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 called online 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 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 transaction. 

Display ads are easy to recognise 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. 

When researching display ads, you may encounter 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 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 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 more significantly 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? 

You may wonder if this advertising method suits you as you explore display ads' types and potential benefits. 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, you can investigate the 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 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: USD 0.63

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

  • Average CPA in the travel and hospitality industry: USD 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, traditional, and other digital marketing methods. 

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

How to get started with display advertising 

If you are ready to launch a display ad campaign, you can 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. 

  • Optimise your product descriptions.

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

  • Pick your keywords; potential customers will likely enter the search queries 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 is important to optimise 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. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau [2], a mobile interstitial ad should be 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, such as 'buy now' or 'add to cart,' to determine which ones work best for different products. 

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

  • 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. 

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 May 22, 2024. 

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.