Display Advertising 101

Posted by Nikki Wardle on Feb 1, 2019 2:02:00 PM

Paid Display Advertising

Display Advertising can be a powerful tactic to drive brand awareness for your company. With its ability to re-engage past customers and launch new products and services, it’s certainly come a long way. Out with those old neon signs, and in with the new digital ads

Let’s take a look at what display advertising is, how it’s changed, and how it can best help your business grow.

What is Display Advertising

Display advertising is the use of images, both static and dynamic, that can appear on websites, apps, or videos that allow the display of Google Ads. Its purpose is to relay a message or offer to current and potential customers with the intent of the audience later engaging with your company on some level because of that message. Before we dissect what this type of paid advertising is, let’s review a quick timeline of how display advertising started.

A Brief History on Display Advertising

The very first banner ad appeared in 1994 on hotwired.com (now wired.com) and was, by today’s standards, what we would consider a tragedy.


Rainbow font, click bait messaging, and absolutely no mention of who posted this ad or where the link would take you. Thankfully, it was just a promotion for AT&T and, according to wired.com, had an amazing click-through rate of 44%. Today’s average click-through rate for display ads average somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.06%, give or take.

The first banner ads were not auction-based, nor did they have any sort of algorithm that would determine what ads would be most relevant to their website visitors. Thankfully, about 12 months later, advertisers shifted their focus to display their banner ads primarily on websites that related to theirs.

Five years later in 1999, ToGo.com (later acquired by Yahoo!) started the first pay-for-placement bidding. This first model basically allowed the highest bidder to have their display ads appear first on a website or platform.

A year later Google started Adwords, their auction-based pay-for-placement (now known as pay-per-click) model. But Google took the approach that the highest bid did not guarantee a company’s ad would get the number one spot. Instead, Google’s forward-thinking allowed them to see the importance of serving the most relevant ads to people using their search engine, regardless of if that company was paying the most for their ads or not.

Over the years, Google’s algorithm and options of where ads can be displayed have advanced leaps and bounds from where it started 18 years ago. Most noticeably, the release of responsive display ads in 2016, which has now matured into dynamic ads.

Dynamic vs Static Display Advertising

Display ads can be broadly categorized into two classes: static and dynamic. Static display ads are just that, static. Google Ads gives you 45 different ad size options to choose from. Realistically, there are only about 10 that make up the most popular options and have the best chance of fitting on a designated site. The benefit of using this type of format is that you can stay closely aligned with your brand while being in complete control of who is seeing your ad. The downside is that your ad may miss valuable impressions and clicks because it is not formatted to a size that is accepted on all platforms.

Dynamic display ads are banner and sidebar ads that adapt both the image and the text of the ad to an appropriate size for the medium it is being served to (desktop website, mobile website, app, etc.). Because of its ability to adapt, using dynamic display ads allows for your ads to be shown to the largest number of users across all devices. One of the only drawbacks is that these ads can look plain and your brand standards can be slightly compromised by the lack of design options.

Static and dynamic ads both have their benefits and shortcomings. Using a mix of the two is a good way to diversify your display ad marketing strategy.New call-to-action

Best use cases for Display Advertising 

The best types of campaigns in which to use display ads are remarketing, re-engaging past customers, and product releases. Consumers are visual... correction, they’re VERY visual. Having your logo, company name, or product image, shown multiple times to a consumer will increase the chances of them remembering your company when it comes time to make a purchase.


Remarketing is an attempt to re-engage current and past customers or people who have visited your website by showing them visual ads of your products or services, in an effort to have them buy additional products or something newly released.

Here are two scenarios of remarketing campaigns at work:

Scenario 1: Jane purchased a sweater from Acme Clothes on their website in November, just in time for the cool weather. Now it’s April, and Acme Clothes wants Jane to see their new spring line. Acme Clothes creates a remarketing campaign that targets customers who have purchased women's clothing from their company before. Those display ads (either static or dynamic) will be displayed as a banner or sidebar ad on other clothing websites Jane visits.

While Jane is surfing the web, she sees this adorable shirt and shorts outfit on a banner ad from Acme Clothing and clicks on it. Jane is taken right to the page with the outfit for her to purchase. Jane can’t wait to get it in the mail in a few days!

Scenario 2: John needs a gadget for his car so it will stop making that darn squeaky sound. He finds the right part on Acme Car Widgets's website and loads it into his cart. For reasons unknown to Acme Car Widgets, John abandons his shopping cart and does not finish his purchase. Remarketing to the rescue. Later in the week, when John is reading a news story, he sees a banner ad for the same product he almost purchased a few days ago. John clicks on the ad and purchases the widget.

Brand Awareness

Keeping your company name and brand story in front of consumers is a key factor in your company’s success, especially in the highly competitive markets we have today. Fewer companies do this better than Coca-Cola. Think of the last time you saw an ad for Coke. Their ads have never and will never mention a sale on their products. Coke’s ads will always focus on how their product will make you feel, how they provide an opportunity to bring you closer to friends or how coke products allow you to you sit safely next to a polar bear (though we don’t recommend trying this last one). The point is, brand awareness ads are meant to keep a company name in front of consumers and send a message about who they are, not about specific products or services.

New Products to Market

When a company has a new product launch or is entering a new industry, it is important to educate both existing customers as well as potential customers of the new products or services they’re now offering. As many business owners and marketers alike could tell you, it can be challenging to encourage consumers to start associating a new product or service with your brand.

Think of a lawn company that has been in business for over 20 years and now decides they want to start offering Christmas light hanging services. Their current customer base isn’t going to associate a summer service with a winter service unless you get in front of them and tell them. Getting display ads in front of the client base is a great visual way to introduce the new service.

Display Your Company

Now that we’ve dropped some display advertising knowledge on you, it’s a good time to think of how your company can best utilize it to bring in new customers or re-engage past consumers.

Nikki Wardle

Written by Nikki Wardle

Nikki has a degree in Marketing from Boise State University and worked as an Inbound Marketing Specialist at Tribute Media from 2014 to 2019. She's a Google Whiz and dog lover, now serving as a marketing director for a local veterinary clinic.