Inbound Marketing & Sales Development Inspiration

The Basics of Display Advertising

Posted September 9, 2014
4 minute read

Author note: the article below was originally published on, a subsidiary of the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Since the dawn of the modern internet, we’ve been smothered with brightly colored banner ads (also known as display ads) that do everything in their power to win our attention. Even in 2013, the internet is filled with display ads of all sizes. Investments in display advertising is only expected to increase in the years to come. So what should you know about the nuances and types of display advertising? Below is an introduction to three common types along with their respective strengths and weaknesses.

1) Site Placement

Site placement advertising involves placing your ads on specific sites determined by you. This was the original way most website owners tried to monetize the internet and is still very prominent today.


Targeted visibility: When you find a website that speaks directly to your target market, you have a great opportunity to increase visibility and drive traffic.

Control: There is no risk of your ads showing on sites you feel are inappropriate or irrelevant. You know exactly where your ads show.


Expense: Costs to run ads are determined by the site’s owner. He or she will often tout their unique visitors, pageviews, and typical visitor engagement as a means to justify their price. This usually makes site placement advertising a more expensive option, especially compared to auction based ad models.

Reach: An advertiser's exposure is limited to the traffic on that site. If the site has a large percentage of repeat visitors, your ads could eventually become stale. It's up to the advertiser to continually find new opportunities if they're to expand their reach.

Advertisers who want to target specific websites should diversify across multiple websites while regularly creating and testing new ad designs.


2) Contextual

Contextual advertising works by selecting the types of content you want your ads to show alongside. For example, let’s say you are marketing a new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution. You want your ads to show alongside websites, blog posts, and articles that have to do with sales and selling solutions. Unfortunately, the number of websites you know that fit this description is limited. By using Google’s ad network (the largest online display ad network) with contextual targeting, Google will find websites and articles related to sales and selling and then place your ads on those sites.


Wide reach: Ad networks contains hundreds to thousands of different websites - most of which you've never heard of and wouldn't know to target. Google alone claims you can reach 83% of unique advertisers around the world using their network of websites.

Find new opportunities: After running your ads, you can review which sites are sending the best traffic and the narrow your targeting to just these sites.

Drive lots of impressions and clicks: Because ad networks are so large with so much ad space available, you'll rarely have difficulty spending through your budget and driving new traffic to your site.

Auction-based model: Your CPC (cost-per-click) or CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions) is based on how much other advertisers are willing to pay to show in the same space. This auction-based model helps keep advertising costs low compared to site placement targeting.


Not as targeted: Ad platforms, including Google, can be fairly liberal with what they consider contextually relevant. As a result, your ad may show on sites that don't perfectly match your target market. You should regularly monitor which sites display your ads along with how they perform.

Quality of traffic: Contextual targeting can drive lower quality traffic in terms of engagement and conversions compared to site placement and remarketing. This is primarily due to the wide reach of contextual targeting.

Top of funnel: Like most awareness campaigns, a large percentage of impressions will go to people that are not interested in purchasing. Don’t expect to drive a lot of direct response from these types of ads (this applies to site placement as well)


3) Remarketing

Display remarketing works by showing display banner advertisements to visitors after they have left your site. This is done via the cookies a website sets in your browser. It allows advertisers to reach out to past visitors and provide an incentive for returning.


Highly targeted: Because your ads only show to visitors who have already been on your site, visitors have been "pre-qualified." You don't have to worry about irrelevant ad impressions (unless these visitors had no business being on your site in the first place).

Customization: Ads can be targeted based on what visitors viewed on your site. For example, if they visited your Free Trial page without converting, your remarketing ad can promote your free trial. If visitors made it to your checkout page without completing their purchase, you can show remarketing ads with a 10% off checkout code.

Response - Remarketing ads typically see higher click through rates and onsite performance (lower bounce, higher conversion rate) because they reach a more targeted audience.


Limited reach: you will not broaden your reach and introduce new people to your brand since the only people who see your remarketing ads have already been on your site.

Privacy restrictions: Remarketing relies on 3rd party cookies which are blocked by some browsers and privacy settings. This means not everyone who visits your site is eligible for remarketing.

They can become annoying: allowing your remarketing ads to show for too long can lead to "banner blindness" and a stale marketing message. It's highly advisable to limit the amount of time a visitor sees a remarketing ad. Studies have shown hours, not days or weeks, are the best time to remarket following a visit.

With the exception of remarketing, most display advertising is not optimal for driving direct response. The value of display marketing is primarily in its ability to generate

awareness and high funnel interest. When done well, display can be a very important piece of a greater digital strategy, but it should rarely be considered the cornerstone.

Topics Display Advertising, Digital Marketing

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