Guide To Google Display Ads
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The Super Duper Easy Guide To Google Display Ads

The very first internet advert was an AT&T banner that appeared on the website of Hotwired magazine in 1994. They ran the $30,000 ad for three months, and apparently it received click-through rates of 44%4—a number that would make the most self-respecting advertisers drool.

These image-based adverts were the prototype for Google Display ads, which launched way back in the early 2000s, and are still going strong today. They can be overlooked in favour of text ads, but are still an effective way to promote your brand, as well as your products or services.

What are Google Display ads?

Google Display ads are image-based banner adverts that appear on websites and apps within Google’s Display Network (GDN). According to Google, their Display Network can reach 35 million websites and apps, including YouTube and Gmail1, which is about 90% of internet users worldwide.2 That’s why these adverts are able to “follow” you around.

There are two different types of Google Display Ads:

1. Responsive display ads

The websites and apps in Google’s Display Network have different-sized spaces dedicated to advertising, which can make it tricky to display pure image adverts without degrading their quality and potency. Responsive display ads are Google’s solution. They include an image, headline, text, link (usually to your website), and optional logo, but these are added separately by the user, which allows Google to automatically create different layouts and show them on a greater variety of locations.

In the example below, this particular layout was shown in the body of a website, in-between two blog listings:

google display ads brisbane metro

And this layout was shown in the sidebar of the same website:

google display ads brisbane metro vertical

As you can see, the elements of the advert are (almost) exactly the same, and clearly come from the same ad campaign. But Google has cleverly repurposed them so they can fit in different places. These adverts have a much wider reach as a result, and Google can even select and promote layouts based on how they have performed in the past.

However, they don’t usually look as good as pure image adverts, which can feel much more professional and “designed.” If you want to achieve this instead, you’ll need to use an uploaded display ad.

Here’s another examples of this type of advert:

google display ads van gogh

If you’re planning on creating one of these ads, the specs for the images are as follows:

  • Landscape (1.91:1): 1200 x 628 pixels. Minimum image size: 600 x 314 pixels. Maximum file size: 5120 KB.
  • Square: 1200 x 1200 pixels. Minimum image size: 300 x 300 pixels. Maximum file size: 5120 KB.

Uploaded display ads

Uploaded display ads are made up of a single image, which can contain embedded text, call-to-action buttons, logos, and more. They also include a link, usually to whatever it is you’re promoting.

These adverts tend to look sexier than responsive display ads, but can only appear in websites and apps where they fit, which reduces the number of possibilities. In saying that, Google’s Display Network is massive, so there is likely to be plenty of locations that are suitable for an uploaded display ad.

Here’s a couple of examples of this advert:

google display ads irest

google display ads anti virals

Because a pure image is used for these types of advert, Google sometimes needs to stretch or squeeze the image into the allotted space, which can impair its quality. You can clearly see this in the advert below, which has been re-sized and caused some of its text to become blurry:

google display ads yoga

So while this type of advert can certainly look more professional, and allows you to stamp and reinforce your branding to greater effect, it can also look a bit crap.

You can use animated gifs for both types of advert, which makes them more eye-catching, but not necessarily more effective. An experiment by Hootsuite found that ads with still images had a lower cost-per-click and cost-per-lead compared to ads with animated images, so be sure to complete your own experiments to discover what works best.

To find the full specs for these adverts, check out this article from Google.

What are Google Display ads used for?

Google Display ads have a variety of marketing purposes and goals. When you create a Google advert, it’s part of a wider campaign that you need to set objectives for. These include:

But more broadly, these are some of the most common goals for Display ads:

Increase brand awareness

Display ads stalk you from website to website, which makes them excellent for brand awareness. Often, you may not even consciously register the advert, but when you need to buy something that the company sells, there’s a much higher chance that you’ll notice and perhaps choose that company. This works because of a phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect, which tells us that people develop preferences for things they are familiar with, regardless of whether they are the best choice. Incidentally, by regularly reminding people that your company exists, this effect can also help to boost customer loyalty.

On the flip side, being stalked by an advert for a product you don’t want can become irritating, with negative associations for the brand (but more brand familiarity regardless).

Creating Display ads for brand awareness can be a good way to kickstart people’s buyer journey, and bring them into your sales funnel where you can send personalised content that helps them.

Generate sales and leads

This is the most “traditional” purpose for an advert, and can be achieved to good effect with a Display ad. You can promote particular products or services, special offers, your local store, your latest app, a piece of valuable content, and other things that encourage prospects to buy from you, whether immediately or further down the track.

Improve SEO

The more people that visit your website, the more likely Google is to increase your website’s ranking. It’s a positive user signal that tells them your website is worthwhile—crap websites don’t get any traffic, after all. So in addition to boosting brand awareness and helping to generate sales and leads, Display ads can also be a component of your SEO strategy.

Google Display ads audience targeting

Data is now the most expensive commodity in the world, in part because it makes advertising so potent. The more you know about people, the more targeted and precise your advertising can be, and the better your Display ads will perform.

