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.

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

  • Get an audience’s attention while 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 typically 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 essential to understand the differences between native ads vs. display ads and display ads vs. search ads, which we’ve outlined in the table below.   

Benefits of display advertising

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

Types of display advertising

Now that you have a definition of display advertising 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 regarding 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,” these are interactive, full-screen ads that cover the platform interface on which they appear.

  • Lightbox ads: These interactive ads can be expanded to full size. Depending on the ad format, users can scroll through text and images or watch videos. 

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

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

Watch this video from the Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate to learn more about display ads. 

Are display ads right for your business? 

As you explore display ads' types and potential benefits, you may wonder if this advertising method is right for you. We’ve compiled 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 browse the internet without explicit intent to purchase, display ads can increase your brand’s visibility and alert viewers to your 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 your industry can expect. 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 it collected from its customers. Check out these examples of display ad averages [1]:  

  • Average CTR in the real estate industry: 1.08 per cent 

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

  • Average CVR in the dating and personals industry: 3.34 per cent

  • Average CPA in the travel and hospitality industry: $99.13 USD

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, traditional, and other digital marketing methods. 

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

How to get started with display advertising 

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 your subsequent efforts should 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, and the search queries potential customers will likely enter into a search engine.

  • You can choose settings such as the audience and geographical location you are targeting, the ad schedule, the 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 is important to optimize each campaign based on previous campaign performance. You can always adjust your campaign goals, settings, creative assets, keywords, and budget 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 standard dimensions to showcase your products. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau [2], the optimal sizes for mobile interstitial ads are 640 x 1136 pixels, 750 x 1334 pixels, or 1080 x 1920 pixels. 

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

  • Experiment with calls to action (CTAs), 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 traffic source. 

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

Improve your digital marketing with Coursera. 

Online courses can be a great way to learn more about display advertising and how it fits 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 June 5, 2024. 

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