What is Display Advertising?

Last updated on by Fahad Muhammad in Conversion Optimization

Section 1: What is Display Advertising?

The first display ad graced the internet on October 27, 1994, on HotWired, and it looked like this:

Though it’s not clear from the ad copy, the ad was promoting AT&T internet by offering visitors a virtual tour of an art museum.

Display ads have come a long way since 1994, here’s what a typical display ad looks like today:

However, it’s not just the appearance of display ads that have changed – the frequency with which users see display advertising has exponentially increased over the years.

Statistics show that an average US user sees around 63 display ads per day:

That’s overwhelming, to say the least, and probably the reason why last year 380 million people used adblock software on their mobile browsers and 236 million people used Adblock software on their desktop browsers – these numbers are a significant increase from 2011:

Some of the reasons why users opt to use Adblock software include the threat of malware, interruption, slow website loading time, too many ads on too many web pages, and tracking by unknown parties:

Does this mean there’s no point in creating display advertising campaigns?

Well, quite the contrary, when you create display ads that target the right audience with the right message, you have the potential to significantly increase brand awareness and your ROI.

So, what exactly is display advertising?

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What is display advertising?

Display advertising refers to the process of advertising a product or service through visuals like images and videos on networks of publisher websites such as the Google Display Network and Facebook etc.

Display ads are placed on relevant third-party websites in the form of banner, image, and text ads. Display advertising is pretty much a blanket term that includes every visual ad placed on a website, however, it can be divided into three basic categories:

1. Site placement advertising: In this type of display advertising, the advertiser/marketer chooses the website they would like to run their display ads on.
2. Contextual advertising: In this type of display advertising, networks place ads on relevant websites, for example showing an ad for dog food on a pet adoption website.
3. Remarketing: Remarketing display ads appear in front of users who have been on your website or post-click landing page but have left without completing the relevant conversion goal.

These are the most commonly used display ad sizes

Unlike search advertising that uses a pull approach where users are actively looking for a product/service similar to yours. Display advertising uses a push approach where users who see your display ads are targeted purposefully for those ads, either because of remarketing campaigns or maybe they’re browsing a website that’s relevant to your offer.

Display advertising also differs from native advertising.

Display ads versus native ads

While display ads are used as an umbrella term to include all ads that users see online. The term native advertising refers to a form of advertising that attempts to match the content of the platform. This is done to make the message more easily consumable by the users of that platform. Native ads appear in-feed and are non-disruptive, like suggested posts on Facebook or promoted posts on Twitter.

So, while the intent of display ads is to stand out, native ads are meant to blend in with the web page they are situated on and not look like ads at all. Native ads are mostly found on social media feeds or as recommended content on a webpage; the ads look like part of the editorial flow of the page.

Display ads call out for attention, while native ads blend in with web pages and focus on soft-selling.

These are the most common native ad placements:

Native ads are ideal for driving traffic to your website as they serve users with educational ad content that piques their interest.

If you’re looking to educate users on a particular subject or are just trying to get them to your website to view more offers, then creating native ads is your best bet. Native ads are non-intrusive and so aren’t affected by banner blindness, however, if the goal of your campaign is to increase brand awareness, retarget lost customers, or customer acquisition then creating a display advertising campaign is the right way to go.

Why you should include display ads in your marketing campaigns

Display ads present you with the opportunity to showcase your offers in a wide variety of ad formats. Plus, when you create display ads on advertising platforms such as the Google Display Network, your ads have the potential to reach users on millions of websites around the globe.

Display advertising is an excellent way to build brand awareness and get clicks, conversions, and sales from users who might not have an interest in your business per se but have found your display ad to be relevant to the solution they were searching for.

The success with display ads lies with targeting the right user at the right time on the right website.

In terms of remarketing campaigns, display ads work wonders for customer acquisition and brand awareness as they remind users who have left your website what they’re missing out on by not availing a particular offer.

Display ads have the potential to increase your marketing ROI as their format demands attention; they increase brand awareness and visibility, and target relevant audiences with retargeting campaigns.

