dr if you don't want the backstory, watch this video to learn how you can still exclude Mobile app traffic in Google Ads despite the Sep 2018 policy change:

Google used to be all about not being evil, or at least they pretended that's what they were about. Such a novel idea for a huge and powerful corporation. Alas, those days are long gone.

As such, it should have been no surprise when Google announced it would be disabling the ability to exclude mobile app traffic by using "" as a placement exclusion. 

Here's what they said in the official announcement:

In their words, the change "simplifies how you reach mobile users". Mmmm-hmmm. Just one app traffic is extremely low quality to almost every advertiser, so simplifying the settings doesn't help advertisers. Instead it lines the search giant's coffers even further. Like I said, so much for not being evil.

Why Mobile App Traffic Sucks (Usually)

The reason most advertisers opt out of mobile app traffic is because it rarely converts. 

But why?

I mean, it's not like people are incapable of responding to a well-targeted ad while they're using an app, so why no conversions?

First, the obvious: children are getting a lot of your impressions. Let's say you're targeting middle-aged parents and mobile app traffic is enabled. The reality is, a huge chunk of the app impressions on their device come from when one of their kids needs a digital pacifier.

[Not judging. I'm a parent and I get that sometimes a phone is an easy way to distract a tired/grumpy kid. I get it. Although I do think too much screen time is a real problem for kids in our society and as parents we should be careful about resorting to that too often.] 

There are hundreds of free apps for kids that are loaded with prominent ad space. The click-thru rate from those apps sometimes appears to be impressive: 

But the reason why is that many of those clicks come from young children inadvertently clicking on the ad because they think it's part of the game or by sheer accident.

The second reason app traffic is low quality is not as obvious but it has to do with consumer tunnel vision. When most people use an app it's for a specific and short-term purpose, like to check the weather forecast.

True, if you saw a well-targeted ad as you were checking the weather, you may click on it. But the reality is, you are there for a specific purpose and the ad is merely an inconvenience to that purpose.

Contrast that with someone who is scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. People usually aren't there for a specific purpose other than to see "what's new". A well placed ad has a much higher chance of getting a meaningful click in this scenario than the first.

Bottom line: app traffic is usually VERY low quality. In fact, unless you're selling an app, it's usually best to avoid app traffic altogether.

But with Google's recent change, how can you do that?

How to Turn Off Google App Traffic

The good news is there is a workaround but in order to use it you'll have to install the Google Ads Editor.

Once there, follow these steps:

1. Log in to your account

2. Select the account you want to edit and select "Open", then choose to download all campaigns

3. Next, select the display campaign(s) you want to exclude from mobile app traffic. I would select all display campaigns using the CTRL key on a PC or COMMAND key on a Mac.

4. Expand the "Keywords and targeting" section and select "Mobile App Categories, Negative"

5. Select "Add negative mobile app category" and then "Campaign-level negative mobile app category".

6. Select "All Apps" and then click Ok.

Here's what it should look like after hitting Ok

7. Last step, post the changes to your account

Now remember, you have to make this change to every display campaign and you can only do it inside the Google Ads Editor. So be sure you apply this to all display campaigns at the campaign level. And if you launch any new display campaigns in the future, be sure to add this exclusion.

    Leo Ebbert

    Leo Ebbert is a 10-year internet marketing veteran who has helped dozens of E-commerce businesses dominate their space online.