A beginner’s guide to display advertising – ClickZ

Content Takeover Display Advertising

Digital marketing is full of buzzwords so overused they’ve all but lost their meaning, like “storytelling” and millennials. Yet, the industry is also full of jargon that means something, but has so many different interpretations it can often be difficult to understand.

One of these common misinterpretations is around display advertising and the idea that any and all online marketing is considered display. It’s not. Native ads are sometimes content marketing, and they are sometimes display ads, though display ads can come in various forms. Confused?

So what is a display ad?

Display ads are the boxes on websites that are obviously advertising. They can be along the top of web pages such as the traditional banner ad, or the larger text billboard, they can also be videos. These types of ads appear on distinct sections of the site that are specifically reserved for paid advertising and are aimed at generating a quick conversion.

The wider banner ads generally perform better than their tall, narrow counterparts. According to Google, the most effective display ads are 336×280 or 300×250 pixel rectangles, 300×600 pixel half-page ads, and 728×90 or 320×110 pixel banners.


For example, Curalate’s ad on ClickZ; is there any doubt in your mind that this is advertising?

Display versus native

That’s what separates traditional display ads from native ads, which are designed to blend in with their surroundings in order to appear more authentic. Both are paid opportunities but, by fitting in seamlessly on the pages on which they’re placed, native advertising is thought to be less disruptive. They’re the preferred format for Yahoo on its digital magazines.


Excellence Resorts on the top left is the ad here, though you may not immediately recognize it as such. Virtually everything about it matches the rest of the content, except for the word “SPONSORED,” which has been placed cleverly – and authentically – in bold, black text above the offer.

Content marketing can be considered native advertising, though it is only display in some forms. For example, branded infographics and videos, when positioned neatly in an article, can fit into the display bracket – specifically when they are paid for by an advertiser.

Other content marketing formats such as blogs, articles, reviews, and whitepapers, however, are not display advertising; their purpose is to create a value exchange with the consumer with useful, interesting, and targeted information.

OK, got it. Are there any other kinds?

Not all display ads fit neatly into one of those boxes. Other common formats for both static and video ads include:

  • Rich media: There are a few varieties of rich media ads. One is the video that unexpectedly starts as the page loads, alerting everyone in earshot that you’re not actually working. The more polite versions of rich media ads just sit quietly on the page until you roll over them with your mouse. Then they expand, like the push down ads that move content downward as you scroll.
  • Interstitial: An interstitial is the full-screen ad that pops up in between activities, such as clicking from one page to the next or getting to the next level on a page. Yelp is big on this ad format, frequently using it to promote its app from Google searches.


  • Overlay: An overlay is similar to an interstitial in that both pop up and must be X’d out, in order to see the content. However, an overlay is transparent and allows you to see what’s behind it. Search Engine Watch has a lot of these to make sure readers know about the inaugural Connect event coming up in Miami (which you should definitely be coming to by the way!).

What are the pros and cons of display ads?

Like anything else, display ads come with their own set of pluses and minuses. On the one hand, everything above illustrates the flexibility. There are countless combinations of formats, sizes, and styles, allowing you to mix it up.

Display ads also travel far, given the millions of websites reached by Google’s Display Network. The search giant can match your ads up to websites and apps based on keywords or your own targeting preferences.

They’re also fairly straightforward to measure. Display advertising analytics allow you to track the number of clicks, impressions and conversions the ad has generated in real-time, giving you an up-to-date picture of what is resonating with consumers.


But while display ads are so widely used, they’re also widely ignored. Because display advertising is everywhere, people tend to develop a bit of ad blindness.

As a result, the average click-through rate across all formats is less than one percent. For video, only 54 percent of ads are viewable, Google said over the summer. Three-quarters of those non-viewable ads were playing in a background tab or never actually on-screen.

Viewability is also affected by ad blocking, the use of which has skyrocketed over the past year, particularly in Europe. According to Adobe and PageFair’s Ad Blocking Report, ad block usage grew 48 percent in the U.S., totaling 45 million monthly active users. The number of monthly active users totals 77 million in Europe, with more than a quarter of German Internet users and about 35 percent of those from Greece and Poland using ad blockers.

Cool. So, like… how do I do it?

Now that you have a better understanding of display advertising and its pros and cons, here are a few tips to apply to your execution.

  • Be visually stimulating. Think of a display ad the way you think about an infographic: less is more. You may want to cram everything you deem important into your ad, but you definitely should not do that. Your ad will be visually overwhelming and too busy to catch anyone’s eye, and ultimately fall victim to ad blindness.
  • Be experimental, yet complementary. There are so many different display ad formats that it makes sense to dabble and see which ones work best for you. However, if they’re consistent and look like “they go” with your other marketing, people will be more likely to associate your company, even if it’s just subconsciously. Think of Lululemon – all of the brand’s marketing has such a distinct aesthetic that’d be recognizable even without the name “Lululemon” anywhere.


  • Be wary of being interruptive. Rich media ads are particularly polarizing, often seen as the irritating catalysts for downloading an ad blocker. 60 percent of respondents in a HubSpot survey called autoplay ads the most annoying, compared with pop-ups, TV commercials, junk mail and sponsored tweets.
  • Be direct. What are you looking to achieve? Unless the goal of your campaign is strictly branding, you should include an obvious call-to-action. For example, the Curalate ad pictured above sums up the company in three words and has “Learn How” on a bright orange button. Yelp’s interstitial is equally straightforward, prompting you to open the page – or download – its app.

Editor’s note: an updated version of this article can be found here: “Display ads 101.”