A Beginner’s Guide to Google Ads Display Advertising

Jul 19, 2021
Reading Time: 8minutes

Google Ads Display Advertising utilizes the Google Display Network – millions of websites where advertisers can choose to display their adverts in multiple formats to a range of audiences either locally or across the globe using a variety of targeting methods.

But are you using it correctly?

In this article you’ll:

●      Know why you should use Google AdWords Display Advertising

●      Learn the different types of Google AdWords Display Ads

●      Different Google AdWords Display Sizes

●      How to target on the Google Display Network

●      How to combine different AdWords targeting methods

●      How to optimize your Google AdWords Display Campaigns

●      Which business sectors should consider Display Ads


According to Wordstream, the Google Display Network accounts for 20% of all AdWords traffic and reaches 92% of all Internet users in the US.  The network is continually expanding, so it is imperative that advertisers understand correctly how to utilize the power of Google Ads Display Advertising to promote their business to relevant audiences across the internet.

Why Use Google AdWords Display Advertising?

Google estimates that their display network provides coverage to over 90 percent of all internet users, which alone is enough of a reason you should be using it.  However, it’s not just the reach of the network that makes it so impressive, it’s the ability to segment and target users in a variety of ways that makes the Google Display Network such a potentially lucrative platform for advertisers.

Different Types of Display Adverts

It is a common misconception that the Display Network only provides you with the option of displaying image ads.  In fact, the Google Display Network allows you to advertise in a variety of formats and sizes with text ads, static and animated image ads, rich media and video ads.

  • Text Ads – text ads on display are the same as you would on the search network. Text ads consist of a headline and two lines of text, and allow advertisers to create a range of ads to text which copy is generating the most clicks.
  • Image Ads – a static image that would fill the entire ad block on the website it appears upon. You can custom your imagery, layouts and background colors on image ads.
  • Rich media Ads – include interactive elements, animations or other aspects that change depending on who is looking at the ad and how they interact with it. For example, a moving carousel of products.
  • Video Ads – becoming more popular since YouTube is included on the Display Network. You can now utilize Google AdWords Display Advertising to place your ads next to YouTube videos.


Display Advert Sizes

There are more than 20 different ad block sizes within the Google Display Network.  Each site that signs up to display Google ads (known as Google AdSense) will choose the ad block that fits their website layout best, so if you want your ads to be able to show on a variety of websites irrelevant of ad block size, then it is best practice in creating display ads in different sizes.

Advertisers are able to upload both animated and non-animated image ads on the Google Display network as well as HTML5 ads in the following sizes:

Please note that for Google AdWords display advertising each image size must not be more than 150KB and can be in either GIF, JPG, PNG, SWF, ZIP form.

It is imperative that you create ads to fit all the different ad blocks listed above.  Failure to do so will limit your reach on the display network and stop your ads from showing on certain websites because they cannot accommodate all forms of ad formats.

You should expect image or rich media ads to have roughly twice the click-through rate of text ads, but they will show less often. Because Google can fit more than one text ad into a single block but only one image ad into the same space, therefore you will need to outbid the combined max CPC of the text ads sharing a block to display an image in that position.

If you don’t have the resource to create image ads then you could use Google’s Display Ad Builder, however ensure that you include a clear call-to-action or branding message within each of your ads and use a design that is consistent with the look and feel of your website. For example “click here” or “buy now” – that is prominent on the ad itself. (Businesses tend to use a button style CTA).

Targeting on the Google Display Network

You can target audiences on the display network to narrow your reach to people more likely to be interested in your products or services. This can be achieved via:

Placement Targeting

Placement targeting refers to the option of choosing which websites you want to appear on, thus giving you the most control over where you’re going to appear on the Google Display Network.  This is effective for targeting a specific demographic, and provides advertisers with an opportunity to look for websites geared towards special interests that closely match their target audience.

So if there are any industry specific websites and forums that you feel are relevant to your business, and that you think people would be likely to visit were they interested in your services, then you should advertise on them. Use the Adwords Display Planner to help you to find websites that will carry Google Display Network ads that are similar to sites you would ideally like to appear on.

Contextual Targeting

This is the most common targeting type, since it utilizes the keywords related to the products and services you offer.  You will firstly need to create a keyword list and Google will optimize your display ads to appear on sites related to the keywords you’ve provided.


Instead of conjuring up likely search queries like you would do for a search network campaign, you should be writing a list of 5-20 words or short phrases that are very closely related to the subject of your Ads.

You’ll need to keep an eye on the list of websites you’re appearing on and tweak your keyword list accordingly.  This can be monitored by analyzing the data provided in the ‘Placements’ tab in Adwords, as the screenshot below indicates:


Topic Targeting

Topic targeting allows you to choose from an existing list of page topics, meaning that your ads will only display on pages about that topic.


The downside is that you can’t really drill down too deeply into many of the topics, meaning that there’s a risk your ads may appear on unrelated sites. For example, a topic can be as broad as ‘human resources’, whereas your ad may be highly targeted towards recruiting straight out of university.

