19 minutes read

This complete guide will catch you up with all the basic concepts you need to know about display ads, from what they are to what types exist and what you can do to create successful campaigns. You will also find a detailed list of the pros and cons of display advertising, along with some real-life examples of display ads from different industries to inspire you.

Summary

1. What is display advertising?

2. Display ad types

3. Display ads vs. native ads

4. Pros and cons of using display ads for your campaign

5. How to create engaging/performing ads

6. Display ads targeting: what to keep in mind

7. Display advertising KPIs to measure (and why)

8. Display ad examples

1. What Is Display Advertising?

Display advertising is the act of advertising through graphics on the internet. In more complex terms, it is the act of advertising with the help of banners, videos, images, and/or audio that can be seen across the internet.

That little picture trying to sell you a cool video editor while you’re reading a recipe for bubble tea? That’s digital advertising. The 15-second video that shows up before the video you actually clicked on on YouTube? Digital advertising. That banner and audio message on Spotify asking you to go Premium while you’re listening to your playlist? Believe it or not, digital advertising.

Digital ads are all around us and will continue to be around, with businesses worldwide spending more and more money on them every year, according to Statista, which pointed out that ad spending on digital advertising is projected to reach $515,287m in 2022. 

It’s safe to say that if you’re a marketer or advertiser looking to promote a business, you need to venture into digital advertising.

But what kind of display ads should you be working with?

2. Display Ad Types

The term display advertising encompasses a variety of display ad types, each with its own benefits. Depending on your budget and the type of marketing campaign you are planning, you can choose one, a few, or all of them.

Important note: You will notice that, more often than not, two different types of ads can overlap—an ad can be both a banner ad and a type of video ad, while another can be a video ad as well as a rich media ad. But to not overcomplicate this guide, we’re listing down the five most essential types you should be aware of.

Here are the main types of display ads:

2.1. Display banner ads

A display banner ad is an advertisement that consists of an image and text that, if you click on, you will be directed to the advertiser’s web page or landing page. 

Display banner ads come in several shapes and sizes, although some of the most common banner sizes are typically 336 x 280 (Large Rectangle), 300 x 250 (Medium Rectangle), and 728 x 90 (Leaderboard).

A display banner ad for Fiverr found on Search Engine Journal.

2.2. Video ads

Video advertising is any form of advertisement that uses video material to promote a product or a service. 

Here’s the tricky part, though.

Over the years, as streaming services rose to popularity and the industry discovered more and more ways to advertise on them, even a banner ad can sometimes be a type of video ad.

Let me explain.

Generally, video ads are split into in-stream ads and non-linear ads. In-stream ads are the video ads that you see before, during, and after your favorite YouTube video. They pause the content you’re watching until the end or until you get the chance to press the Skip Ad button. 

Non-linear ads, however, happen during the YouTube video. These are the leaderboard banners that you see overlaid on the bottom of the video and/or the rectangle banners on the right side of your screen—both of them show up while you’re watching the content, with no interruption. 

Monday dot come video ad found before Youtube video.

2.3. Rich media ads/animated ads

Although they can be similar at first glance, the best way to remember the difference between the two is to look at rich media ads as animated ads taken to another level. 

While animated ads are ads that involve some sort of movement (whether it’s a text bouncing to the front or a picture fading in and out) accompanied by a CTA, rich media ads are a step beyond that. They include moving elements, videos, or audio with the purpose of encouraging engagement beyond just clicking the CTA. The video ad that you can pause as you scroll through a webpage? The banner ad that you can push down so you can see the rest of your screen? That other ad that expands from one side of the screen to the other? They are all rich media ads.

Here, you can see that rich media ads have an extra spice that makes them unique from traditional animated ones.

An example of a rich media ad from Van Cleef & Arpels found on The New York Times website.

2.4. Interstitial ads

Now that you’re familiar with rich media ads, interstitial ads will be a no-brainer. 

Interstitial ads, much like rich media ads, contain images, text, videos, and audio to encourage engagement.

The difference is that interstitial ads can be found on mobile apps. 

Have you ever found yourself playing a mobile game, and it gives you the option to watch an ad in exchange for extra gold coins? That’s an interstitial ad right there. It pauses the content on the app, covers the entire interface, and plays until the end or until you get the chance to stop it. 

Of course, they don’t only show up on mobile game apps. From the good ol’ Facebook app to your favorite photo editing app, any app that you use for free will more than likely feature an interstitial ad at some point while you use it.

2.5. Mobile ads

Mobile ads are exactly what the name suggests: ads that are available on mobile devices.

