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What is display advertising?

Many successful marketing strategies use display advertising – but why? Find out here how Google Ads - and banner ads in general - could work for you.

Display advertising is wherever you look. Splashed across social media. Bordering that blog you like. Sat atop the headlines on the Sky News website. It’s used by most businesses, without you even knowing it.

That said, we’re so used to seeing adverts that we usually flick the anti-ad switch in our brain. 200 million internet users have installed ad blocking software for this reason.

The modern marketer is now faced with a new challenge. Can you make a display ad campaign that stands out from the crowd, and sticks in the mind? Considering the competition, that's easier said than done.

Read on to learn what display advertising actually is and how it works. We've also examples of display ads designed for various online platforms.

Want to compare quotes for digital marketing agencies based on your business needs? If so, fill in the form above. It's a good hack for saving time and money on market research.

What is display advertising?

Display advertising is a visual form of advertising that incorporates both text and graphics. It appears on dedicated areas of a website or social media platform in the form of a ‘banner ad'. Think of it as the internet's answer to billboard advertising.

Display adverts or banner ads are designed to increase the click-through rate to a landing page. They do this by cleverly combining striking imagery and attention-grabbing copy. They may contain animation or video content – using more than just words to create a stand-out, snapshot ad.

Display advertising is most commonly used to increase brand awareness. It can also be used to re-engage previous customers or visitors. It can even be used to win new customers. A display ad is designed to engage the potential buyer and to develop their interest in your product or service, before going in with the hard sell.

Thinking of making a display ad yourself? Be sure to consider the format. JPEG, JPG, PNG, and GIF images are all accepted by any network. Not all networks accept HTML5.

Animated banners come with their own technical specifications. Image banners, however, only need to be under 150kb in size. You'll need to be compliant with regulations set by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Top-performing display ad sizes include:

Ad size (measured in pixels):Description:
300×250The medium rectangle ad. At its best when embedded within text, or at the bottom of an article.
336×280The large rectangle ad. Also performs well when embedded within a block of text.
728×90The leaderboard ad. Does well when placed at the top of content, and is a popular choice on forum sites.
300×600The half page ad. More space means more content, but it also means more money. Highly appealing visually, and highly clickable.
320×100The mobile banner ad. Can be used as an alternative to the medium/large rectangle ad. It provides twice the height of the standard mobile leaderboard size.

How do display ads work?

Display advertising uses the same basic principles as print advertising. That is, ads are designed to inform, engage, notify, and increase awareness. They can be static or animated, contain text, an image or both, and can appear on different websites in a variety of forms.

They work by generating traffic to your website from an external source. The point of a display ad is to encourage the customer to click on it. To increase the chances of being clicked, display advertising targets people with specific internet habits that are linked to the product or service being advertised.

If you’re using Google Ads, don’t worry, though – it’s not all left to Google guesswork. You can have a say when it comes to where your Google Ads are placed. Opt for either automatic or managed placements.

Google Ads:

Automatic Google Ads placements
Google will determine the ad placement based on the sites it deems relevant to your business. If you are new to Google Ads, this can be useful.

Managed Google Ads placements
You can decide on the ad placement based on customer search trends and business relevancy.

To fully control who sees your display advert it is best to buy advertising space on a particular website. Then, you’ll already know the tone of the site, and the type of audience who are likely to see the advert.

What are the benefits of display advertising for small businesses?

  • Extensive reach. Display advertising often targets a wide range of users. This can be beneficial for small businesses looking to make their brand known to as many people as possible.
  • Creative. Display ads can use images, video, text and more to make them different. That's especially useful for small businesses looking to stand out from the crowd.
  • Brand awareness. Display advertising is a great tool to get your business out there and make people aware of what you’re doing.
  • Retargeting. Display ads can be used to retarget users who have already visited your website. That means they can help your brand become more memorable to potential customers.
  • Affordable. Compared to other forms of advertising (like print), display advertising can be much more cost-effective. Ideal for budget-conscious small businesses!

Types of display advertising

Display advertising can be separated into three broad categories:

1. Retargeting

Retargeting delivers highly relevant ads to your audience based on specific user behaviour and interactions.

One example of retargeted display advertising would be creating specific adverts which target users who have reached your pricing page, but have not completed their order.

This works by using the data generated from their visit to your site to then direct adverts containing similar products. This can be done automatically using dynamic remarketing display adverts, which are popular on ecommerce sites.

