Display Advertising Guide: Types, Best Practices, and How to Start

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover how to boost your marketing strategy and increase your brand’s reach with display advertising.

[Featured image] A working group sits at a conference table and discusses display advertising strategy.

What is display advertising? 

Display advertising, also referred to as online display advertising and digital display advertising, is a method of advertising on the internet. The purpose of display advertising is to:

  • Get an audience’s attention while they are browsing the internet, scrolling social media, checking their email inbox, or even using an app.

  • Encourage viewers to click on the ad to visit a landing page and make a purchase or other transaction. 

Display ads are easy to recognize online. They often combine text, images, or videos to convey a message. They generally appear at the top, along the side, or in the middle of a webpage “displayed” as sponsored content. When a display ad appears, it may be because you are browsing a relevant webpage or because you’ve previously visited the website of the brand featured in the ad. 

In researching display ads, you may come across related terms like search ads and native ads. While these three advertising methods share the goal of reaching an audience, it’s important to understand the differences between native ads vs. display ads and display ads vs. search ads, which we’ve outlined in the table below.   

Ad typeDisplay adsSearch adsNative ads
DefinitionA form of advertising that displays ads on relevant, third-party websites.A form of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising that displays ads in search engine results, based on users’ search queries.A form of advertising that displays ads on social media and search engines.
DesignDesigned to stand out visually from the platform on which they appear and build brand awareness.Designed to resemble the look and feel of organic search engine results and to match users’ interests.Designed to blend in visually with the platform on which they appear.

Benefits of display advertising

Designing and executing effective display ads means you can reach people across millions of websites and apps, increasing the chances that you find new customers online and engage your existing ones. In addition, with display ads you can automate ad processes and target audiences more likely to convert.  

Types of display advertising

Now that you have a display advertising definition, explore the different types of display ads and how they might work for your business. 

  • Traditional display ads: most associated with display advertising; formatted as squares, banners, or skyscrapers; usually have an image, text, and call-to-action (CTA)

  • Static ads: traditional ads in which text and images don’t move 

  • Responsive display ads: The ad platform determines the most advantageous format in terms of placement, size, orientation, text, and images. 

  • Retargeting ads: displayed based on users’ previous actions, such as visiting your website without making a purchase. 

  • Social ads: displayed on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram. 

  • Interstitial ads: also called “pop up ads;” interactive, full-screen ads that cover the interface of the platform on which they appear.

  • Lightbox ads: interactive ads that users can expand to full size; depending on the ad format, users can scroll text and images or watch videos. 

  • In-feed video ads: previously called “video discovery ads,” video ads that appear on YouTube videos and other Google video partners. 

  • Expandable ads: ads that expand larger than initial ad dimensions when a user clicks or mouses over it. 

To learn more about display ads, watch this video from the Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate

Are display ads right for your business? 

As you explore the types and potential benefits of display ads, you may wonder if this advertising method is right for you. We’ve put together a list of signs to consider as you decide whether to launch a display advertising campaign. 

1. You want to build awareness among people with passive intent. 

When potential customers are browsing the internet without an explicit intent to make a purchase, display ads can increase your brand’s visibility and alert viewers to your brand’s offerings.

2. You want to retarget site visitors. 

When potential customers visit your site but don’t take action to make a purchase, display ads create an opportunity to retarget them on relevant sites and re-engage them. 

3. Display ads can drive goals within your budget. 

Before starting with display ads, investigate the kind of investment you can expect for your industry. Metrics to review include click-through-rates (CTR), cost-per-click (CPC), conversion rates (CVR), and cost-per-action (CPA). 

Wordstream, a digital marketing data source, reports average CTR and CPC for different industries based on data they’ve collected from their customers. Check out these examples of display ad averages:  

  • Average CTR in the real estate industry: 1.08 percent 

  • Average CPC in the health and medical industry: $0.63

  • Average CVR in the dating and personals industry: 3.34 percent 

  • Average CPA in the travel and hospitality industry: $99.13 [1]

4. You want to diversify your marketing approaches. 

As part of a robust and multi-faceted marketing strategy, display ads can:

  • Complement and enhance the results of SEO marketing, traditional marketing, and other methods of digital marketing. 

  • Help your brand reach more potential customers while they are using the internet. 

How to get started with display advertising 

If you are ready to launch a display ad campaign, follow the steps below to get the most out of the process and set yourself up for success. 

1. Determine your campaign goals. 

Setting goals is an important first step so that your subsequent efforts focus on what you want to achieve through display ads. One way to set goals is to use Google Ads settings and guidance for display ads as starting points:  

  • Boost sales. 

  • Generate leads. 

  • Increase website traffic.

  • Build brand awareness and reach.

2. Select a display network. 

The display network you choose will determine where your ads appear. Popular display networks include:

  • Google Ads, when you want to use the network most internet searchers use 

  • Microsoft Advertising, when you want to reach internet searchers via the brand’s consumer channels like Outlook and Xbox

  • Amazon Advertising, when you have a seller’s account on Amazon already or want to sell tangible goods online  

3. Set up a campaign.

Once you’ve selected your network, follow the setup guide to begin advertising. You’ll likely need to:

  • Gather ad creative assets, such as images and copy for your headline, text, and call-to-action. 

  • Decide on a budget and bidding strategy. 

  • Optimize your product descriptions.

  • Optimize your landing pages, where customers will go once they click on an ad.

  • Pick your keywords, the search queries potential customers are likely to enter into a search engine.

  • Choose settings, such as the audience and geographical location you are targeting, ad schedule, devices it will appear on, and more. 

4. Monitor performance and measure results.

Once your display ad campaigns go live, schedule a time to monitor their performance. Watch metrics such as ad views, impressions, clicks, and conversions. 

5. Apply learnings to future campaigns. 

As you continue running display ads, it’s important to optimize each campaign based on previous campaign performance. You can always adjust your campaign goals, settings, creative assets, keywords, and budget as needed to get the most out of your display ad campaigns. 

Display ads best practices 

As you launch and monitor display ad campaigns, keep these best practices in mind: 

  • Use high-quality images, sized to the standard dimensions, to showcase your products. For example, a mobile interstitial ad should be 640 x 1136 pixels, 750 x 1334 pixels, or 1080 x 1920 pixels, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau [2]. 

  • Compose clear, compelling text that quickly captures viewers’ attention. 

  • Experiment with calls-to-action, such as “buy now” or “add to cart,” to find out which ones work best for different products. 

  • Incorporate display ads into a multichannel or omnichannel approach to marketing rather than relying on them as the main source of traffic. 

  • Be aware of potential display ad drawbacks and challenges, such as the increasing use of ad blocking software and low conversion rates.  

Improve your digital marketing with Coursera 

Taking online courses can be a great way to learn more about display advertising and how it figures into a robust digital marketing strategy. Check out these options from industry leaders: Google and the Digital Marketing Institute

Article sources


Wordstream. “Google Ads Benchmarks for Your Industry, https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2016/02/29/google-adwords-industry-benchmarks.” Accessed September 1, 2022. 

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