When setting up these ads, Google allows you to target people in a couple of different ways: using their predefined audiences, or custom targeting.

Predefined audiences

Google is renowned for its usability, and offering predefined audiences for Display ads is part of this. You can select three different audiences based on what you’re trying to achieve:

  • Affinity audience—this is segmented based on people’s interests, like “sports.” It’s useful for reaching people who are more likely to be interested in your particular products or services. For example, if you sell clothing, you might want to use affinity targeting to reach Google’s “fashionista” audience.
  • Custom audience—this is also broken down by people’s interests, but allows further precision based on keywords they use, URLs they visit, places they visit, and apps they use. It’s essentially providing Google with more useful information that allows them to target people more precisely.
  • In-market audience—these are people who are actively looking at products that are similar to yours, which makes them much “hotter” leads who are more likely to convert.

Custom targeting

With custom targeting, you can choose segments based on their demographics, interests, what keywords they are searching for, which types of website they have visited, how they have interacted with your business, and more. If you have strong buyer personas that are based on genuine research, which accurately describe what your customers want, need, and do, custom targeting might be the method for you.

Setting up and measuring Google Display ads

Google has an excellent setup process for its Display ads, which guides you through the various steps to create a new campaign and advert. As part of this setup process, Google’s ad creator even auto-crops your images for you, and shows the various layouts so that you can see exactly how each variation will look (if you’re using responsive ads).

When setting up a Display ad of any type, you have a wide variety of options that allow you to hone into your customers and create effective campaigns. These include:

  • Locations to target—you can choose country-wide locations, individual cities, or even individual postcodes.
  • When the ad should run—the times and dates you would like the advert to run.
  • Start and end dates—this allows you to restrict the advert to a particular time period.
  • Exclusions for when your ads should be shown—you can restrict certain audiences (e.g. mature), certain content (e.g. sexually suggestive), and the type of content (e.g. gaming).
  • Set the daily budget for the campaign—a crucial one. You can choose between Google’s automated targeting which maximises traffic based on the budget, or you can set the budget yourself.
  • Whether best-performing ads should be prioritised—this handy feature automatically selects and runs your best-performing adverts, to maximise your return.

Google Display ads are based on a live auction system, which means the position of your advert will depend on the following:

  • Your CPC bid—obviously, the higher your CPC bid, the better chance your advert has of being shown in a prominent position. The average CPC varies depending on your industry, ranging from $0.39 USD to $6.05 USD.3
  • The ad’s Quality Score—this is a 0 to 10 score that Google assigns based on the ad’s expected CTR, its relevance for the user’s search intent, and how well your landing page is designed.

When your adverts run, you’ll want to keep an eye on their performance to identify the winners and losers, and figure out whether you need to make any changes. The metric for measuring performance will vary depending on what you’re trying to achieve with the campaign. These are some common goals and their ideal measurement metrics:

  • Sales/leads ads—these are all about generating new sales, so you’ll want to track the number of conversions for the advert.
  • Website or app traffic—these adverts are aiming to bring people to your website, as a way to introduce them to your products or services, and your content. You can measure its success by the number of clicks the advert has had, as well as its CTR.
  • Brand awareness—these types of adverts aim to promote your brand to the world, and remind existing customers that you exist. The key metrics for success are impressions, clicks, and CTR.

It’s obviously important for you to keep an eye on your CPC too, to ensure it stays sensible. To learn more, check out our article on the best metrics to measure for Google Ads.

Best practices for Google Display ads

Now you know what Google Display ads are and how they can help your business, here are some best practices when creating them:

  • Good imagery—use images that are professionally-designed, eye-catching, and relevant to your offer. If you’re creating responsive display ads, Google provides the following recommendations:
  • Don’t overlay logos as this can feel repetitive to users
  • Don’t overlay text in the image. This text is provided separately to Google for responsive ads.
  • Don’t overlay buttons. These might violate their Google Ads policy.
  • Make your product/service the focus. Blank space should not take up more than 80%.
  • Use simple images, not collages.
  • Enticing copy—the advert’s copy is the deciding factor for whether people will click. It’s good to encapsulate the primary benefit of your ad in the headline, and only provide the most essential information so it’s easy to consume. Use sentence case for your headline and body text, and avoid clickbait at all costs.
  • Good landing page—create a killer landing page for your advert, which helps to convert the customer.
  • Create multiple assets—the more assets (i.e. images and copy) you create, the more configurations Google has to use. This will increase your reach.
  • Create 3 to 4 ads per ad group, with different images and messages. This allows you to identify high performers and improve future ads.


  1. About Display ads and the Google Display Network Google Ads
  2. Increase Your Reach with Display Ad Banners and More, Google Ads
  3. Mark Irvine, 2022, Google Ads Benchmarks for YOUR Industry [Updated!], Wordstream
  4. Neha Mehta, Evolution of Digital Advertising, Ad Scholars