Dynamic remarketing works by pooling information from the data feed regarding the product or service that the customer has been viewing. This information is then used to automatically create a customer-specific banner ad based on a premade template.

To do this yourself in Google Ads:

  • Link your Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) account with your Google Analytics account.
  • You’ll then need to add a small bit of code (provided by AdWords) across all pages of your site.
  • Next, create remarketing lists. These are specific website visitors to be targeted based on their previous interactions with your website, i.e. those visitors who have seen a particular category collection.
  • Finally, within Google Ads, create a remarketing campaign with different ads targeting different customers based on their interest in the product or service.
  • All done! Now, when your customers visit your website then leave again, your brand will still be visible via online marketing. This recurrent brand visibility will also help to build trust with your audience.

2. Acquisition

This type of campaign focuses on driving direct sales and acquiring new customers, doing so via in-market audiences, affinity audiences, and interest targeting.

In-market audiences are those looking to make an immediate purchase. Google will be able to pinpoint these people based on search history.

For example, someone reading mattress reviews, searching for local bed shops, and looking at different supplier sites is probably on the hunt for a new mattress (and maybe some funky new pyjamas, too).

Affinity audiences are a little harder to pin down. This term might refer to those who aren’t in ‘research mode’, but might – in light of their online profile – still be in the mood to buy. These people are categorised as ‘long term interest’ prospects by Google.

The affinity marketing audiences in Google Ads are split into these ‘long term interest’ categories:

  • Banking
  • Beauty
  • Food and dining
  • Home and garden
  • Lifestyle and hobbies
  • Media and entertainment
  • News and politics
  • Shoppers (bargain)
  • Shoppers (value)
  • Shoppers (luxury)
  • Sports and fitness
  • Technology
  • Travel
  • Vehicles and transport

Once the affinity audience member has been categorised, streamlined display adverts will appear on the sites they visit that support display adverts.

To illustrate: someone who avidly reads the interior design blogs they subscribe to, and regularly listens to a ‘how to decorate’ podcast, would be categorised into the ‘home and garden’ affinity marketing group (available in Google Ads).

3. Brand awareness

Focussing on reach rather than conversion, an awareness campaign requires careful planning. In order to be effective, it will also need to run for quite a long time, which will cost you both time and resources.

The aim of the awareness game is to reach as many people as possible whilst sticking to your budget. Likes and shares will help to further your reach, but securing these in the first place can be tricky. 

Some businesses will even pay for more visibility and followers, but this can be obvious to the reader, so we recommend sticking to methods driven by organic search engine optimisation (SEO).

Whilst a brand awareness campaign won’t have the same clear return on investment (ROI) as one that focuses on acquisitions, it will have possibly unseen benefits in the long run. Brand familiarity can do wonders for your business, as the more the customers that see the brand, the more likely they are to trust it.

Display advertising examples

To properly describe what different display ads might look like would take quite some time. So, as pictures speak a thousand words, we’ve put together some display ad examples to show what display advertising really means.

Example one:

display advertising banner ad

LinkedIn banner ad – This is an example of brand awareness display advertising that is specifically designed for LinkedIn, and made to get the brand name ‘out there’. 

The reference to ‘work’ in the slogan makes it clear that the ad is designed for LinkedIn – the pun is intriguing, but there’s no hard sell here. An ad like this would feature in LinkedIn’s paid advertising space.

Note: LinkedIn banner ads are: 1400×245 px.

Example two:

display advertising

A medium-rectangle ad, designed to be an acquisition display advert on a search-appropriate website, such as an interior design blog. This captures the user intent – interior design – and subtly displays an advert that is in-line with that intent. This display advert would appear in a paid ad slot.

Example three:

display advertising

Large-rectangle ad – designed as a retargeting display advert to be used on any site the targeted prospect is likely to use, i.e. social media. The discount offer and code are larger than the brand name, as prior brand familiarity is assumed.

The same background image as other display adverts is used for consistency. However, the slogans have been replaced with an enticing offer, which encourages the customer to click through to the website and use the promotional code.

All three of the above display ads are marketing the same company, using the same principle, but targeting different customers at various stages of the user journey.

The time and placement of the adverts is determined by the audience's search habits. If they’ve never searched for ‘beds to buy’ on Google, they’re likely to see example one (the brand awareness ad).

If they have Googled ‘beds to buy’ but never visited the Start-up Bed Co’s site, then Google will assume they’re interested in buying a bed, and will show them example two (the acquisition ad).

