Digital Display Advertising, the Unsung Hero of Digital Marketing

Digital Display Advertising, the Unsung Hero of Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is a constantly evolving field. Since digital marketing agencies already work in a bewilderingly complicated industry, they sometimes find themselves stuck with old habits. However, the dynamic nature of digital marketing means that digital agencies must keep up with the times and strive to find the hidden strategies that give them an edge over the competition. One of those strategies is display advertising.

Although virtually all experienced digital marketing agencies are at least a little familiar with digital display advertising, it is immensely underrated by many firms. Understanding the potential of display ads can rocket even the smallest digital agency into unparalleled success, making display advertising the unsung hero of digital marketing. If your business needs a hero, it might be time to look into digital display advertising.

What is Display Advertising?

Before explaining exactly why digital display advertising is so effective, it is important to understand what the term entails. Put simply, display advertising refers to any technique used to attract the audience of a website, social media platform, or other online space with an advertising graphic of some kind. Display ads can be text-based, images, or even audiovisual ads. The goal of display advertising is dependent on the campaign strategy.  One of the most common goals is to encouraging the user of the site to click the ad and be directed to a landing page and take a specific action, such as purchasing a product, subscribing to a newsletter, or signing a petition. However, there are other digital display advertising goals to consider, such as branding and overall campaign support.

Display advertising campaigns, like many other online advertising campaigns, can be charged on a “cost per click” (CPC), “cost per thousand” (CPM) or a “cost per day” (CPD) basis.

Cost per click is also sometimes referred to as “pay per click,” depending on which party is talking about it. CPC bidding means that the person buying the ad pays the publisher (such as a search engine or social media platform) for each click on the ad. That means that the person paying for the ad only pays for it if it works, which can be a huge advantage for them. Often clients purchasing CPC bidding campaigns will set a maximum CPC, which is the highest amount they are willing to pay for a click on the ad.

Display advertising campaigns are sometimes used for retargeting campaigns, where ads are delivered to users who have already visited a site, with the goal of “retargeting” them and getting them to return to the site to take the same action or take an action at a later stage of the marketing funnel.

Although display advertising has a modest click-through rate (about 0.05% on average, depending on type of display advertising), it is an important part of a well-rounded marketing strategy. While certain marketing strategies have a better click through rate (such as native advertising or email marketing campaigns), display advertising raises brand awareness every time users see your ads.

Even if they don’t click through, display ads support other campaigns and generally improve the effectiveness of your advertising strategy. In fact, Harvard researchers studying display ads found that display campaigns – when sustained over a longer period of time – significantly increased the conversion of search campaigns.

The Different Kinds of Display Ads

Most digital agencies are familiar to some extent with a few different forms of display ads. However, not all display ads are created equal, and as such it is important to understand the various different forms that display ads take. Since one of the main motivations of display advertising is to reach as many people as possible, using different formats is vital. Having a deeper understanding of the formats allows digital agencies to fit display ads into more spaces, maximizing the reach of the ad campaign and giving a wider range of options to pick from. Here is a list of the main formats that display ads can come in, and some of their unique advantages and disadvantages:

Banner ads

The very first display ad to appear on the internet was a banner ad. On October 27, 1994 – in the era of Netscape Navigator and fax machines – the Wired Magazine website (then known as “HotWired”) uploaded a boldly colored image reading “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? YOU WILL.” Its impact on online advertising was gargantuan. To this day, banner ads are one of the most common ads used by digital agencies. Banner ads that appear on the top of the page, highlighting the offer quite literally above all other content can be advantageous to the advertiser. However ad blocking software can prevent these ads from being displayed.

Interstitial ads

Interstitial ads are interactive, almost always full-screen ads that cover the graphic user interface of the website or app that they appear on. For the most part, interstitial ads appear at natural breaks or transition points between content, such as between levels in a game app (hence the “interstitial” in the name). What makes interstitial ads different is their full coverage of the content that the user came for. To take a specific example, the popular video editing app InShot displays interstitial ads when exporting video footage. Often, the ads are for game apps, and the ad can allow the user to play a demo of the game for 15 to 30 seconds before being able to close the ad and return to InShot. Interstitial ads are highly attention-grabbing. Since they are placed in the natural interstices between content, users do not generally find interstitial ads intrusive or particularly obnoxious. Most of the disadvantages of interstitial ads are technical, such as their potential to negatively impact loading time and search engine optimization.

