101 – Display Advertising & Programmatic

Jun 11th, 2020

As always with our 101 series we try to make the most complex topics very simple to understand and set out the basics on which to build your digital marketing strategy. In this post we’ll look at paid search or paid media, and more specifically display advertising and programmatic bidding

What is display advertising?

Display is a type of PPC advertising where ads appear on third party websites next to content that’s relevant to your product or of interest to your target audience. Ads can take the form of banners, text, images and video.

The potential audience reach is huge, and the range of targeting methods available enables the development of focused campaigns in which ads appear to a very specific, highly relevant audience.

  • Contextual – targets pages that have specific keywords in the content.
  • Placement – targets specific websites or pages.
  • In-market audience and interest categories – targets users based on their recent search and web browsing activities.
  • Topics and demographics – targets audiences based on the information Google has gathered from its users.
  • Mobile apps – targets apps that allow ads.
  • Remarketing – targets users who have previously interacted with your website to encourage them to return.
  • Social networks – see our Social Media Advertising section.

Users can be targeted at different stages of the buying cycle, putting them into the start or middle of your conversion funnel.

Created properly your display campaigns are able to reach the users you are truly interested in and who you know will be interested in you. For instance you know your customers are young men between the age of 25 and 34 with no kids who are car enthusiasts with particular interest in performance and luxury vehicles but who also like cooking and listening to jazz.

With programmatic display you can use all that valuable consumer insight and transform it into highly focused display advertising strategy. Furthermore, you can reach and connect with your audience at any given time of day, on all devices and on pages your customers find interesting.

Types of ad formats

The best display advertising strategies utilise a combination of different ad types. Using several formats and sizes increases the reach and potential frequency of your ads being seen by your target audience.

Most campaigns will have a combination of standard text ads, image and rich media banner ads and video ads. Each type is available in various shapes and sizes and a combination of each is required to gain optimum performance.

There are several new or non-standard display advertising formats that you can also incorporate into your campaigns:

Text ads

Display text ads are built using lines of advertising text; often the same format as paid search ads shown on search engine results pages. You can tailor your messages with dynamic remarketing and increase click-through-rates using dynamic keyword insertion.

Image ads

Image ads can be used to capture people’s attention as they browse websites, enticing them to your site using a combination of graphics and text. The different networks contain thousands of sites and apps on which image ads can be displayed. Image ads can be static or contain moving elements to highlight your message.

Rich media

A rich media ad contains images or video and involves some kind of user interaction. The initial load of a rich media ad is 40K or more. While text ads sell with words and display ads sell with pictures, rich media ads offer more ways to involve an audience with an ad. The ad can expand, float, peel down, etc. And you can access aggregated metrics on your audience’s behaviour, including number of expansions, multiple exits and video completions.

 Video ads

Video ads can be placed across the web, but YouTube is the most popular platform. Unlike with TV, your video ads don’t have to be short; you can take as long as you need to tell a story – just keep it engaging.

Dynamic remarketing ads

Are the most personalised ads showing users the exact products users have been viewing during their visit to your site. Despite the requirement to run a merchant centre, this type of ad can also be utilised by certain lead generation business sectors. 

Google lightbox ads

Lightbox Ad is a rich media display ad format that brings a fullscreen creative to engage users with your brand’s story. The ad can contain high definition content including YouTube videos, games or a catalogue shopping experience. When user engages with the banner the ad expands taking a dominant position in the forefront creating a dimming effect on the page underneath which gives great opportunity of brand exposure. This format is often best for strengthening brand-to-consumer relationships and tell your brand’s story by letting the consumers engage with your ad content.

Gmail sponsored promotions

Gmail Sponsored Promotion (GSP) is a standalone ad format that appears in user’s personal Gmail account in promotions tab and looks like a regular email message. Once user clicks on the teaser message, the ad expands showing full creative. The ad can feature products, an image creative or a html ad that can contain multiple links or contact forms for direct engagement.

Bu using keywords to contextually target the ads to the content of users’ inbox facilitates high ad relevance. GSPs are best for top of the funnel brand awareness as well as direct lead generation with in-ad contact forms.

TrueView ads

With TrueView you can advertise your products and services with video content on YouTube. Get your ads in front of hundreds of millions of viewers paying only when users find your content interesting and view your video.