When optimized properly and targeted at the right audience, display ad spend marketers multiple advertising opportunities, this is why display ad spend in the US reached $41.86 billion this year, and it is expected to go to $46.69 billion in 2019:

In fact, display ad spend surpassed search ad spend in 2016, and has been forecasted to maintain its lead in 2019 as well:

Creating optimized display ads is crucial for your display advertising campaign success. This guide will let you in on everything you need to know about creating display ad campaigns. In the coming sections, we’ll discuss:

Now that you know what display advertising is and why you should use display ads in your marketing campaigns let’s move onto discussing how to set up display ad campaigns in Google Ads and Facebook.

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Section 2: Creating and managing display campaigns in Google Ads

The Google Display Network (GDN) has the potential to reach 90% of total internet audience on a network of over 2 million sites, blog apps, and other video content web pages.
Google Display Network’s (GDN) targeting options help you find the right audience to who you can then strategically show your message at the right place and at the right time.

You can use google display ads to:

While the Google search network reaches people with ads who are looking for a specific product/service, google display ads help you capture the attention of audiences earlier on in the buying cycle. With display ads, you are able to show your offer to users before they actively start looking for a solution.

These are the ad formats available in Google Ads for your display campaigns:

Before we move onto targeting options and optimizing your Google display ads, let’s look at the exact procedure of creating a display campaign in Google Ads.

Creating a Display Campaign in Google Ads

Sign in to your Google Ads account and select new campaign tab, then choose the goal that you want the campaign to fulfill:

Let’s select the Leads goal for the purpose of this guide, you will then select the campaign type:

The display campaign collects email addresses and other relevant contact information from the right people with visually striking ads that show across the web.

You can then select a campaign sub-type, one thing to note is that once you’ve selected your preferred option you can’t change it. Google gives you two options:

With a standard display campaign, you can select your targeting options and avail the automation options available.

Let’s select the standard display campaign option.

The next step involves selecting the ways you would like to reach your goal. This allows you to customize your campaign set-up process to focus on settings and features that can help you get the custom actions that matter to your business.

You need to enter your business’ website:

Name your campaign:

Select locations

Locations help you target ads to people located in a specific are. You also have the option to restrict locations, where you don’t want your ads to show:

Select languages

By targeting specific languages, you can restrict where your ads can appear based on the user’s language settings and the language your website is in. Google Ads pre-selects ‘English’ as the language, you can, however, choose another language:

Select bid strategy

Your bidding strategy determines how you pay for users to interact with your ads:

You can select a manual CPC bid, which allows you to choose the exact amount you want to bid for ad clicks. However, with the manual option, the selected bid amount isn’t adjusted daily for changes in traffic, and you won’t be able to use machine learning to optimize the bid amount based on your ad performance.

Selecting the ‘automatically maximize clicks’ option allows you to get the most clicks while spending your full budget.

Set a daily budget

There are two ad delivery methods to choose from. In the standard option, your budget is spent evenly over time. While choosing the accelerated option allows your budget to be spent more quickly, and it may cause your budget to run out easily.

Select ad rotation options

Rotating ads helps you avoid monotony for users so they don’t end up seeing the same display ad repeatedly.

Select start and end dates

Choose the start and end dates of the search campaign. Your ads continue to run unless you specify an end date.

Select Devices

Device targeting helps you choose the types of devices on which your ads appear:

Select frequency capping

Frequency capping lets you control the maximum number of times an individual user sees your ad on the Google Display Network:

Select location options

You can target users more narrowly by choosing to include and exclude certain locations:

Campaign URL options

The tracking template is the URL you want the ad click to go to for tracking. You can use URL parameters to customize your final URL. When your ad is clicked, this information is used to create your post-click landing page URL and track user activity on it:

Select content exclusions

Content exclusions allow you to opt out of showing your display ads on content that doesn’t fit with your brand image:

Create an ad group

Ad groups help you conduct more accurate targeting, by organizing each ad group around a specific message or theme:

Ad groups can target a shared set of keywords, they can also be organized by other settings, like targeting methods, bid strategy, and ad type. You can create additional ad groups after you set up your campaign.

