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What is (Online) Display Advertising? An Updated Guide

Brian Peters

Sep 29, 2023

There are few forms of online advertising today that are as ubiquitous and effective as display advertising.

If you’re looking for a way to reach new customers with your online marketing efforts or want to improve your existing display marketing efforts, you’ve come to the right place. 

We’re breaking down what online display advertising is, the benefits (and potential challenges) of display ads, ad examples, measuring advertising success, and much more.  

Table of Contents

What is Online Display Advertising?

Online display advertising is a form of online keyword advertising that promotes a brand message visually using text, logos, videos, photographs, or other graphics. Digital advertising displays target specific user demographics to increase the ads’ effectiveness and overall campaign success

Display ads can help you promote your business when people are browsing Facebook, watching YouTube videos, checking Gmail, or using mobile devices and apps.

According to Google, the Google Display Network reaches 90% of Internet users worldwide, across millions of websites, news pages, blogs, and Google sites like Gmail and YouTube.

The success with display ads all comes down to targeting the right user at the right time with the right message. When done right, your brand can build brand awareness, drive clicks and traffic to your website, increase conversions and sales, and encourage repeat buyers.

An example of a display ad on The Wall Street Journal's homepage

Benefits & Challenges of Display Advertising

There are several benefits of display advertising, but here are a few of the most compelling benefits:

  • Measurable results: Advertisers can track important metrics (impressions, frequency, CTR, etc.) from start to finish. This allows you to continually improve your ads as you go.
  • Advanced Segmentation: Advertisers can hyper-segment their campaigns with a wide range of audience demographics and options.
  • Precise Remarketing: Advertisers know that remarketing can be one of the most powerful tools in the conversion toolkit. Display remarketing campaigns allow you to reach relevant potential buyers with personalized content.
  • Mobile Friendly: Advertisers can reach the hundreds of millions of people that browse the internet on their mobile device. Display ads are formatted perfectly for a mobile screen, which helps to increase overall success rates. 

Currently, the biggest challenge that advertisers, brands, and marketers face relates to the continued reliance on third-party cookies and the fact that various web browsers are looking to crack down in the coming months.

Types of Display Advertising (and Display Ad Examples)

Banner and display ads are everywhere online - so much so that users might not even notice them anymore. That’s known as “banner blindness” and it is a very real phenomenon in which users automatically tune our banner ads online.

For brands and online marketing professionals, banner blindness makes it very important to experiment with different types of display advertising. The most effective types of display advertising campaigns fall into three buckets:

Brand Awareness

Campaigns focused on increasing familiarity and brand recognition with the goal of increasing future sales and affinity.


Campaigns focused on getting users to click or engage with display or banner ads with the goal of generating sales.


Campaigns focused on targeting users that have interacted with your ads or visited your website in the past with the goal of improving conversion rates.

Now that you now a but more about display campaigns, you might be asking yourself: what kind of display advertising options are there? Given all of the advertising noise online, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the various types of display advertising to help optimize the effectiveness of your marketing.

Here are a few ad options that your brand can start experimenting with today (examples in the next section):

Google Display Network and Google AdWords (Google Ads)

As mentioned briefly, the Google Display Network is a group of more than 2 million websites, videos, and apps where your ads can appear. According to Google, Display Network sites reach over 90% of Internet users worldwide.

Google AdWords now known as Google Ads, provides brands and marketers with access to both the Google Search Network and Google Display Network (GDN).

Google Search Network is the most common, well-known form of PPC advertising. With the Google Search Network, your ads will be eligible to appear on Google SERPs (search engine results pages). 

Google Display Network (GDN) gives advertisers the opportunity to place their ads on a variety of sites across the internet.

Interstitial ad

Interstitial ads have become a mainstay in the era of the mobile phone.

Interstitial ads are full-screen ads that cover the interface of their host app or website. They're typically displayed at natural transition points in the flow of an app, such as between activities in a game.

When an app shows an interstitial ad, the user has the choice to either tap on the ad and continue to its destination or close it and return to the app. Check out this example from Google:

An interstitial ad example from Google

Video ads

During Google Marketing Live 2019, Google revealed that three 6-second bumper video ads were 107% more memorable, and generated 134% more purchase intent than a single 30-second TrueView ad.

Obviously, a video display ad is an ad in a video format. But in advertising terms, “video ad” typically refers to ads on online digital channels such as social media, YouTube, apps, and websites.

For example, Swiss clothing brand On runs in-stream video ads on YouTube promoting new product lines. The beauty of in-stream video ads is that they are charged on a per view basis, meaning you don’t have to bid against other brands: 

A YouTube ad from Swiss clothing brand On

Google Dynamic Remarketing

Google’s Dynamic Remarketing will create ads for you that include your price, image, and text of your choice, all based on the behavior of your website visitors. Mobile SMS provider, Attentive, uses Google Dynamic Remarketing ads on major publications like The New York Times to target recent visitors to their website:

A retargeting ad from Alternative featuring the offer to "Discover the channel B2C marketers love"

Dynamic remarketing helps you build leads and sales by bringing previous visitors back to your site to complete what they started. 

Facebook Audience Network

We’ve been talking a lot about Google, but Facebook has a ton of value to offer advertisers at every stage of the funnel with their Facebook Audience Network. 

An ad mock-up that Facebook features as an example

 According to Facebook, the Audience Network gives publishers and developers the option to choose between three different ad units: banners, interstitials and native ads. All three ad units have access to the same great targeting and advertisers, since the ads are automatically rendered to fit the unit you chose.

Measuring Display Advertising Success

Of course, with a robust display advertising strategy, you’ll also want to know how your ads are performing and how to improve them over time.

Here are several key display ad metric analytics that you’ll want to measure:

  • Impressions: Impressions are when a display advertisement appears on a user's screen.  Impressions are not action-based - they are defined by a user potentially seeing the advertisement. This makes impression-based advertising ideal brand awareness campaigns.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): Click-through rate, or CTR, is an advertising metric that measures the number of clicks advertisers receive on their ads per number of impressions.
  • Views/viewers: There are several important metrics to consider when it comes to measuring video ad success. These include:
  • Conversion: An action that's “counted” when someone interacts with your ad. For example, this might include clicks to your website or views of a video ad. However, that interaction must lead to a desired outcome (such as a purchase or a page view) as a result of the advertisement.

Tip: Learn more about Measuring Ad Campaign Effectiveness

Similar to many other things in marketing, it’s incredibly important to analyze the performance of your ads so that your brand can refine your campaign strategy. Consistent improvement and experimentation is key for overall display advertising success.