Pop-up ads

Pop-ups are so ubiquitous that they hardly need explanation. The traditional form of a pop-up ad (which hardly exists nowadays) is a new window opening simultaneously with a user entering a website. Although pop-ups are far less common today than they once were, there are still some reasons to consider them. The traditional “new window” pop-up ads are now blocked by most internet browsers, but some pop-ups are still effective. For instance, pop-ups that open a new tab in the browser, open a sub-window within a page (sometimes referred to as modal pop-ups), or open up a live chat dialogue can be highly valuable in encouraging users to click through. The advantages of these pop-ups is that they are nearly impossible to ignore, they grab attention (50 percent more effectively than banners according to AKA Marketing), and certain kinds of pop-ups are practically invulnerable to ad blocking software. However, there are considerable disadvantages to pop-ups as well. They have a bad reputation due to a historical association with fraud, scams, and adult content, and many users find them extremely obnoxious and intrusive. As such, using pop-up ads can hurt a brand or digital agency’s reputation. They should not be used as a long-term marketing solution, since ad blocker and browser software developers are engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with pop-up designers, but they can be an effective short-term boost.

Unicast ads

Unicast ads are comparable to traditional television commercials. They are videos that play on the browser window, usually lasting somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Of course, unlike traditional television commercials, unicast ads are display ads and viewers can click them to get more information. Unicast ads have similar advantages and disadvantages to television commercials, although they do have one unique drawback: they can lay a heavy burden on bandwidth and cause slower loading times, resulting in viewer frustration and a worse user experience.

Contextual advertising

Contextual advertising is a type of targeted advertising where the ad content is based directly on the content of the page. As an example, contextual advertising could take the form of an advertiser placing an ad for airline tickets to France next to an article about travelling through French wine country. Nowadays, contextual advertising is usually organized by semi-automated systems that scan the text of a website or other digital platform for keywords, and then places relevant ads on a page based on those keywords. One major advantage of contextual ads is that users consider them less irritating than traditional ads. Due to the lack of irritation and the targeted nature of contextual advertising, it influences users more efficiently than many other ad types. Contextual advertising has very few disadvantages. Perhaps the only major drawback is that it requires very close cooperation between the digital agency and the publisher/host since the contextual advertising system needs access to a database of content on the site to scan for potential keywords.

Takeover ads

The name takeover ads is an especially accurate one. Takeover ads refer to an advertiser “taking over” the content of a publisher, for instance replacing a website’s homepage primarily with ads (this specific scenario is called a “homepage takeover”). This type of display advertising is usually reserved for successful, high profile brands on very high traffic online publications. Although the specifics of takeover ads vary a lot, in general they involve some portion of a platform’s content being replaced with a digital agency’s content. In recent years, thanks to web development advances, takeover ads are often incorporated into the website background or have interactive features that boost user engagement. The advantages of takeover ads are many: the advertiser becomes associated with popular platforms, the ads grab attention extremely well, and they get a lot of reach. However, takeover ads are usually very expensive and can cause technical difficulties for the host.

How is Display Advertising Efficacy Measured?

For Lancaster County businesses considering using display advertising, it may be important to ensure that the digital agency managing the ads can accurately measure how effective they are. Therefore, it is smart to understand exactly how digital agencies measure display ad efficacy and the basics of the research behind display advertising.

In recent years, the impact of marketing has become far more objectively measurable. Thanks to the digital revolution, computerized metrics can now be automatically measured and analyzed to see whether a campaign is working well or not. On the other hand, that very same digital revolution has made the question of what to measure far more complex. Fortunately, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Europe has developed a set of integrated definitions, measures and metrics for making those measurements, called the Digital Advertising Effectiveness Measurement Framework. The framework covers three main areas of digital advertising effectiveness measurement: effectiveness of sales, brand, and media. For instance, for brand effectiveness, the framework looks into the following key questions to evaluate the influence digital campaigns have on delivering brand outcomes:

  • – Was purchase intent positively impacted?
  • – Has brand favorability been achieved?
  • – Was trust in the brand improved?
  • – What was the ad recall rate (unaided and aided)?
  • – Was brand awareness increased?
  • – Was brand equity improved?

However, it is always good to ensure the effectiveness of an ad campaign before the campaign is launched. Making digital advertising maximally effective requires that digital agencies place their ads in high quality, contextually relevant environments. Brand suitability is crucial for a successful campaign. For instance, if you don’t want your ads appearing next to extremely sensitive content related to COVID-19, certain display ad services can control for that. Often, maximizing effectiveness means learning from past campaigns and seeing what does and doesn’t work – so ensuring the success of future campaigns means looking at ones that are already done. And if brand suitability is not taken into account, then it is virtually impossible to accurately measure whether an ad campaign would or would not have been effective otherwise. Tools like Google’s Brand Lift measurement can help determine what audiences think of an individual ad or ad campaign.

What Makes Display Advertising Work Best?

