Introduction To Display Advertising

You’re more likely to get into MIT or to survive an airplane crash than make a click on a banner ad – stats say, and indeed the average Click Through Rate of display ads is 0.1% ! And yet, I wouldn’t say Display Advertising is dead, for that marketers are more than ever racking their brains to find new ways to catch bits of our always-distracted online attention.

As I’m only getting started on the topic, today I simply want to lay the basis for understanding what Display Advertising is and how it works – alright, let’s go !

ad-retargeting cartoon


Definition and types of Display Advertising

DIsplay Advertsing can be considered as the most classical type of online advertising – they’ve been around since the early 1990s : commonly found at the top of a page, a banner ad was one of the first online advertising models…

Display comes in several forms, including banner ads, rich media and more. Unlike text-based ads, display advertising relies on multimedia elements such as images, audio and video to communicate an advertising message.

In its simpler form the process of online display gathers 2 types of actors : the publisher is the website that posts the banner ad, and the advertiser is the website on which users will land when they click the ad. The advertiser can deal direclty with partner websites, or they can join display ad networks – these work like a ‘broker’ between advertisers and websites that want to show adverts.

Here are a few important notions to be acquainted of when it comes to Display Advertising :

  • Real Time Bidding > RTB is the future of display advertising, allowing advertisers to place live bids in order to acquire impressions on a particular website. With this much flexibility including access to ad exchange networks, advertisers can narrow down their target market based on content that the user is looking at, or behaviors that they have exhibited online.


  • Native Advertising > a web advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience : the integration of marketing content with a website or service in such a way that it is not distinct from the rest of the material presented there in terms of its content, format, style or placement.
  • Affiliate marketing > a technique where other publishers and websites will promote your business. Basically the way it works is that an affiliate is rewarded every time a visitor, customer or sale for your business is generated through an advertisement on their website. There are many different ways compensation is provided, but the concept remains consistent : you pay them for generating business for you.
  • Retargeting / Remarketing > the process of reengaging a visitor or customer based on a recent interaction with your brand, often in an automated fashion. Retargeting allows online advertisers to target consumers based on their previous interactions with their website : if a consumer visits a website, but does not make a purchase or convert in another way, retargeting is a “reminder” of that website that they visited, often along with a discount or special offer to make sure the visitor finally converts.

Different types of Display Ads

An array of online display ad types exist, from basic hyperlinked still images to interactive “mini websites”. Marketers usually mix and match types of ads to serve a full range of placements. Following are the typical Display Ads types :

  • Static Ads > Static display ads, which have been around for more than a decade, offer no movement or user interaction. They are simple images hyperlinked to the advertiser’s site. They can contain a combination of still images and text.
  • Animated Ads > these ads inject movement in Gif or Flash formats. Publishers usually limit the file size of ad and the number of times the animation can loop on their sites.
  • Interactive Ads > these ads include video, audio, games or even elements that allow consumers to engage with the ad and alter components without leaving the website they’re currently visiting. A typical example in the case of travel banners on which you can direclty select and enter info so that you’ll be directed to a page that suits your needs even better :


  • Expanding Ads > expanding ads increase in size when moused over or clicked. They can start as a static image ad and expand into something as complicated as a fully interactive video. Or they can start as an animation and expand into a list of product features. These ads give marketers the ability to offer more information without forcing the user to visit another website.
  • Mobile Ads > with the broad expansion of mobile web, display ads are obviously starting to appear on our smartphones and tablets. They can take multiple forms, but the most common are mobile banners and interstitial ads – that is they appear on full-screen during the loading of a mobile web page.

mobile ads interstitial.
There is no universally accepted standard for display advertising sizes or placements, and many websites offer unique variations. Having said that, a large number of websites use the suggested sizes provided by the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau). Here’s a recap of the most popular display ads formats :

standard display ads sizes

Main Display Ads KPIs

Just like for general web analytics, measuring the effectiveness of displays ads has come a long way in a short time : maybe five years ago you could tell maybe how many people clicked on your banner, and today you can tell not only how many people clicked through, but where they were, what page they were on when it was displayed, and so on…

Standard metrics used to monitor display ads include :

  • Impressions served
  • Domains served
  • Clicks
  • Clickthrough rate
  • Conversions
  • Cost-per-thousand impressions
  • Cost per click
  • Cost per conversion
  • Return on investment

Selecting which metrics are most important to your campaign depends on your objective. If you are trying to maximize sales leads, then cost per lead is more important than impressions served. If you are brand building, impressions served is more important than cost per lead.

So is it still worth investing in Display Advertising ?

Here goes the controversial point. Unsurprisingly, the efficacy of display advertising has been questioned over the years and went into a steep decline : their multiplication all over the web made users become less and less attentive to these ads, even finding they’re annoying. Indeed “banner blindness” is a phenomenon in web usability where visitors to a website consciously or subconsciously ignore banner-like information.

But if generating website traffic is not their strength as they typically get a 0.1 % to 0.3 % Clickthrough Rate, online display ads generally are used to build brand : if users rarely click on a banner ad, still they can more or less consciously recall the brand’s name and/or message, which can later lead them to click on a link in Search Engines Result Pages.

Marketers also benefit from the rise of new targeting tools to be able to have a better understanding of who their audience is and what they want : the key here is to ensure advertising is useful to the user, essentially part of the content experience.

The new features I have evoked (animation, interaction, etc…) have made the ads more attractive to web surfers and the ads’ lower costs have moreover made them attractive to marketers : “Good news for advertisers and services that rely on display advertising technology : Display advertising on the web grew by about 26.3 percent for the first quarter of 2013 ” according to a report from Nielsen.

Useful tools

I offer you my selection of resources that will mainly help you to get a competitive analysis of display ads – indeed you may have realized it’s not easy to find out what your competitors creatives are, except by visiting their sites and hoping they’re using remarketing so that you can finally see their ads !

  • Google Display Benchmark Tool > Want to understand how your display campaigns compare to the rest of the industry ? Or how different ad formats and sizes perform compared to each other ? This tool lets you pull up-to-date industry benchmarks to help you better plan and measure the success of your display campaigns.
  • > a search engine for online display ads, making it easy to find what banner ads are running on top sites whether you want to see the ads from a particular brand, discover new advertisers, or get inspiration from innovative creative campaigns.
  • SimilarWeb > Explore the most important traffic sources for any site. The ‘Display’ section shows what % of traffic comes from Display Advertising as well as the leading ad networks, and offers a ‘Show The Ads’ button for you to see a sample of the site’s creative.

Final words

Banners and other display ads do work when they are relevant and well targeted. So today display ads are preferred as part of a multi-channel path, rather than being the only channel in the conversion funnel – therefore we might approach planning and buying for display advertising in the overall online marketing mix.

The big challenge facing current forms of online advertising is rooted in the proliferation of screen sizes and the ever-changing ways that people interact with content and services. And as advertisers seek new ways to attract attention and to stand out from the multitude of ads “served” to consumers on a daily basis, publishers (website owners) continue to offer innovative new display advertising solutions to address the right user at the right time.

Are you using Display Advertising in your digital strategy ? As a user, what’s your view on these online ads and their “new” features (remarketing, interactivity, mobile…) ?


Other posts you may like :

DIY : AdWords Campaigns CPC Adjustments
Infographics : How Does The AdWords Auction Work ?
AdWords : Keywords Matching Options

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