To quote the definition from Google Ad Help, a mobile ad is specifically: 

“A type of ad that can appear on webpages and apps that are viewed on a mobile device like a cell phone or tablet.”

Creating mobile ads for your product or service is a necessity nowadays for several reasons. The most important one is that we spend a lot of time on our mobile devices, probably even more than we do on our desktops. 

Statista reports that 54.8% of the global web traffic came from mobile last year. DataReportal shows us that in January 2021 alone, more than half of global internet users between the ages of 16 and 44 bought something online using their mobile devices. 

This is a tremendous opportunity to connect with your target audience via their smartphones, and it starts with a creative mobile ad.

The most common size for mobile ads is 300 x 250 (Medium Rectangle), as it takes up less space and loads faster while still ensuring a clear, sharp image. 

A TikTok mobile ad found on Forbes when browsing the webpage on mobile.

3. Display Ads vs. Native Ads

Although the industry has shown a lot of love for display ads, native advertising is definitely stealing some of the attention since it came to the scene in 2011. 

Unlike display ads, native ads are meant to not actually feel like ads. They are intended to blend with the content of a specific website, aligning themselves better with the interests of visitors and delivering relevant information. 

Given their nature, you can imagine that native ads bring considerable advantages to your campaign, including higher CTRs.

Below you can see the key differences between display ads and native ads:

Display ads Native ads
Stand out on the page Blend in with the content of the page
Thrive on web pages/desktop Thrive on mobile
Great for retargeting campaigns Great for driving traffic
Ideal for product advertising Ideal for brand awareness
Cheaper CPC More expensive CPC
Lower CTR Higher CTR

4. Pros and Cons of Using Display Ads for Your Campaign

Like any adventure you take in your digital advertising journey, display ads have an attractive set of benefits and a few disadvantages that are important to be aware of. 

By understanding the pros and cons, you will be able to accurately prepare your campaigns, anticipate shortcomings, and plan the resources you will need to adjust said campaigns.

Here are the benefits and disadvantages of creating display ads you need to be mindful of: 

4.1. Display ads benefits

Easy to create

The first piece of good news is that you can easily create a display ad, even if you’ve never even used a graphic design platform.

A quick Google search will show you several graphic design platforms meant to help you create attractive ads with just a few clicks. Creatopy, for example, is specifically built to be an ad design automation platform where you can find an extensive library of templates to get started with and several features that help you automate your work and save you time. Among them, there’s the Ad Serving add-on, which allows you to update your ads without pausing your campaigns. We also have the Feed Ad Builder, which will enable you to create several versions of one design by uploading a single CSV file with the information you need.

Diversity (personalized ads)

If you work in marketing, you’ve already heard about how important it is to talk to one person from the crowd instead of the entire crowd as a whole. 

The good news is that you can make it happen with today’s technology—and quite easily so.

Personalized ads allow you to tailor your display ads to your audience’s specific interests, hobbies, and needs. For example, if you’re selling sports gear, you can create different display ads for different types of audiences: tennis gear ads for tennis fans, soccer equipment ads for soccer fans, volleyball ads for volleyball fans, etc.

You can use the data from your website, Google, or any platform you’re working on to find out what exactly your target audience is interested in and optimize your ads accordingly.

Better brand awareness

Having a good rollout of attractive display ads opens up the potential for more customers. It’s not just about having ads in as many places as possible. It’s also about having the right number of ads, and even more than that, the right number of versions of an ad.

Better optimized ads lead to better exposure which leads to more customers.

Placement

Display ads can be found everywhere, from the right side of a webpage to a YouTube video you’re watching. By having them in different places where your audience is, you once again open yourself up to a larger pool of potential customers.

And with a good automatization tool, you can scale your display ads in such a way that they will look great on any website, whether it’s on desktop or mobile.

Highly targeted

Advertising platforms give you all the tools you need to ensure that your display ads are seen by the right audience. By having the correct data about who your customers are, what websites they spend time on, and what their interests are, you can set up campaigns that help you reach those exact kinds of people.

A highly targeted campaign increases your chances of finding customers who will actually make a purchase. 

Support retargeting

A customer that makes a purchase is great news—but a customer who comes back time and time again is even better.

The same platforms that help highly target the right audience will also help you retarget them. Whenever you set up an ad campaign, you get the option to retarget the same people that have engaged with your ads previously. This gives you the chance to be seen more by the same people, which increases the possibility of them remembering you better and coming back for more.

