unsplash ads on street image

What Are Display Ads? 5 Steps to Effective Visual Advertising

In this spotlight article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about display ads. Whether your goal is brand building or generating leads, it’s all here. You’ll learn how to create engaging and eye-catching ad creative, target the right audience and wrap it together in a funnel that generates results. Before we get into that, let’s define what display ads are and how they contribute to your marketing objectives.

What is Display Advertising?

Display advertising is a method of attracting the audience of a website, social media platform or other digital medium to take a specific action. These are often made up of text-based, image or video advertisements that encourage the user to click-through to a landing page and take action (e.g. make a purchase).

They can also be used for retargeting campaigns. This is where ads are served to users who have already visited a specific website. The aim is to “retarget” them and encourage them to return to the website to take the same action (or an action at a different stage of the funnel).

With that in mind, let’s explore what makes a great display ad campaign and how to put together compelling ad creative to attract your ideal audience.

1. Display Ad Strategy & the Sales Funnel

Like all good marketing strategies, it all starts with setting goals. Display ads are no different, but this time the benefits are slightly different.

According to Display Benchmarks Tool, the average CTR of display ads across all formats and placements is 0.06%. However, Retargeter set up a retargeting campaign that generated an ROI of 486%.

Therefore, your strategy will ultimately depend on your goals. Some possible display ad goals include:

  • Building brand and top-of-mind awareness
  • Generating leads by offering a lead magnet
  • Attracting abandoned users/customers through retargeting
  • Nurturing leads through the buying process

According to Techwyse, display ads are most effective when serving three specific purposes:

display funnel

In other words, display ads should be used to build or maintain brand awareness, and foster loyalty.

Remember, the average CTR for display ads is 0.06%. As with all marketing channels, it’s worth testing. But it’s important to look at the data.

Another thing to consider is how your display ads will work in tandem with your SEM funnel and PPC campaigns. For example, you might find that targeting users who don’t take action after visiting a PPC landing page can increase the overall ROI of that campaign.

Your goals are the first part of a well-documented strategy. Ensure you’re defining why you’re running ads, what you hope to achieve, and the metrics you’re measuring (which you’ll learn more about later).

2. Get Your Display Network Targeting Right

This is the part that can make or break your campaign. Without the right targeting, you risk serving your ads to people who simply don’t care about what you have to offer.

The amount of targeting options available can be daunting. While the process works in a similar manner to the search network, display targeting goes far beyond keywords.

Let’s explore the different targeting options across the display network and how each of them work:

  1. Keyword Targeting: Google will serve your ads alongside content on websites that contain any target keywords you define.
  2. Demographic Targeting: Allows you to target an audience based on a website or audience’s basic demographic profile.
  3. Placement Targeting: This allows you to choose which website(s) your display ads appear on. For example, if you’re targeting a fashion audience, you can have your ads display on specific websites such as Vogue, Elle and Grazia.
  4. Topic Targeting: Allows users to target a group of websites that fit within a certain topic.
  5. Interest Targeting: Google has access to several data-points on its users, which allows you to serve display ads based on the interests of searchers. These are then segmented into two further categories:
    1. In-Market: These are relevant to products and services, and are usually aimed at those expressing interest in purchasing.
    2. Affinity: Analyzes overall topics and interests to build the identity of a specific user.
  6. Audience Targeting: Allows you to target users who have already visited your website (remarketing).

There may be times when you don’t want your ads to appear on certain websites or websites that address certain topics. These are known as display targeting exclusions, which allow you to exclude your display ads from certain keywords, topics, placements and demographics. These act in a similar manner to negative keywords, in that you are defining which content not to target.

Then there are site category exclusions. Typically, these are used to ensure your ads do not appear on websites containing themes such as mature content, gambling, error pages etc.

site category options screenshot

Ultimately, you must get your targeting right if you want to see any results from your display ad efforts. By serving ads on irrelevant websites, you’re going to experience a low CTR and wasted budget.

