The Big, Easy Cheat Sheet for Google Display Ads


Every sports team has its star player. Scores the goals. Nets the points. Wows the crowd. And every team also has a playmaker. Rarely scores. Not the fastest. But brings out the best in every other player on the field, and are the catalysts for those wow plays.

Well, if PPC was a sports team (let’s just call them the Clickers), search would be the star and display would be the playmaker. And advertisers who know how to harness display’s abilities? Well, they’re the ones who win.

Studies have shown that 27% of consumers conduct a search for a business after seeing their display ad, and there’s a 59% lift in conversion when users conducted a search related to a display ad.

But you have to know how to run them right. And in this complete guide to display advertising, I’m going to share with you how to do exactly that.

Table of contents

What are display ads?

Display ads are visual-based ads you see while reading an article on your favorite blog, watching a video on YouTube, or using a mobile app.

google display advertising example - mailchimp display ad

What is a Google display ad?

Appropriately, Google display ads are served on websites and apps that belong to the Google Display Network (GDN)—but there are other display ad networks out there.

The Google Display Network consists of over two million websites and apps that reach somewhere in the ballpark of 90% of internet users. Such an immense potential for reach is the definition of a double-edged sword: True, you have the power to introduce your brand to tons of relevant consumers. But you’re also liable to introduce your brand to tons of irrelevant consumers.

In other words, display ads can cost you money and even your reputation if you’re not careful. We’ll talk about the steps you can take to avoid waste later in this post.

how to use google ads - search network vs display network

The importance of display advertising

At first glance, it can be hard to understand why a business would want to run display ads. Its performance pales in comparison to search ads.

search vs display ad ctr and cvr

People are served display ads while they’re consuming content—not while they’re actively looking for solutions as with search advertising. So why bother with display ads?

Differentiate your brand

Because you and your competitors are going after the same prospects, you have to find ways to separate your business from the pack. Thanks to the power of visual imagery, display ads give you the opportunity to establish (and distinguish) your brand in your prospects’ minds.

google display ad example for a trek bike

Build brand awareness

Granting you such widespread exposure, greatest benefit of display advertising is brand awareness. As Larry Kim put it, “The single biggest predictor of whether people will purchase is whether they’ve heard of you before.” It’s no wonder that 84% of B2B marketers say brand awareness is their most important goal, followed by sales and lead generation.

google display ads - stat showing brand awareness is a top priority for b2b

Improve the performance of your other ads

And why might you want to improve your brand awareness? Well, to the point above, the more familiar people are with your brand, the more likely they are to click on and engage with all of your other marketing campaigns—search and social ads included. As mentioned in the intro, studies have shown that 27% of consumers conduct a search for a business after seeing their display ad, and there’s a 59% lift in conversion when users conducted a search related to a display ad.

In fact, there’s a metric dedicated to conversions assisted by display ads: view-through conversions.

view-through conversion vs direct conversion

There are other ways to measure the impact of your display ads as well.

Skyrocket results with retargeting

Most prospects don’t become customers right away. Even if they click on your ad, they’ll most likely leave your website without taking any action. With retargeting display ads, you target people based on how they’ve interacted with your website.

For example, you could target a user who viewed a product but didn’t purchase it with a display ad on that very product. Creepy? A little. Effective? Very. Take a look at these remarketing stats:

  • In one study, retargeting display ads increased a business’s brand-related search queries by 1,046%. and site traffic by 726%.
  • The average click-through rate for retargeting display ads is 0.7%, which is 10 times higher than that of regular display ads .07%).
  • A website visitor who’s been retargeted with a display ad is 70% more likely to convert.

Google display ad sizes & formats

There are two types of Google display ads: uploaded and responsive.

Uploaded display ads

If you have the design resources to create your own display ads from scratch, then by all means—take the uploaded route. Google Display ads support JPG, PNG, and GIF. But keep in mind that even if you qualify for a particular placement, your ad won’t be shown if it doesn’t meet the size specifications for that placement. So it’s up to you to optimize your exposure by uploading different sized versions of each ad.

Responsive display ads

Because that’s not the most fun activity, Google introduced responsive display ads and then eventually made it the default ad type for display campaigns. Simply provide your visual assets (images, logo, videos) and some basic ad copy. From there, Google will test different combinations to determine which versions perform well. Best of all, responsive display ads automatically adjust in size to meet the requirements of specific web pages.

Want to create designer-quality display ads in minutes? Try our free Smart Ads Creator.