Easy to track your results

No matter where and to whom you choose to show your display ads, each platform you work on will give you the tools you need to track your results. All you have to do is select the KPIs you think are required to accurately measure your campaign’s success. The list of KPIs can be as long or as short as you see fit, giving you the chance to completely personalize your reports and only see the results that you find relevant.

By having accurate results of your ad campaign right at hand, you will have an easier time optimizing your future campaigns. You will be able to see what worked and analyze the things that fell flat. 

Good return on investment

All the benefits we’ve just looked at culminate in one mega-benefit: good return on investment.

Like any marketer, you want to find a way to spend as little as possible while making as much profit as possible. Although this mainly classifies as an ideal scenario, there are ways for you to get close to it. 

A good rollout of tailor-made ads to your audience’s needs gives you higher chances of exposure, which can boost your sales and eventually lead to a good ROI. And it all starts with making one set of good-looking display ads. 

4.2. Display ads disadvantages

Banner blindness

With so many ads targeting us day by day, it’s no surprise that we learned to filter through them either intentionally or unintentionally. This is called banner blindness.

Intentional banner blindness would be users choosing not to engage with your display ad for various reasons, despite acknowledging them. Your ad might not be relevant to them, the copy might not have grabbed their attention, or maybe the banner was not appropriately positioned on the webpage.

Unintentional banner blindness could be something like users being too focused on the content they have been looking for. This does not necessarily mean that your display ad is not done well, but it does mean that you need to find a more effective way to catch people’s attention. Remember to look for solutions that will not have the opposite effect, i.e., annoy your audience.

Ad blockers

One of, if not the biggest, obstacles for display ads is ad blockers. 

According to a 2022 report published by Hootsuite, 37% of worldwide internet users aged between 16 to 64 use tools to block ads, at least for some of their online activities. The same report notes that the most common reasons are the oversaturation of ads and privacy concerns.

So you can see why people are not so keen on having display ads on their screens, no matter how good-looking they are. 

Associated with spam

As seen with the reasons that internet users choose to use AdBlock, display ads are often associated with spam.

With nearly every business taking the opportunity to publish their ads whenever and wherever possible, it’s understandable that at some point, people became overwhelmed. Among the thousands of ads they were seeing, many of them undoubtedly proved to be irrelevant space fillers.

This is why it’s essential to not limit yourself to display advertising only when trying to promote your business. A good balance between display, native ads, and good content marketing can do wonders.

Lower CTR

Display ads don’t often receive the number of click-through rates one would expect. 

According to the latest findings from Wordstream, the average CTR for Google Ads across all industries is 0,46% on the display network. In fact, as noted in a previous section, native ads have higher chances of receiving good CTRs than display ones. 

Still, you don’t have to give up hope just yet. There are ways to improve your display ads’ click-through rate. But it does show that it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket.

create campaigns

5. How to Create Engaging/Performing Display Ads

If you haven’t ventured into display advertising yet, you might be thinking that designing engaging display ads can be quite a challenge. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

With just a few simple rules, you will be able to create ads that have the potential to bring you great ROIs. 

5.1. Keep it simple

Display ads don’t have to be complicated. 

A high-quality image, an enticing copy, and a noticeable CTA are the key ingredients to creating engaging display ads. As long as you have these three, you can design some of the most beautiful ads, even if you have zero experience. 

Although figuring out the right tone of voice for your copy and gathering the best pictures can take time, remember to have fun. This is the most creative part of your display advertising process, so don’t be afraid to let go of your ideas. 

5.2. Don’t be shy to diversify 

When you publish your ads, chances are you will not use one design for your ad campaign. You will surely want them to be available both on desktop and mobile and have a few variations.

This means that you will have to adjust the sizes of your creatives and sometimes the copy, the pictures, the background colors, the fonts, and even the CTA. 

Not to mention one user can come across your ad in several different places, and it can become pretty boring and slightly annoying for them to see the exact same design everywhere they go. 

Take some time to think about where you want your ads, what type of audiences you will find there, and what kind of content they expect. Remember, placement is essential, but you also have to make sure that your ads are in tune with not just your brand but the environment of the platform.

5.3. Be open to A/B testing

As the saying goes, you’ll never know until you try.

Even if you created display ads you’re completely satisfied with, your audience might not feel the same way. This is why an A/B test might just be your best friend.

If you’re torn between two or more types of ads, consider publishing all of them and using the same KPIs to measure their performances. Once you’ve found the winner, take notes about what went right but also about what went wrong, and use them on your next campaign. 