3. Creating Awesome Ad Creative

With your targeting set, it’s time to attract your perfect audience and get them to click – which is where creating effective and compelling ad creative comes in. Here are four tips to follow when planning and designing your creative display ad assets. No matter your design skills, they’ll help guide you when setting out to attract (or retarget) traffic.

Ad Creative Tip #1: Use the Right Language

Much like SEM, display advertising allow you to target specific customer segments. This means you should speak to each of those groups independently, not as if they were one and the same.

For example, someone running an online shoe store may think that the majority of their customers buy for style. But upon closer inspection (and talking to your customers on an individual basis), it turns out many of them buy for comfort.

Therefore, this store can identify the demographic and psychographic profile of these buyers to serve ads especially for them.

In the example below, Hilton is addressing those looking for a weekend deal, focusing on price point (and thus convenience) over luxury:

hilton display advertising

Ensure you’re matching the language to the audience you’re looking to attract. Avoid buzzwords and be clear.

Ad Creative Tip #2: Use Catchy Copy

While display ads are inherently visual formats, it’s still important to get the ad copy right. Here are a few things to keep in mind when crafting your copy:

  • Establish urgency: Use words such as “now” and “need” in order to compel people to act (click) quickly.
  • Make them curious: Ask questions and elicit an air of mystery by using phrases such as “beware,” “announcing” and “before it’s too late.”
  • Use numbers and symbols: Numbers are easy to understand, which is key when grabbing attention. Use stats and include numbers when providing social proof to encourage people to click.
  • Be bold: As important as the words you use is how you present them. Use bold lettering and typography that stands out. But make sure it’s clear to read.

In the example below, Hornitos incite curiosity using copy wrapped in sharp, on-brand typography:

hornitos display ad

Ad Creative Tip #3: Clutter-Free Imagery

The imagery you use should be simple, clutter-free and on-brand. If you’re using photos, make sure it encapsulates what your brand is about.

Illustrations can be great visual devices to get your message across. Here, Dropbox uses a simple and light illustration that successfully grabs attention:

dropbox display ad

Ad Creative Tip #4: Compelling Call-to-Action

Just like your landing pages, PPC ads and any marketing assets: you need a call-to-action. This can be used in the copy, or you can do what Dropbox did above and recreate a button-like shape to grab attention. The reason this works is because, as internet users, we’ve been conditioned to recognize this shape as a button. Therefore, we’re trained to click on it once we see it.

You should also use benefit- or action-driven copy inside your call-to-action. In the example below, Facebook use a simple “Get Started” button that perfectly describes what the user must do next:

facebook display ad

4. Effective Landing Pages

You’ve got an attractive and eye-catching display ad that compels the user to take action. Great! Now it’s time to convert that traffic into customers and leads.

Landing pages are the lifeblood of any marketing campaign, especially PPC ads. And display ads are no different. First, let’s cover some landing page best practices:

  1. Your landing page should have one purpose (and one message)
  2. Illustrate how your product, service or offer is used in context
  3. Include social proof in the form of testimonials or company logos
  4. Keep it short but sweet, include only necessary information
  5. Remove the navigation bar to avoid the user clicking away
  6. Make your call-to-action visible above the fold
  7. Test how video affects conversion rates
  8. When using lead forms, ask for only the necessary information

You’ve likely heard many of these best practices before. But when it comes to display ads, there are a few other things to take into account.

First of all, the message of the ad must match the copy on your landing page. This should include headlines and calls-to-action. In the example below, Choice Hotels offer 20% off booking through their website:

choice hotels display ad

And here’s the landing page that Powered By Search created for them:

choice hotels landing page

As you can see, the journey from the ad is continued on the landing page. The copy and visual cues (e.g. call-to-action color) are all congruent. The same goes for the design of your landing page. For example, this ad from KlientBoost offers a case study of how they helped Autopilot increase conversions:

klientboost display ad

And here’s the landing page it leads to:

client boost landing page

As you can see, the overall design – from the color scheme to illustration assets – match the ad perfectly. There’s no guessing what you need to do next, you were already primed for that action when you clicked on the ad.