Google display ad sizes

If you’re planning on running only responsive display ads, you can go ahead and skip to the next section. But if you’d like to maintain control over your ads and you plan on taking the uploaded route, these are the 12 common display ad sizes you’ll need to accommodate:

  • Mobile: 300×200, 300×50, 300×100
  • Desktop: 300×250, 336×280, 728×90, 300×600, 160×600, 970×90, 468×60
  • Both: 250×250, 200×200

google display ad sizes for mobile google display ad sizes for desktop

Google display ad costs

Like the Google search network, the Google display network runs on a live auction system. When you’re eligible for a given ad unit—according to your targeting parameters—you’re entered into an instantaneous auction with the other eligible advertisers. Google determines your ad position and cost per click based on your Ad Rank, which it calculates using your maximum CPC bid and Quality Score.

Often, your actual cost per click is lower than your maximum CPC bid. When all is said and done, you pay the minimum amount of money required to outrank the advertiser in the position directly below yours.

According to WordStream data, the average CPC on the Google display network is $0.63. For comparison, the average CPC on the search network is $2.69—more than four times greater. That’s because search network clicks are generally more valuable, as we discussed earlier.

google ads display vs search ad cost per click

Google display ad targeting

The key to efficiently spending your display ad budget is layering your targeting parameters to yield the most relevant impressions and clicks possible. There are five main groups of targeting, and they fall into two categories: people targeting and contextual (topic/content) targeting.

Contextual targeting

With contextual display ad targeting, you have three options:

  • Topic: Serve your ads on sites that fall under particular topics. For example, if you’re advertising an upcoming music festival, you can target topics like “music” and “live entertainment.”
  • Keyword: Serve your ads on sites related to particular keywords.
  • Placement: Target specific webpages, videos, or apps. You can learn more about display ad placements here.

People targeting

With people targeting, you have two options, but audience targeting opens up a whole other can of worms, which we’ll get into next.

  • Demographic: Serve your ads according to age, gender, and parental status.
  • Audience: Serve your ads based on interests and behaviors.

google display ad targeting options

Google display ad audience targeting

Here are the many options available to you for audience targeting with Google display ads.

  • Affinity audiences: people who share a common interest, such as sports, travel, or food.
  • In-market audiences: people who are actively looking to buy a particular product or service.
  • Remarketing audiences: people who have interacted with your business in some way, such as by visiting your website—a great way to reengage prospects.
  • Custom audiences: mix and match to create your own custom audiences.

google display ads custom audiences

  • Excluded audiences: Google Ads allows you to exclude specific topics as well so you can your brand away from irrelevant or inappropriate content. If you were advertising super deluxe ice cream or dessert products, for example, you might exclude websites involving weight loss or healthy eating (at best, you’d be seen as irrelevant; at worst, just cruel).

How to set up a Google display ad campaign

To create a Google display campaign, navigate to your Google Ads account and click “New campaign.” When asked for your campaign objective, choose “Create a campaign without a goal’s guidance” and then choose “Display.”

how to create google display ad - display ad option

You’ll then need to

  1. Provide your website
  2. Name your campaign
  3. Choose your location targeting and language
  4. Set your budget and bidding strategy
  5. Create your targeting parameters
  6. Upload your creative and provide your copy
  7. Review and publish

5 Google display ad best practices

Alrighty then! Now that we’ve covered all the technical details of display advertising, let’s talk about some of the best practices you can implement to maximize your returns.

1. Tap into your top-performing search keywords

If you want to try keyword targeting, start with your top-performing search keywords. The definition of “top-performing” is up to you, of course, but if there’s a handful of keywords that tend to drive low-cost clicks or conversions on the search network, why not give them a shot on the display network?

True—consumer intent on these two Google Ads networks is completely different. But insofar as clicks and conversions indicate that your search ads are resonating, you can feel confident that the keywords behind them are winners.

google display ads keyword targeting

2. Use bid adjustments

After running your display campaigns for a while, you’ll have enough data to make informed performance judgments—which keywords are doing well, which affinity audiences are doing poorly, and so on. Bid adjustments—which you can set at either the ad group or campaign level—allow you to turn those performance judgments into strategy.

When you set a positive bid adjustment on a given ad group, you tell Google Ads to increase your maximum CPC bid whenever one of the ads in that ad group is eligible to show. When you set a negative bid adjustment, you tell Google Ads to decrease your maximum CPC bids for that ad group.

Plain and simple, using bid adjustments is a terrific way to boost your gains from top performers and cut your losses from poor performers.

3. Look at your referral traffic

Google Analytics is full of useful information. For display advertisers, the referral traffic report (which lives under Acquisition > All Traffic) is incredibly valuable. Basically, the referral traffic report tells you which websites are linking to yours the most. Put differently, it tells you which websites cater to people that could benefit from your product or service.