Who knows, the results might surprise you.

6. Display Ads Targeting: What to Keep in Mind 

The truth is, display advertising is often a costly and quite time-consuming task, so you want to make sure that your efforts are worth it by targeting the right audience the right way. For this, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to make sure you get the best results possible.

6.1. Demographic 

When talking about demographics, we tend to think about age and gender. This alone can help you reach a pretty broad audience without expanding your horizon so much that you get lost in the crowd.

If you want an even more laser-focused audience targeting, you can also consider location (cities, countries, regions, etc.)

If your business already has a marketing plan, you can check out the buyer persona and get the information from there.  

6.2. Placement

Next to knowing who your audience is, knowing where they are is crucial.

For example, in a previous section about mobile ads, we discussed how more than half of people between the ages of 16 and 44 bought something online using their mobile devices globally. 

If you happen to run an ecommerce business and your target audience falls into this age range, you already have a good idea about where your audience is. And this will allow you to invest in display ads that can actually reach the people who might be interested in what you have to offer.

6.3. Interests

Alright, you know who your audience is, and you also know where to find them.

But what are they doing?

It’s important to anticipate your audience’s interests to successfully market to them. What do they like? What do they want to learn? What are their hobbies? 

Once you find the answers to these questions, it will be easy to figure out keywords, which you can then use to set up your campaign.

And once you have these keywords, you can move on to affinity targeting.

6.4. Affinity targeting – affinity groups

Affinity targeting is the step you take after figuring out your target audience’s interests and hobbies. Based on how many keywords you managed to list down when thinking of their interests, you can split your audience into various affinity groups for each of your campaigns.

Imagine you are trying to advertise a food blog. You want to reach people interested in cooking. But if you’re planning to advertise a dessert blog, specifically, then it might be best to narrow it down to people interested in baking. If you’re advertising smartphones, you can try reaching people interested in technology, mobile devices, and maybe even social media.

Different platforms will have their own affinity groups that you can select for your campaigns. For example, Google Ads offers a whole list of affinity categories you can take advantage of. 

6.5. Similar audience

Your audience can only be so big, which is why it would be a good idea to expand your horizon even more and make your ads reach similar audiences.

Similar audience targeting is when you reach people who share interests with the audience you are already targeting. Google Ads has an option to select similar audiences when creating your ad campaign.

6.6. Remarketing

Remarketing, also known as retargeting, is the process of targeting your audience once again after they have already interacted with your website.

You can take the data you already have about customers who have engaged with your ads and visited your website. This can look in numerous ways: it could be a brand new ad or the exact version of the previous ad on a different device. 

Remarketing is a great tool to keep your audience coming back. The more you show up, the more memorable you can be. 

That being said, it’s also a tricky tool. You don’t want to be too aggressive with it, or your audience might get sick of always seeing your ads pop up on their screen. You should absolutely remarket. Just be careful not to go overboard with it. 

7. Display Advertising KPIs to Measure (and Why)

Naturally, if you’re going to venture into display advertising, you want to make sure your campaign is successful. Likewise, if your campaign did not work as well as you hoped, you want to know what went wrong.

This is where the KPIs (key performance indicators) come into play. They can offer you a holistic view of the performance of your campaign, allowing you to learn and optimize future campaigns.

Here are seven KPIs you want to have on your list:

7.1. Impressions

In digital advertising, impressions are the views that your ad gets. More specifically, it’s the number of times your ad comes up when a user opens a webpage or an app. They don’t need to click on the ad or interact with it in any way for the impression to be counted.

Unlike reach, impressions do not measure unique users. This means that two impressions can come from the same user who just so happened to come across the same ad twice.

Impressions are an excellent way to measure the level of exposure that your ads are getting. 

7.2. Clicks

While impressions give you a good idea about how much exposure your ad received, clicks can tell you how interested users were in it.

By looking at the number of clicks against the number of impressions, you will be able to tell how much your ad was able to capture users’ attention and convince them to interact with your ad.

You also need the total number of clicks and impressions to figure out the CTR.

7.3. CTR

CTR stands for click-through rate, and it gives you the exact percentage of the number of times users clicked on your ad. This gives you a much more direct picture of how many times users have been exposed to and engaged with your ad.

Use the following formula to calculate: 

total number of clicks ÷ total number of impressions = CTR

7.4. CPC

CPC stands for cost-per-click, and it shows you how much you spent for each click on your ad. It’s essential to know your CPC because you want it to be as low as possible, i.e., you want to spend as little as possible for the clicks you get. 