Select audience and demographic targeting

The audience targeting option allows you to target ads to people based on their interests or the websites that they visit. Data from your Audience sources is used to improve the bidding and targeting of your audience campaigns:

These are audiences you can target with your Google display ads:

Demographic targeting allows you to reach people who are likely to be in demographic groups that you choose, such as age, gender, parental status or household income:

Select automated targeting

Automated targeting helps you expand your targeting options to find new customers:

You have the following three options:

Create your ads

You are now ready to create your Google display ad:

This is what a typical Google Display Network display ad looks like:

You can advertise the following types of display ads with Google Ads:

Regardless of the ad format you choose, your display ads will only fulfill their marketing goal if they are optimized.

Optimizing Google display ads

A typical Google display ad includes a headline, an image, and a CTA button. Here’s how you should optimize each individual ad element to create an optimized ad.

A clear, compelling headline

The ad headline should be clear and have the power to get users excited about the offer you’re promoting. Avoid generic headlines and go for something that catches the user’s eye and makes them want to find out more.

SendGrid uses a creative display ad headline, the headline emphasizes what the service does and makes the user feel good about themselves:

Visually appealing, relevant image/animation

Whether you’re using a feature image, an image background, or an animation in your display ad, make sure that the media is visually appealing, is on point with your branding and is relevant to the offer.

Instapage’s display ad for Global Blocks is relevant to the offer, as it showcases a screenshot of the feature being used, plus the background image and the colors used are on brand:

A clear, contrasting CTA button

The display ad call to action button should be able to stand out from the rest of the ad elements and have copy that is clear in explaining to the user what they should expect after the ad click. The CTA button should have the same message as the post-click landing page headline.

The Heap display ad CTA button stands out from the white background, and lets users know once they click the ad they’ll find out more about Heap:

Other than optimizing your ad elements, you should also ensure that the ad offers a good user experience. A good display ad user experienceincludes the following characteristics:

To ensure your display ad gets clicked, make it a practice to include 3 to 4 ads per ad group. Try out different messaging and imagery with each ad and see which one users prefer the most. Google Ads automatically shows better-performing ads to users, creating multiple display ads helps you get the guesswork out of your campaigns. You can create better, more optimized ads based on real user research.

Optimize your Google display ads beyond the ad click and connect every ad with a relevant, optimized post-click landing page. Doing this ensures that your user’s journey with your brand proceeds beyond the ad click. Section 5 dives into more detail about connecting your display ads with relevant post-click landing pages.

Creating display campaigns in Google Ads offers marketers the chance to reach out to their target audience no matter where they are. Selecting the right targeting options at the campaign level helps you launch your ads to the right audience, at the right place and time which automatically increases your chances of fulfilling your campaign goals.

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Section 3: Creating and managing display ad campaigns in Facebook Ads

Advertising on Facebook allows you to easily find the right audience for your offers and capture their attention to grow your business.

Two billion people use Facebook every month, plus, businesses invested more than $9 million on Facebook ads in the second quarter of 2017, that’s a 47% increase from the second quarter of 2016.

Creating display ad campaigns on Facebook helps you:

Unlike Google Ads that also includes search ads, almost all Facebook ads are display ads - with the exception of sponsored posts which come under native advertising.

One of the advantages of running display ad campaigns in Facebook is that you can also create Instagram display ads from within the Facebook Ads Manager. So, you can use one advertising platform to launch display campaigns on two of the most used social networking websites.

Facebook Ads offers marketers a variety of display ad formats that they can use to promote their offers. The display ad formats supported by Facebook ads include:

Now that you know the ad formats you can use to showcase Facebook display ads, let’s discuss the steps needed to take create a display ad campaign on the social network.

Creating a display ad campaign in Facebook Ads

Facebook ad campaigns are three-tiered and include a campaign, ad set, and ad level.

This is an overview of the steps involved in launching your Facebook display ad campaign:

Select a campaign objective for your display ads

When setting goals for your Facebook Ads think about why you’re creating ads i.e. what goal are you looking to achieve with your ads?

Setting goals before your ads go live helps measure their success. For example, if the goal of your Facebook ad campaign is to increase ebook downloads, you can set the goal of 100 downloads for the first month. Having a pre-defined goal makes measuring success simpler.