With this in mind, I’d always suggest combining topical targeting with another targeting method, to ensure your ads are highly targeted and therefore relevant to those you wish to target.

Interest Targeting

The list of interest categories available to advertisers is similar to the list of topics, but this targeting method is very different from targeting by topic. Interest targeting permits advertisers to target the user, not the page content, meaning that the user might be looking at anything when your ad appears (provided they’re on a site within the Google Display Network).

Google are able to store cookies on users computers every time they visit a page within their advertising network.  These are referred to as DoubleClick cookies. Google won’t save information around who these visitors are, and advertisers won’t be able to view data at a single user level.

However, if people are regularly browsing pages about a specific category (Interest) then they will be added to the list of people who Google deem are ‘interested’ in that category. You can view what information Google has about you under “My Account.” Like the example below, however this is still very ambiguous:

A Beginner's Guide to Google Ads Display Advertising 1


Remarketing allows you to deposit a cookie on the computers of visitors who visit your website pages.  Google will then display ads specifically to those people whenever they visit sites on the Google Display Network.

Remarketing targeting ranges from the very basic, meaning you’d be able to show ads to anybody who has visited your site, to much more complex targeting. For example, Google will allow you to target your ads purely to people who have viewed a video on your homepage, or remained on your website for a certain period of time. The more remarketing lists you’re able to set up, the more strategic you can be when targeting your audience using the display network.

A Beginner's Guide to Google Ads Display Advertising 2

Google are constantly expanding remarketing options available to advertisers and have in the past couple of years rolled out tools including Google customer match, allowing users to upload and target customers through uploading email lists to Google AdWords.

Combining Different Targeting Methods

Google AdWords display advertising is most effective when you utilize a combination of targeting methods. If an advertiser applies more than one targeting method to an ad group, their ads will only display to people who match both targeting criteria.

Combining one or more targeting methods will reduce the potential impressions of your ads, but will leave you with extremely well targeted ad groups.  If you create enough of these kind of ad groups, you’ll be able to mimic your high traffic ad groups, but with more effective targeting.

For example, you could combine topics and interest targeting. If a user visits a site within the topic an advertiser selects, and they’re in a matching interest category too, then it’s evident that the user consistently reads that material. This combination improves the advertiser’s chances of getting the right type of visitor compared to either topics or interest categories alone.

Optimising Your Display Campaigns

When optimizing display campaigns, you’ll regularly need to review the automatic placements report, and add strong performing placements to managed placement campaigns. It’s highly advisable to add any irrelevant or poor performing sites as ‘negative placements’ in your automatic placement campaign.

Other optimization techniques for display network campaigns include:

  • Excluding irrelevant categories
  • Excluding irrelevant audiences
  • Adding click-to-call extensions if you are targeting mobile devices
  • Reviewing reach using the dimensions tab. Remember to increase your budget if you wish to increase your reach
  • Reviewing ad performance based on geographic region and exclude any areas that regularly perform poorly (using the dimensions tab)
  • Exclude mobile apps – Showing your ads in games and music apps probably won’t be beneficial to you. Most people accidentally click on the ads to return swiftly to the game. They’re looking to entertain themselves rather than make a purchase or seek B2B services. Avoid wasting money on these accidental clicks.
  • Excluding YouTube – Parents often give their smart devices to their children to keep them entertained (or maybe it’s just me!). Children can at time click on your ads without fully knowing what they are. Hardly your target demographic, so consider excluding if you feel it is necessary.

There are plenty of other strategies you could implement to continually improve the performance of your display network campaigns but if you’re just starting out on the Display Network and want to closely monitor performance on specific sites then reviewing your placements report on a regular basis is where you should focus your time.

Which Business Sectors Should Consider Google AdWords Display Advertising?

Google AdWords display advertising can be used to boost paid performance for most businesses. Indeed, in some industries the search network can be so competitive that the display network presents the best opportunity for smaller businesses to gain paid online visibility.

WordStream wrote a blog post aiming to provide businesses an industry benchmark should they choose to use paid advertising. The average click-through rate (CTR) in Google AdWords across all industries is 1.91% for search and 0.35% for display ads. Although a lower CTR, display ads do have a lower cost – $0.58 cost-per-click (CPC) compared to $2.32. So if your business sells low cost products or has lower profit margins then Google AdWords display advertising is way to advertise at a fraction of the cost as search ads.

With the search network, people are actively searching for the goods or services that you are serving them an ad for. For example, the search network would allow a company to target people searching for “digital marketing Brighton.”

The Display Network is not so aggressive, in the sense that people are casually browsing websites and will be served your ads. This is where the display network usually receives criticism: it’s not as targeted as the search network.

However, with all the targeting options available today the display network is a great option for advertisers who have been priced out of advertising using search ads. If you’re already advertising on the search network then it is recommended testing a display campaign using some of the tips presented in this article to determine if the display network can deliver results for your business alongside your existing search network campaigns.

Need help with your Google Ads display advertising? Then ask us for advice!