If they've previously visited the Start-up Bed Co’s site but didn’t purchase a new bed, then Google will show them example three (the retargeting ad) to lure them back with an exciting offer they can’t refuse.

Best digital marketing agencies for display advertising

Here are some top agencies offering display advertising services for small businesses.

1. SiteVisibility: Best for industry leadership

SiteVisibility offers display advertising with services including creative concept and targeted websites, as well as collecting data and monitoring activity. It offers display advertising through Crimtan and Meerkat Works, its partner companies. 

As well as display advertising, SiteVisibility offers services across digital marketing. These range from content marketing and pay-per-click (PPC) to SEO – the latter of which it is perhaps best known for.

Indeed, SiteVisibility founded the industry-leading BrightonSEO conference, showcasing their specialist knowledge and position in the sector. That’s why we think it’s best for industry leadership.

Due to its industry expertise and authority, we think SiteVisibility is best suited to ambitious small businesses that want to grow and develop their digital presence.

Prices are available upon request.

ProsCons
- Well-known company
- Industry leaders
- Range of services available
- It might be too big an operation for very small businesses

2. Passion Digital: Best for PPC

Passion Digital promotes itself as a pay-per-click (PPC) agency with Google display advertising services. It also provides other specialist services within PPC, such as PPC for startups, for charities, and in multiple languages.

While it focuses on PPC, Passion Digital also offers SEO, content marketing, and social media marketing services. It has offices in London and Madrid. 

If your small business is looking to use display advertising as a primary part of your social media marketing, then Passion Digital could be ideal for you, as we think it’s the best for PPC.

From its Google reviews, Passion Digital seems to be especially suited to charities, as it seems to do a lot of work in the non-profit sector. 

Prices are available upon request.

ProsCons
- Expertise across multiple areas of PPC
- Experience working with charities
- International presence
- Could be clearer on what they do for display advertising services specifically

3. JDR Group: Best for B2B marketing

Based in Derby, JDR Group specialises in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, although it does work with a variety of clients across a range of industries. 

It offers display advertising, along with other services – like PPC and email marketing – either individually or as part of a combined service. JDR Group has certifications from Google, Hubspot, Infusionsoft, and Duct Tape Marketing, and also offers a free marketing audit. 

With its focus on sales and display advertising as part of a combined strategy, as well as the option to hire a digital marketing department, JDR Group could be ideal for small businesses that are looking to grow in size and increase sales. We think JDR Group is best for B2B marketing.

Prices are available upon request.

ProsCons
- Free marketing audit
- Option to hire a digital marketing department
- B2B specialists
- Business-to-consumer (B2C) focused businesses might be more suited to another agency

Should you oversee display advertising yourself, or hire an agency?

Benefits of DIY:

  • Low cost
  • Opportunity to learn a new skill
  • Creative control
  • Thorough understanding of brand and style

Benefits of an agency:

  • Industry knowledge
  • Experience
  • Greater resources
  • New ideas

How to run a display advertising campaign yourself

Below, we’ll guide you through what you need to run a display advertising campaign. We'll focus on Google Ads and its Google Display Network.

1. Select goals

Firstly, decide on who you’re going to target. Will you be aiming for new customers? Or do you want to reach people that have already visited you? The latter is known as remarketing. For more information, see Google guide on display remarketing campaigns.

2. Target your ads

Next, think about targeting. This means choosing how your ads will be placed. Options include managed placements (i.e. picking specific sites that ads are displayed on), as well as targeting based on interests or topics. Contextual targeting is another option, whereby ads are positioned based upon related keywords. It’s also possible to combine methods. The method of targeting you choose will depend on the platform, and the goals you decide upon.

3. Plan a budget

You’ll also need to consider how much budget to set aside for display advertising, as well as how you’ll spend it. When it comes to the ads themselves, you’ll need to select the format – what size and type of ads do you want to use?

4. Run tests

Finalising a budget for display advertising also means factoring in resources for testing, both in terms of time and money. This allows you to see what does and doesn’t work and make changes accordingly, whether to the copy, images, or size of the adverts.

5. Measure success

Be sure to review your display ads on an ongoing basis, and make adjustments according to the data. You may also be able to assess the analytics and alter your ads based on your findings, too. This can help you to measure success – the criteria could include new site visitors, as well as the time spent on your site and the number of page views.

For a more detailed step-by-step guide to creating a campaign and ad groups, as well as how to target and bid, plus create image ads, visit Google’s guide to getting started on the Google Display Network.