In 2018, the United Kingdom IAB branch conducted a meta-analysis of a variety of research studies looking at the effectiveness of digital advertising campaigns. The analysis, which covered 675 campaigns, demonstrated that digital display advertising increases (unaided) brand awareness by up to 12 percent compared to controls. The analysis also found that digital display advertising improves public perceptions of brands, and that digital display advertising drives intent to purchase products associated with the brand.

So the question that digital agencies are left with is not whether or not display advertising is effective, the question is what makes display advertising effective and how to maximize that effectiveness. So whether your Lancaster business has an in-house design team or will be hiring a digital agency, it is necessary to ensure the team follows some of the following basic best practices in digital design to stretch every dollar spent on advertising:

Use responsive sizing

In a world that is split between mobile devices and computers, your ads must be responsive and able to properly display on any digital device. Kristanne Roberts, global development director at Kantar, writes that for digital campaigns to succeed they must be carefully tailored to display properly on all formats. Using common sizing for display ads ensures easy trafficking and reduces failed response bugs. Fortunately, there are some standardized sizes for responsive ads that design teams can choose from.

Choose clean design

Minimalistic, uncluttered design is critical to getting your message across. The internet is a place full of fascinating information, a place where your ad is competing for attention with everything from cat videos to breaking news. People will naturally skim past and ignore overly complex ads. Furthermore, digital ad formats on mobile devices are small, so optimize for the mobile world and embrace the “less is more” philosophy. Font choice and font size need to be readable on mobile, so be sure to double check ads on a smartphone.

Be colorful

Making use of colors that reflect your brand’s identity can be immensely helpful in attracting the right audience. The psychology of colors is something everyone in marketing should be familiar with. Different colors are culturally associated with different things, and therefore represent different feelings and ideas. For instance, green represents freshness, growth, vitality, renewal, dependability, practicality, nurturing, adaptability, loyalty and kindness – it is a versatile color that is ideal for portraying feelings of nature or health, particularly environmentally friendly products. Blue represents trust, integrity, responsibility, peace and calm, and helps customers trust businesses which is one reason that blue is so common with IT business and social media logos.

Don’t violate copyright law

It may seem obvious, but it is vital to double check the rights to use images before using them. Never copy and paste an image found on Google, for instance, into an ad. Use professionally taken photos that you own or use image services like Getty. Brands can (and have) gotten into serious legal trouble for violating copyright laws in their marketing campaigns.

Pick the right color mode

The RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color mode is much better suited to digital environments than the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black) color mode, which is better for print media. The RGB color mode uses what is called “additive mixing” meaning that all colors are formed from adding red, green, and/or blue light on top of black darkness to create the correct color. This reflects how digital screens render color, and is therefore ideal for digital environments.

Use GIFs optimally

Animated GIF images can have major benefits over static images. As an example, they can present more information or catch a user’s attention more effectively than a traditional still ad. However, when used improperly, they can overwhelm users with too much movement or information and get glossed over and ignored. If you use GIFs in your display ads, make sure not to overload users to the point that they get annoyed.

Harness the power of HTML5

Back in the day, interactive ads primarily operated off of Flash. However, as Flash became obsolete, HTML5 ads became the standard. HTML5 ads enable animation and interactive content in the same way Flash did, but they have the added benefit of being responsive and looking the same on any device or browser. Any device that can render HTML5 code can render HTML5 ads as well. HTML5 coding is easy to learn and optimize, and there are many tools specifically designed to produce HTML5 ads even with limited coding skills.

Have a clear call to action

The call to action is everything in advertising. Without a clear call to action, even the most eye-catching and otherwise effective ads are useless. Make sure that the call to action is obvious and distinct, and make sure other design elements support the ultimate goal of getting the user to follow through with the call to action.

Targeting Options for Display Advertising

Good targeting is essential to making sure that ads get in front of the right audience. An audience that is interested in photography is far more likely to buy an expensive camera than a general audience. Fortunately, many ad services such as Google Ads offer customizable targeting options that can engage audiences in the right niche. Ad groups can operate off audience targeting, reaching people based on who they are, how they have interacted with similar businesses, interests and habits, and what they are actively researching. For display advertising, here are some common category types that ad services use to reach audiences:

  • – Affinity Reaching users based on what they’re passionate about is one of the most common ways to connect a brand to an audience. Search engines and social media have a wealth of data on the affinity groups that their users belong to, so digital display advertising is ideal for this type of targeting.
  • – Demographics: Reaching users based on long-term life facts is a time-tested method of designing targeting groups.
  • – Life events: Reaching users when they are in the middle of important life milestones can be an extremely effective technique. For instance, a real estate firm might target ads to people who are buying their first house, or a baby product company might target people who are expecting a child.
  • – In-market: Finding a user base from their recent purchase intent has become an extremely common method, especially in recent years. One of the best indicators of whether someone will buy a product or service is having shopped for or bought it previously.
  • – Remarketing: Reaching users that have interacted with your business in the past is effective for reasons similar to in-market targeting. Remarketing is critical to building a base of repeat customers who can develop brand loyalty and essentially serve as free marketing for the business.