That’s why matching ad to landing page is important. A disjointed experience confuses your audience, which hurts conversions as a result. Remember the example from Choice Hotels above? This is how it looked before Powered By Search worked their magic on it:

choice hotels new landing page

The 20% discount offer is nowhere to be found. Will you get it when you select a hotel or do you need to type in a code? It’s unclear. Make the journey from your ad to landing page a succinct one.

5. Measuring Your Display Ads

So, you’ve set up your display ad campaigns. You’re starting to see results and collect data. It’s time to measure those results with the right metrics.

Here are four key metrics you should measure at all stages of the display ad funnel. These will allow you to improve your targeting, optimize ad creative and increase your conversions.

1. Impressions

Whenever an ad appears on a website, that counts as an impression. An impression, therefore, is the amount of times an ad has been “served” to a user on a website or placement.

This metric helps quantify the number of times your ad appears on any given website, and allows you to measure performance against click-through rate (CTR), which we’ll cover next.

If your total number of impressions grows, it means your ads are reaching a wider audience. However, if the other metrics don’t grow with it, this means there’s a leak somewhere in your funnel. That could be a targeting issue, uncompelling ad messaging, or even a poorly converting landing page.

The biggest advantage to a high number of impressions is brand awareness. The more people who see your ad, the more your brand is reinforced. But don’t neglect other engagement metrics.

2. Reach

Where impressions measures the number of times an ad is served, reach shows you how many people actually saw it. In other words, the unique number of views on your display ad.

By monitoring and optimizing reach, you ensure you’re not wasting money by showing ads to the same people. While it can help with top-of-mind awareness, you also risk showing the wrong people your ads more than once. So make sure you have your targeting optimized to avoid ad fatigue.

3. Click-through Rate

Simply put, click-through rate is the number of people who click on your ad. It’s calculated by the ratio of impressions to clicks. For example, if your ad receives 1,000 impressions and you generate 18 clicks, that’s a click-through rate of 1.8%.

This metric helps you measure the effectiveness of your ads. But you should also take into consideration the intent behind why someone clicked. At the end of the day, it’s all about conversions.

If your click-through rate seems low, then you may want to test new ad creative. Experiment with different colours and ad copy to grab attention and A/B test to see if that new version increases clicks.

4. Conversion Rate

Often considered the true-north of display advertising, conversion rate is the number of people who click-through to your landing page and then take a desired action (opt-in, download app, make a purchase etc.)

A low conversion rate could mean one of two things:

  1. You’re generating low-quality traffic
  2. Your landing page isn’t optimized

If it’s the former, then go back to your targeting settings and get more granular. Run an audit to see which websites, demographics and audiences are taking action and which websites and placements are performing poorly.

If you believe your targeting is right, run A/B tests on your landing pages. See what a change in the headline, call-to-action and even the entire offer have on your conversion rates.

Wrapping It Up

While many marketers believe display ads are dead, they can still be an effective method to reaching your goals. Indeed, when coupled with other marketing initiatives, it can even boost the performance of those activities.

Like all paid marketing efforts, it’s about getting the targeting right. Without the right traffic and audience, even the most compelling ad creative and landing pages will fall flat.



Take your display advertising to the next level with Acquisio Trading Desk, a fully-managed display service powering programmatic display, native, audio and video ads!


Image Credits:

Feature image: Unsplash /Anthony Tuil
Image 1: via Techwyse
Image 2: via Google
Image 3: via Hilton
Image 4: via BannerSnack blog
Image 5: via Dropbox for Business
Image 6: via Facebook Audience Network
Image 7-8, 11: via Powered by Search
Image 9-10: via KlientBoost

Chandal Nolasco Da Silva

Chandal Nolasco Da Silva

With nearly a decade of digital marketing experience, Chandal has created content strategies for both the biggest and sometimes the most unexpected markets, while developing strategic relationships with editors and publishers. Chandal contributes to some of the highest authority industry publications, has been featured in industry events and is thrilled to be Acquisio’s Content Director.

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