Native ads

Native display advertising uses ads that automatically adjust themselves to the webpage they appear on, matching the format and function of the site. Native ads look and behave as if they were a part of the site they appear on. Yahoo’s research into display ad performance has proven that native ads generate 3.6 times higher uplift in brand searches than regular display ads and 3.9 times greater uplift in the website view-through rate.

Targeting methods in display advertising

There are a number of display targeting methods to make sure your display campaigns produce maximum returns for the underlying budget. Here are the most common:


Remarketing (also known as re-targeting) allows you to get your ad in front people who’ve already shown an interest in your business and should be a staple for many display advertising strategies.

When someone visits your site, a cookie is downloaded onto their browser which allows us to build an audience list based on their interaction with your site or YouTube channel. We can then show them remarketing ads across the web.

This extra layer of relevancy allows you to recapture your previously engaged audience to pitch your product, service or brand. Find out how popular remarketing segmentation options and other remarketing platforms can be used to re-engage your target audience.

Placement targeting

Once the data starts rolling in from contextual targeting, you can identify the highest-performing website placements and set specific bids for these, to maximise your return on investment.

Keyword contextual

Often used as the main targeting method for an advertisers first step into display advertising. By targeting groups of keywords, it is possible to match your ads up to relevant websites that contain your keywords within their content.

In-market audiences

Reach users who want your product or service in more places across the web. Google can determine that someone is ‘in-market’ for your product or service by the related ads they have clicked, related clicks that led to conversions and related sites and pages recently viewed.

Affinity audiences

Reach users who have shown an interest in an area that relates to you product or service. Based on previous internet activity, Google will build a profile of your users’ interests; Google Analytics then allows us to target your ads to these users across the Google Display Network.


The ‘topics’ targeting method allows ads to be show on a group of sites that Google has categorised as related to a set topic. Topics are based on the content of the site or webpage your ad appears on.


Display advertising allows you to bid higher or lower for users depending on their age or gender.The strong advantage of the above targeting methods is the ability to combine them whichever way you please to create micro-targeted campaigns. For example, if market research indicated that males aged 35 – 44 are your most valuable audience, you could bid higher for this specific demographic.

Or, if you found that no conversions were being driven from the 18 – 24 age range then you may choose to exclude this audience from your campaign entirely.

Layered targeting

Each of the above targeting methods can be used independently or conjunction with another. This allows campaigns to be created with a huge reach or micro-targeted to a niche audience, and everything in between.

Different types of targeting have different benefits and some of these can be seen in the graphic below:

What is programmatic advertising?

Programmatic advertising is the way businesses use automated real-time bidding to buy ad space online. It uses AI and machine learning to buy, sell, and optimise digital ads on your behalf.

The advertiser inputs targeting factors such as location, timing, device, demographics, and interest categories, then select the exact bid for each individual user depending on their search intent. It also allows you to select the most relevant ad copy, which will best resonate with each type of user behaviour. Basically, it combines media and audience solutions to maximise ROI.

Programmatic advertising is different to the standard display advertising service offered within Google Ads, as by utilising programmatic you have access to additional online inventory through numerous SSPs (Supply-side Platforms), rather than the 1 SSP used by Google. Some of which can be seen below:

What did we have before programmatic?

Traditional ad buying methods involved greater human investment in the ‘legwork’ of bidding on and placing ads, including negotiations and eventual manual insertion of the ad into specific media; programmatic technology seeks to automate all possible areas of the ad buying process for display ads. Technology is expanding the arena of programmatic advertising and offering plenty of new options for targeting in an increasingly affordable and accessible sphere.

Advantages of programmatic

  • Access to a greater variety of as options in terms of supply side platforms (SSPs, such as Google Display Network) and publishers, for the best price.
  • Improves efficiency and performance of campaigns, by accurately targeting potential customers with the right message, at the right moment and in the right place.
  • Makes the most of your budget by optimising the to the best performing platforms and pacing spend.
  • Although programmatic requires a front-loaded strategy and setup in terms of the keyword research and the bidding levels, automated buying saves time that can be used to develop and improve campaigns, refine targeting and increase ad (and landing page) quality.
  • Marketers can also mine huge data volumes and use machine learning to unlock insights and find predictive signals, taking the guesswork out of keyword bidding, ad testing and optimisation.
  • It allows you to maximise the reach of your audience at scale.
  • Allows data to be reinvested back into your campaigns.
  • Greater transparency of data.

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