Of course, the ultimate goal is not just to use pre-determined targeting categories, but to design a holistic custom audience with a broad range of traits. Ad services such as Google Ads allow digital agencies to set up custom audiences in display advertising campaigns by adding keywords, apps, and website URLs related to the brand. The ads are then shown to audiences with those interests or purchase intentions. Creating custom intent or custom affinity audience types is a fairly new phenomenon, but it has massive potential. For instance, whereas in the past a bicycling gear company may have tried to reach a sports fan affinity audience, they can now reach avid cyclists specifically. With custom audiences, the shoe campaign can define this audience by entering:

  • – Keywords such as “bike race,” “cyclist athlete,” or “mountain biking”
  • – Entering apps in the health and fitness category that an avid cyclist might be interested in, such as Strava, Google Fit, or Endomondo
  • – Entering URLs of web pages with content about cycling, ride schedules, cyclist nutrition, and competitive cycling themes

Why Switch to Display Advertising?

If you still aren’t sure whether display advertising is right for your Lancaster County business, you should understand what advantages display advertising has over other methods. Virtually all modern digital agencies incorporate display adverting as an essential part of their online strategy. Display advertising lets brands creatively connect across the internet to countless potential customers. Unlike email ad campaigns, for instance, display ads’ reach is not limited by a user’s email provider, social channel, or willingness to sign up to an email subscription.

Brands that effectively make use of display advertising can reach consumers across the web anywhere that they could be looking for news, goods, services, recommendations, or any other information. Just the Google Display Network on its own can reach more than 90 percent of total internet users all over the world. Using additional demand-side platforms can increase that reach even more. But even with Google alone, brands are more or less guaranteed to reach more potential customers with display advertising than any other offline or online advertising method.

Display advertising is also far more responsive and ubiquitous than other advertising strategies. Since our modern lives are fully integrated with the digital world, a display ad campaign can let your branding follow a consumer all day – from the morning news checkup, to their workday, to their evening leisure activities.

Retargeting and remarketing allows ads to perform at levels that were thought to be impossible a generation ago. However, the reason why is obvious – users that have a prior interest in a product are more likely to purchase it again. Retarget ads have an excellent click-through rate of 0.7% (compare that figure to 0.07% at the top of the marketing funnel). Retargeting potential repeat customers with display ads is a fantastic method for attracting those customers back to a brand’s site or social media page. This method is ideal for advertising campaigns that are directed more toward conversion. One common example of this is setting up a script-tag on a company checkout page and retargeting with relevant products. This also reduces cart abandonment. Display advertising can even interrupt consumers who are considering going to a competing business and convince the consumer to come to your brand instead. Using search retargeting, companies can go after customers who have looked for products or services on a competitor’s website, and then offer deals for the same product or service at prices that undercut the competition. Brands that don’t use search retargeting in this way are likely having it used against them, so it can be a huge mistake not to.

Another excellent benefit that display ads have over other ad types is its dynamic nature. Display advertising allows designers, advertisers and digital agencies to explore the breadth of their creative potential. As the field continues to grow and evolve, and technology continues to advance, display ads gain more and more features. In recent years, display ads have adopted interactive elements, high quality video, countdowns, live product feeds, and many other new options for designers to take advantage of. In the future, more features will surely come into play. The ability of display advertising to adapt and change over the years means that they are likely to be around for a long time, surviving fluctuations in both the economy and in people’s relationships to the digital world.

Since it is so important to measure marketing performance and know that every dollar spent on advertising is creating a return on investment, many brands that want to know their marketing budget is being used effectively op for display advertising. It is very easy to get a variety of data on the efficacy of display ads, using metrics ranging from how many times ads have been seen, to how many users have clicked the ad and more. Because display ads are best suited for building brand awareness, the number of impressions an ad receives is one of the most important metrics. It is also built in to virtually all display ad services and easily accessible.

Overall, display advertising is an excellent option for any Lancaster County digital agency looking to broaden its reach and maximize impressions with potential customers. Display ads let brands get an edge on the competition, connect with consumers, and build widespread brand awareness and loyalty. In a world so deeply interwoven with the digital domain, brands cannot afford to ignore display advertising.

For more information on display advertising, Google Ads, or any of our other digital services, please contact us.