The following is the complete list of Facebook campaign objectives available in the Ads Manager:

  1. Brand Awareness
  2. Local Awareness
  3. Reach
  4. Traffic
  5. Engagement
  6. All installs
  7. Video views
  8. Lead generation
  9. Conversions
  10. Product catalog sales
  11. Store visits

Facebook has categorized the multiple business objectives into the following three categories:

Name your ad campaign

After selecting the campaign objective Facebook asks you to name your campaign:

If you’re running multiple campaigns on Facebook, adding a date next to your campaign name can help you navigate between different campaigns.

Select audience targeting options

If this isn’t your first Facebook ad campaign, you have the option of using a saved audience. Creating a Saved Audience helps you save time as you don’t have to narrow down an audience list for every campaign. You can then use Facebook’s targeting options to select an audience if you’re running and managing multiple campaigns at once.

If this is your first Facebook Ad campaign you can simply create a new Facebook target audience.

Facebook also gives you the option of targeting ads at Custom Audiences – people who already know your business. A Custom Audience is Facebook’s ad targeting option that allows you to find existing audiences among people you know on the platform.

The Custom Audience list includes people whose contact information you already know, so you can use email addresses, phone numbers, Facebook user IDs, or app user IDs to create and save audiences you would like to show ads to.

Facebook compares the contact information you submit with their own data and helps find your customers or leads.

You also have the option to select a Lookalike Audience, which is a subset of your Custom Audience list. The Lookalike Audience is a target audience you create from a ‘source’, this can be your Custom Audience, pixel data (users who have visited your website or post-click landing page), mobile app data or fans of your page.

Facebook then finds people who are similar to the source or look like them, as they are more likely to positively respond to your ads. You can choose the size of your lookalike audience during the ad creation process.

A smaller Lookalike Audience is more likely to closely match the source audience, a larger Lookalike Audience may increase ad reach but it decreases the level of similarity between the source audience and the Lookalike Audience.

You can customize your audience based on:

  1. Location
  2. Age
  3. Gender
  4. Languages

You can also choose the option of detailed targeting, this allows you to refine the group of people who see your ads. You can add additional demographic information, interests, and behaviors.

  1. What users share on their timeline
  2. What apps they use
  3. What ads they click
  4. What pages they interact with
  5. What activities they engage in, on and off Facebook. Activities such as device usage, purchase behavior,
  6. purchase intent, travel preferences etc.
  7. Which mobile device they use, and the speed of their internet connection.

The social network allows you to segment your audience based on the following parameters:

Select ad placement

The ad placement is where your ad appears on Facebook.

Your campaign objective determines the ad placements available to you:

Facebook pre-selects and recommends using the ‘Automatic Placement’ option.

Facebook’s automatic ad placement option shows your ads in placements they’re likely to perform best for the selected audience. Automatic Facebook ad placements may include Facebook, Instagram, Audience Network and Messenger.

Select budget and Schedule

Choose a budget, select a schedule for your ads, optimization for ad delivery, bid amount, and ad delivery type:

The budget signifies the amount you’re willing to pay to run your ads. Budgets are a cost control tool, they help you control the overall spending for an ad set in the same way bids helps control cost per result.

You have two options with budgets:

Don’t change your campaign budget frequently as doing this can negatively affect ad performance.

The Schedule controls if the ad set will run continuously from a particular selected date, or within a selected date range. If you’ve selected a lifetime budget, you must select an end date. Doing this allows Facebook to spend the selected budget, and pace the ad set delivery evenly across the ad set’s lifetime.

Optimization for ad delivery

The optimization for ad delivery option lets you choose how you want Facebook to target your audience based on your objective. The option you select affects who sees your ads, to get you the best results at the lowest cost possible.

These are the available options:


The bid is the monetary value associated with each ad set, the amount represents how much you’re willing to pay for the ‘Optimization for Ad Delivery’ option you choose.

Your bids are combined with two other factors – estimated action rates and ad quality and relevance.
The combination of the following three factors are entered into Facebook’s ad auctions, and this eventually defines which advertisers get to show their display ads.

The ad with the highest total value wins and gets shown to audiences.

