How to Run Display Ads for Your Website

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If online marketing is new to you, it can feel complex and overwhelming. You’re just trying to sell your product or service—you didn’t sign up to become a marketing guru! Well, the bad news is that the days of tacking a flyer up at the hardware store bulletin board are gone. But the good news is that the internet affords you amazing marketing options—and they aren’t as complicated as they appear. Display ads are a great place to start. 

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What are Display Ads?

When you visit a website and you see a banner ad, an ad that appears between pages, or a pop-up image, that’s a display ad. Typically placed on relevant third-party sites, display ads are designed to attract a consumer audience. The ads intentionally stand out from the page you are viewing—they are designed to attract attention. If you’ve ever had to search for a hidden X on an annoying popup ad so you could read the content you went online to find, you have experienced how tenacious display advertising can be.  

Display ads, which have been around since 1994, are often a good use of your marketing budget. The vastness of the internet means that even with a relatively low click-through rate (or CTR, which is the percentage of viewers who click on your ad), you’re getting a lot of eyes on your ad, and thus on your business. The potential business and income you generate through display ads may be well worth their cost. 

Types of Display Ads 

Innovations are part of the landscape of digital advertising, so the types of display ads out there regularly evolve. Here are the major types that are currently popular—once you know what they’re called, you’ll notice when you see them around the internet. 

Banner Ads (Static and Animated)

These are so ubiquitous you might not even realize how many you see in a day. They are simple ads that appear at the top of a page you are viewing, with either static images or video as the media. Banner ads are the oldest form of display ads, and while they are simple, they are not the most ideal choice for optimizing your click through rate because they are easy for the user to ignore. 

Interactive Ads

With an interactive ad, the user is enticed to engage with the product or service through games, demos, polls, or lead forms that will give them access to gated content. 

Video Ads

Often found on social media and content platforms like YouTube, video ads are excellent for both desktop and mobile devices and can achieve higher engagement rates than other, static types of display ads. 

Expandable Ads

One of the newer genres of display ads is called the expandable ad, which starts as a relatively small image (like a popup ad) and then, once the user engages, increases in size to occupy most of the user’s screen. Digital marketers have mixed opinions about them, as they are extremely obtrusive to the user’s online experience.

Interstitial Ads

An interstitial ad, as the name implies, fits in between pages a viewer is navigating. They take up the full page (and are often used with mobile technology, particularly in gaming) and require the user to click past them to get to the next page. 

Display Ad Terminology

The world of digital marketing is heavy on acronyms and jargon, so it’s easy to feel like you don’t speak the language. Here’s are some basic terms that will help you get the lay of the land. 

  • Conversion (sometimes referred to as acquisition) is when a user purchases your product, books your service, or otherwise engages with your business as a customer. 
  • Impressions are views—every time a user is served the ad, that’s an impression. 
  • Sizing is, quite literally, how big the ad is. Choose from half-page, portrait, banner, or other standard sizes, and pay accordingly. 
  • Run Time refers to how long your ads run. Most experts recommend a minimum of ninety days to build momentum and a total run time of at least six months. 

A display ad contains four basic components: headline, copy, media, and CTA (call to action). 

  •  The headline is the part that comes first, often in large and/or bright font. It’s meant to grab attention and entice the user into clicking on the ad. 
  •  Copy is the written text of the ad, from which the user gets the information they need to understand what the ad is for. Copy also expresses brand voice and identity. 
  •  Media is the visual aspect of the ad, which can be static or video.
  •  The CTA, which is almost always a clickable button, is where the user can take an action, like signing up, learning more, entering their email, booking a consultation, or registering for a discount code. 


In most cases, display ads are billed one of two ways. The first is called CPC, or cost per click. This means that what you pay is determined by how often your ad is clicked on by viewers. The second billing model, CPMs, is short for cost per “mile,” which means cost per thousand impressions (aka views).  

Average CPC

Across all verticals, the average CPC is $2-$4. You can figure out your average cost per click by dividing the total cost of your clicks by the total number of clicks. What counts as a “good” CPC is highly industry specific, with food trucks, restaurants, and coffee shops ranging from $0.64 to $2.12 and malpractice attorney services in the hundreds of dollars. Generally speaking, you can assess the value of your CPC by comparing it to your ROI. If you’re paying $1 per click, you need to be making at least $1.20 back in order for the CPC to be considered worthwhile. 

Average CPM

Because CPM measures impressions rather than clicks, it offers a lower ROI. That doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. It can be extremely cost-effective as compared to CPC, and essentially it’s just a different bidding model, but it’s important to understand that comparing CPC to CPM is like comparing apples and oranges.  Like CPC, averages vary significantly from industry to industry, with an overall average of $3.12 CPM for Google display ads and most social media display ads in the $6-$9 CPM range.

Common Display Ad Mistakes

Aside from consumer fraud and copyright protections, there are very few rules in online advertising. There are, however, some best practices that will steer you around some common mistakes made with display ads. 

One mistake that you want to avoid making is using a misleading CTA. Your ad is the initiation of your relationship with your customers or clients, and your first opportunity to establish (or lose) trust. If your CTA button makes a gimmicky promise that is revealed as empty by the time they click through, you’re not likely to make a conversion out of their click.  

Another mistake that’s seen a lot with display ads is running the same ad over and over again, everywhere you advertise. You always want to have an A and a B version of your ad, so that you can run them side by side and get real-time feedback on what’s working better before using up your whole budget. You also want to change your ads up over time, so that they don’t become familiar and stale. 

Running ads that get high clicks but low conversions is another pitfall you want to avoid. By paying close attention to your analytics, you (or your digital marketer) will be able to discern whether your ads are generating real business—and if they’re not, it’s time to pivot an aspect of your display ad strategy.  

Troubleshooting Display Ad Issues

Something administrative may be amiss if your display ads are getting notably low traffic. If you’re working with a digital marketer, you can ask them to figure out what’s going on, but if you’re DIYing, you’ll want to check it out yourself. 

Depending on the platform you’re advertising on, there may be simple account issues at play. Your account may not be active, your payment may have been declined, or you may have inadvertently maxed out your campaign budget (in which case ads typically stop running automatically). Or, your ads may not have been approved yet, or were rejected for some reason. 

Other issues may stem from the ads themselves, and where you’ve placed them. If you badly misread contextual placement, your ad may not be reaching an interested market. It’s also possible that your ad simply isn’t very compelling (based on its design or its content) and so it isn’t getting much attention. These are situations where a second (or third) opinion is the order of the day, and it’s time to run your advertising plan by a trusted expert.  

Getting Your Name Out There

Depending on what kind of small business you have, display ads can be a powerful way to generate clients, increase repeat business, and keep your business name relevant in your industry’s discourse. Plus, once you work with your digital marketer to create your ads, they run passively, requiring next to zero labor from you aside from paying your marketing bill, so it’s worth considering whether display ads could be a value-add for your business.