Top display advertising tips from the experts

Steven Lowe, Senior Biddable Marketing Manager at MVF advises:

  1. Make your ads as clickable as possible. Click-through rate (CTR) is the king and queen when it comes to display advertising. With around 60% of impressions being viewable (viewable is when 50% or more of an ad is shown for one second or more), it is important that viewable impressions lead to clicks on your ad in order to drive traffic to your landing page. Therefore, it is super important that your ads are as clickable as possible. Some tips on how to improve this are hyperbolic copy, or more natural looking creatives, such as photos taken from your smartphone. 
  2. Treat different targeting types differently. Different targeting types will not necessarily have the same performance. For example, retargeting website visitors requires more specific messaging than a prospecting campaign as the user is further down the marketing funnel. Targeting is another powerful lever by which you can improve the CTR of your marketing campaigns. More specific targeting in tandem with more clickable ads will massively boost your CTR. 
  3. Leverage advertising platforms automated bidding. Unfortunately, computers are better at processing and analysing data than humans, but this means that automated bidding algorithms can provide great results for digital advertisers. Once your campaign has enough conversions (30 conversions in the last 30 days) it is possible to use bidding strategies like Target CPA bidding. This strategy takes into account more factors than are available to digital marketers relating to the profile of a customer in real time allowing marketing platforms to optimise to your stated goal. Target CPA bidding not only allows you to achieve your desired cost per action (CPA) but also allows you to increase your number of conversions. 
  4. Be mindful of mobile apps. Including mobile apps can be a great way of increasing the reach of your display advertising campaigns due to their huge reach whilst customers are browsing. However, it is worth monitoring their performance from a CPA perspective and a return on advertising spend (ROAS) perspective. When launching a campaign from scratch, it is sometimes worth excluding mobile apps initially and then including them in your targeting once your campaign is more optimised. 
  5. Testing relentlessly can supercharge your campaigns. Don’t be afraid to launch tests on your display campaigns. This can range from a new ad or a new landing page to new targeting or automated bidding. If it’s not been tested, how can you know if it works? It is worth reserving a proportion of your advertising budget for new test ideas. A winning test can drastically improve your key metrics like conversion rates or CTRs, which allows you to grow your campaigns.

What can an agency do that I can’t?

It is possible to run display advertising yourself. But, there are a number of ways that an agency could help your business:

  • Multiple specialisms. Display advertising is often part of a wider marketing strategy. So, an agency can give this broader expertise as part of their service.
  • Team collaboration. Work alone or in a very small team? Hiring an agency offers access to different perspectives.
  • Tools and software. An agency will use many tools to monitor and measure campaigns. Some of these may require specialist knowledge or a budget that you may not have.
  • Scalability. If your ads are working well, an agency can advise how to get more from them. Or, if you need to minimise activity, they can advise ways to do this.

What are the costs involved with display advertising?

Whether you run display advertising yourself or hire an agency, it costs. Here, we examine what you could expect to pay.

With some display advertising, you pay each time a user clicks on your advert. Sometimes, you pay for the number of impressions an advert receives. For example, it’s apparently possible to achieve 1,000 ad impressions for under £5. This often makes display advertising cost-effective compared to e.g. print adverts.

The size of the advert also affects its price. As you'd expect, bigger ads are usually more expensive than smaller ads.

More highly targeted ads will tend to be more expensive. Plus, what websites the ads display on can impact the price. More highly ranked sites tend to attract higher display advertising costs.

Lastly, the network you choose to run your display adverts on can influence costs.

The Google Display Network in Google Ads offers three forms of pricing:

CPCCost per clickPay when a user clicks on the ad
CPMCost per mille (i.e. per thousand impressions)Pay for ads per thousand views
CPACost per acquisitionPay for ads when it creates a conversion

Next steps: Compare digital marketing agencies

Display advertising can help get your business in front of the right people. And it can help keep your business in their mind. As such, it represents an efficient and effective marketing method.

Are you keen to get started with digital advertising? The form above can help you compare quotes for digital marketing agencies. We’ll put you in touch with those who offer the services you need.

Scarlett Cook
Scarlett Cook

Scarlett writes for the automotive, energy, hosting and website sections of the site. In addition, she promotes the newest small businesses by managing the Just Started profiles, and has also contributed to Tech Donut. Scarlett is passionate about championing equality and sustainability in business.

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