There are two bidding options available:

Ad scheduling

You can choose to run ads all the time, or choose to run ads on a specific schedule. You should always rotate ads for audiences, so if you haven’t convinced them with one ad, there is a chance you will with another. Set a frequency cap, so the same person doesn’t see identical ads multiple times, as this can cause banner blindness.

Delivery type

How Facebook spends your budget is determined by the delivery type. You have two options with delivery:

Create your ad

Choose the relevant Facebook ad format for your campaign and insert the ad copy and images to create your Facebook ad.

After you’re done with setting up your Facebook display ad campaign and fine-tuning the targeting and audience segmentation, it’s now time to create an optimized Facebook display ad.

Optimizing Facebook display ads

A typical Facebook display ad consists of four components – headline, copy, media (image/video) and a CTA button. To ensure your target audience notices your ad and clicks it, here’s how you should optimize each ad component.

Craft an attention-grabbing headline

Your ad is going to be competing with multiple ads on Facebook, essentially fighting for your target audience’s attention. To get your ad clicked, the first thing you need is a headline that has the power to grasp the target audience’s attention.

The ad headline should succinctly describe what your offer or product/service is about.

Optimove makes use of statistics in the ad headline to get users curious about how Adore Me increased revenue by 15% by using their service:

Include your Unique Value Proposition in the ad copy

Facebook only allows a limited number of characters for your ad copy. Use the character limit to good use by showcasing how your offer is going to help solve your target audience’s problem and make their life easier.

Asana’s Facebook ad copy does exactly that:

Add a relevant CTA button

The CTA button copy tells users what they should expect after the ad click. Your ad CTA button should be relevant to the offer showcased in the ad, it’s also a good idea to use an action verb to motivate visitors to take an action.

Facebook gives you several CTA button copy options, make sure you choose the appropriate one for your ad.

Framestr’s ‘Learn More’ CTA button is relevant to the ad copy:

Add eye-catching media

The biggest advantage of display ads is the fact that you can use media, whether that’s an image or a video to get users to notice your ads.

Use relevant and vibrant media to make your ad stand out from the other ads competing in the same space.

AdEspresso’s carousel ad includes relevant images for every part:

One of the most crucial components of optimizing your Facebook display ads is optimizing the post-click landing page and connecting all your ads to dedicated, message matched post-click landing pages. We’ll discuss more on this in section 5.

Running your display ad campaigns in Facebook allows you to take advantage of one of the biggest pools of social audiences, moreover, you can use laser-focused targeting options the network has to offer, all this helps you achieve your campaign goals and increases your business growth.

One of the main goals of display ads whether created in Google Ads or Facebook Ads is remarketing. The next section of the guide will go into detail about what remarketing is and why it’s important to create display ads for your remarketing campaigns.

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Section 4: Why are display ads essential for remarketing?

Remarketing or retargeting allows you to keep your brand in front of your potential customers after they have left your website without performing an action — persuading them to reconsider your offer when they need it.

Remarketing involves showing ads to prospects based on their behavior on your web pages in an attempt to guide them through your marketing funnel. The process is enabled by cookie-based pixels that track your prospects' internet browsing behavior after they abandon your website.

Remarketing display ads help call back lost visitors, by showing them relevant ads to products/services they showed an interest while they were on your webpage.

The buyer journey is no longer linear, in fact it looks a little like this:

Remarketing display ads help you shine a light on your value proposition for your target audiences who have steered away from your website — persuading them to revisit your offer when they believe they need it.

There are two types of remarketing campaigns:

  1. Pixel based remarketing works with the help of a JavaScript code that’s placed on your website or post-click landing page. After the pixel is attached, every time a visitor comes to your website or post-click landing page, the pixel drops an anonymous browser cookie that helps you track their online activities and show relevant display ads at the right time.
  2. List-based remarketing shows ads to your existing customers to retarget specific ads at them.

Your remarketing display ad campaigns should have the following two goals depending on where the user is in the buying cycle/journey:

Whether you choose to run awareness campaigns or conversion campaigns, the key to creating remarketing display ads that work lies with audience segmentation.

Segment your audience based on:

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