These websites make for the perfect places to serve your display ads. Because you know you’re advertising to relevant audiences, you can feel confident that you’re driving returns on those impressions and clicks.

4. Emphasize your value proposition

Consumers are beyond accustomed to display ads at this point, so your prospects can easily scroll past your ads without even noticing them. To avoid wasting opportunities—as well as money if you’re bidding on a cost per thousand impressions (CPM) basis—it’s crucial that your display ads grab your prospects’ attention.

google display ads - example of an ad with a solid value proposition

Royal Canin offers a good example of a strong value proposition with “Support their health at every stage.”

Obviously, the visual aesthetics of your display ads—color scheme, typography, etc.—play a huge part in this. What’s less obvious is the part your value proposition plays. Your value proposition is the benefit someone will enjoy upon becoming your customer. If you’re advertising a pair of men’s boots, for example, your value proposition might be the enhanced confidence one feels when he looks good.

No matter what your value proposition is, make it jump off the page.

5. Focus on headlines when writing responsive display ads

When creating a responsive display ad, you’ll be prompted to write four pieces of copy:

  • A short headline (25 characters)
  • A long headline (90 characters)
  • A description (90 characters)
  • Your business name (25 characters)

Regarding headlines, there are two key things you need to know: (1) Google Ads will never run both at the same time; (2) Google Ads will sometimes exclude your description. Regardless of which headline is selected for a particular iteration of your RDA, there’s no guarantee it’ll be accompanied by your description.

The takeaway: Make sure your headlines are enough on their own. Both should communicate the unique value of your business or the offer you’re making.

example of a strong google display ad headline

Use video

According to Bannerflow, display ads with video achieve an 89% higher click-through rate. And creating a video display ad is easier than you think. It doesn’t have to even be a recorded video. Some basic text animation and movement, or even just a GIF will suffice.

5 awesome Google display ad examples

No cheat sheet is complete without a little inspiration! Let’s wrap up this guide with five examples of awesome Google display ads. We’ll make sure to break down what makes them tick so you can walk away with immediately actionable tips.

1. uses stellar imagery


Our first example is courtesy of Not only did it nail its targeting (came across this ad on a travel blog), but the images are beyond gorgeous. And no need for persuasive ad copy here. The affordable prices speak for themselves. When they say cheap, they mean it.

2. ClickCease taps into the power of fear


ClickCease—a software company that helps advertisers mitigate click fraud—served me this display ad while I was reading a Search Engine Journal article. What makes it so effective is the use of emotional ad copy to both grab my attention and communicate the value of the product they’re selling. Fear is an arresting, persuasive emotion. Because no PPC marketer wants to fall victim to click fraud, this is an ad that’s certain to leave an impression.

One small critique: This ad needs a brand name. Although it’s effective, it’s not as trustworthy as it needs to be to meet its full potential.

3. Wikibuy makes an undeniable value proposition


Let’s get competitive! The key to this Wikibuy ad? Simplicity. That right there is a dead-simple ad with a dead-simple value proposition: Stuff is cheaper when you buy it from us. The copy is minimal, yet it jumps off the screen. The brand name is there, but it takes a back seat to the value prop. Those of you in highly competitive markets should take notes!

4. Alteryx nails the headline (and offer)


This display ad comes from Alteryx—a software solution for data science and analytics. First of all, that’s a hell of a headline. Injecting a little aspirational sentiment into your ad copy never hurt anybody. Secondly, the subhead puts forth a great value proposition: We make analyzing data easy. And finally, rather than trying to take my money right away, they’re making excellent use of the content marketing funnel by offering an ebook.

5. LinkedIn makes it personal


As a B2B marketer myself, this ad grabbed my attention while I was on (an essential tool for my day to day). There’s a super fancy psychology copywriting tactic going on here. It’s called FOMO. No marketer wants to be a late adopter, this is a super clickable ad.

3 easy, free tools for creating Google display ads

As much as we love display advertising, we’ve noticed a glaring problem with it: it’s not as accessible as it is powerful. A lot of small and medium-sized businesses simply don’t have the resources—time, money, designers—to create sleek, effective display ads.

Fortunately, there are a number of free tools on the market that enable you to easily create your own Google display ads. Here are three of our personal favorites:

  1. Smart Ads Creator: Simply enter a website or page URL and we’ll turn your best visual assets into beautiful display ads in a matter of minutes.
  2. Creatopy: Drag-and-drop all kinds of free fonts, stock photos, and animations to create high-quality visuals that work across platforms.
  3. Canva: Browse thousands of free, flexible banner ad templates and customize them to match your brand aesthetic.


Start your first Google display ad campaign

Well, now you have everything you need to run a successful Google display campaign. If you need more tips, head here:


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