The Google Display Network is the largest contextual advertising network available on the Internet today. Consisting of millions of websites, advertisers can choose to display their adverts in multiple formats to a range of audiences across the globe using a wide variety of targeting methods.

The Google Display Network accounts for 20% of all AdWords traffic, and reaches 92% of all Internet users in the US.  These figures will continue to rise as the network expands in the future, so it is important that advertisers understand exactly how to utlise the power of Display Advertising to promote their business to relevant audiences across the web.

Why use AdWords Display Advertising?

Google estimates that their display network provides coverage to over 90 percent of all Internet users, which is one rather large reason why 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 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 lets you advertise in a variety of formats and sizes with text ads, static and animated image ads, rich media and video ads.

  • Text adsThe GDN allows you to run the same text ads on display 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 include custom imagery, layouts and background colours on image ads.
  • Rich media 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. Video ads have become more popular since YouTube is included on the Display Network.  You can now use AdWords to place your ads next to YouTube videos.

Display Network Ad Formats

Display advert sizes

There are more than 20 different ad block sizes within the GDN.  Each site that signs up to carry Google ads 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 to create display ads in a variety of 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:

Square and rectangle
200 × 200 Small square
240 × 400 Vertical rectangle
250 × 250 Square
250 × 360 Triple widescreen
300 × 250 Inline rectangle
336 × 280 Large rectangle
580 × 400 Netboard
120 × 600 Skyscraper
160 × 600 Wide skyscraper
300 × 600 Half-page ad
300 × 1050 Portrait
468 × 60 Banner
728 × 90 Leaderboard
930 × 180 Top banner
970 × 90 Large leaderboard
970 × 250 Billboard
980 × 120 Panorama
300 × 50 Mobile banner
320 × 50 Mobile banner
320 × 100 Large mobile banner
Supported file size ·         150 KB or smaller

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.

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, but be should 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.

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 GDN.  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, why not advertise on them?

Use the Adwords Display Planner to help you to find websites that will carry GDN ads that are similar to sites you would ideally like to appear on.

Contextual targeting

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

contextual targeting


Instead of trying to come up with 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 analysing the data provided in the ‘Placements’ tab in Adwords, as the diagram below indicates:

Adwords placements tab

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.

topic targeting

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 ethical recruitment.  With this in mind, I’d always suggest combining topical targeting with another targeting method, to ensure your ads are super targeted and therefore relevant to the users that encounter them.

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 lets advertisers target the user, not the page content, this means that the user might be looking at anything when your ad appears (provided they’re on a site within the GDN).

Google are able to store cookies on peoples 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 ‘interested’ in that category.


Without delving into the finer details of remarketing, as it is a few articles worth of content alone, it is worth mentioning remarketing among the other display targeting techniques that are available in AdWords.

Remarketing allows you to deposit a cookie on the computers of the visitors to pages on your website.  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 instance, Google will allow you to target your ads purely to people who have viewed a video on your homepage, and remained on the site 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.

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

Combining different targeting methods

AdWords display targeting is most effective when a combination of targeting methods are used.  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 different 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 much 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 clear that the user consistently reads that material. This combination improves the advertisers chances of getting the right type of visitor compared to either topics or interest categories alone.

Optimising your display campaigns

The main method I tend to use when optimising display campaigns is to regularly review the automatic placements report, and add strong performing placements to managed placement campaigns. I’d also advise adding any irrelevant or poor performing sites as negative placements in your automatic placement campaign.

Other optimisation techniques for display network campaigns include:

  • Excluding irrelevant categories
  • Excluding irrelevant audiences
  • 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 which regularly perform poorly (using the dimensions tab)
  • Adding click-to-call extensions if you are targeting mobile devices
  • 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.

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 sectors should consider display marketing?

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.

I recently started a paid campaign in AdWords for a firm of solicitors with specific services. They wanted traditional search network ads to be put in place. Unfortunately, I very soon discovered that the CPCs were far too expensive for their budget, as this market has been saturated with legal firms using it as their own advertising channel. When your target keywords cost between £5 and £30 per click, a low budget just won’t cut it.

Back in 2016, the paid advertising experts at WordStream wrote a blog post aiming to give businesses an industry benchmark should they choose to use paid advertising. The following image from this post shows average cost per click split by sector:


As you can see, legal, employment and consumer services are the most expensive sectors on the search network. The most expensive keywords on Google infographic and Search Engine Watch’s top 100 most expensive keywords in the UK research also highlight these sectors as the most expensive in PPC advertising, alongside gambling services, where some keywords can cost up to £144.76 per click!

So, if your business falls into any of these categories and your advertising budget is low, you may benefit from trying to advertise on the Display Network. Indeed, even if you don’t fall into these categories, you may still want to try it our alongside a search network campaign, as it’s so much cheaper.


With the search network, people are actively looking for the goods or services that you are serving them an ad for. For example, the search network would allow a florist to target people searching for “flower delivery Nottingham”.

The Display Network is more passive 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 on the search network. If you’re already advertising on the search network then I would strongly recommend testing a display campaign using some of the tips presented in this post to see if the display network can deliver results for your business alongside your existing search network campaigns.

Further reading

How to create a display network campaign

How to structure a display network campaign

If you need help with your Paid Search don't hesitate to contact us.

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