Remember, though, the average CPC varies significantly from industry to industry, so it would be a good idea to do some additional research on your industry specifically.

Use the following formula to calculate: 

total ad spend ÷ total number of clicks = CPC

7.5. CPA

CPA stands for cost-per-action. It is the amount you pay for conversions that happen on a website or an app due to the user engaging with your ad. This is different from the CPC because you are not paying for the literal click but for the conversion that happens right after it. 

Typically, a conversion is either a purchase, sign-up, download, etc.

A click doesn’t necessarily lead to a conversion, so it is important to look at both the CPC and CPA when evaluating the performance of your digital ads.

You might come across the CPA being defined as cost-per-acquisition, but that’s actually a different playing field. The acquisition exclusively refers to purchases that were made and disregards sign-ups. You might really only need to look at purchases in some cases, but it’s important to keep this distinction in mind.

Use the following formula to calculate: 

total ad spend ÷ total attributed conversions = CPA

7.6. Conversions

Conversions are the actions that happen after a user clicks on your ad. They typically refer to purchases that the user makes, but they can also be sign-ups to newsletters, ebook downloads, etc.

While impressions and clicks are necessary, conversions are your ultimate goal, so it’s essential to keep track of them. 

Calculating your conversion rate will help you determine exactly how many conversions you got from a certain number of impressions and clicks. 

Although there are a few ways in which you can calculate your conversion rate, this is the one recommended by Google Ads: 

total number of conversions ÷ total number of ad interactions that can be tracked to a conversion during the same period of time = CR

7.7. View-through conversions

Want to get an even more accurate analysis of your ad’s performance? View-through conversions tell you the number of users who saw your display ad but did not click on it.

You can see that by including view-through conversions in your list of KPIs, you can now have a complete view of a user’s entire journey with your ad—from the moment they first come across to until they (hopefully) make a purchase.

8. Display Ad Examples

Now you learned all the theories that are to know about display advertising and what your ads should and shouldn’t be.

But what about practice?

I’ll show you a few real-life examples of great display ads from different industries (food, beauty, fashion, entertainment, education, finance, and tech) that encompass everything that was discussed in this guide and will hopefully serve as inspiration. And when you’re ready to start creating your own designs, Creatopy will be ready to give you a hand.

Food:

mcdonald's display ad example

It’s not easy to discuss food ads without mentioning McDonald’s, but there’s a good reason for that.

This particular ad is an excellent example of keeping things simple. All it really has is a picture of their product, a creative copy, and a bold CTA that invites you to be part of a new adventure. Add their signature colors, and voila. Simple but effective.

Beauty:

These two ads from MAC Cosmetics show you how to diversify your ads. The ads show two different shades from the Love Me lipstick. 

You can see that the only differences between them are the background colors and the images, but that was perfectly enough. You don’t have to overcomplicate things.

Fashion:

hm black friday display ad example

hm display ad example

These two display ads for H&M’s Pre-Black Friday deals from 2019 are another good example of diversification.

With a simple size adjustment, you have an ad that works well for desktop and another that works best for mobile.

Entertainment:

hbo max display ad example

Now I may not have concrete evidence of this, but I’m pretty sure if you left any traces of you being a Harry Potter fan on the internet, you surely came across this ad.

HBO Max invites you to sign up for their service with an image and a word (“magic”) that feels all too nostalgic for Potterheads. This is a good example of a display ad advertising a new product from a streaming service and an ad that was likely targeted to a specific audience with a particular interest.

Education:

harvard display ad example

Harvard keeps it extra simple in their ad. With the help of the signature colors and a simple copy that literally highlights the most critical bit that will entice interest, they made a straightforward and attractive ad.

Finance:

J.P. Morgan Private Bank knows how to keep their ads enticing yet straightforward enough to invite you to click. They also know that changing one sentence is enough to create a brand new version of an ad that can be put on a different webpage for a different audience (or the same user).

Tech:

 

Here are two different ads for the Google Store. You can see how creative you can get when advertising one product.

It would be cool and interesting to see an A/B test done on these two.

Wrapping it up

Since the dawn of the internet, display advertising has been around and will continue to be around. 

Although display ads may face new sets of challenges as technology develops, one thing’s for sure: you can never go wrong with knowing the basics.

Was this guide helpful? Are you going to be using any of the tips we’ve shown?

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Monica Aldea
Content Marketing Specialist at Creatopy - Hufflepuff in life. Always ready to comment on movies and pop culture, even at family dinners. Constantly cooking up story ideas.

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