What is Display Advertising Online?

Display advertising has been a cornerstone of the digital marketing world for nearly 25 years, but what exactly is it, and can it help your business?

Written by Tom 30 August 2017

Digital Advertising and Display Advertising are like a pair of conjoined twins: born on the same day, physically linked together, sharing similar characters, but differing in genes, mind, and personality.

Display advertising was conceived together with digital advertising on October 27th,1994 with a banner image advert which appeared on the website Hotwired.com. At the time there were only 2 million internet users in the US, and the first graphical browser was less than a year old.

Now in 2017, the digital advertising business is worth over $100 billion, and there are nearly 300,000 million internet users in the USA. The conjoined twins of digital and display have since been surgically separated and both have developed into their own separate behemoths; with digital evolving into the father for its once twin, display. Nonetheless, the impact they're now having on the world is huge.

What exactly is Display Advertising and Where Do I Start?

Display adverts are the boxes, graphics, text, images, videos or banners that you see on websites advertising or service or product. The definition of display advertising encompasses all techniques that involved graphic elements within the advertisements. It's usually quite easy to determine that they're adverts, just look on the two images below. 

On the right-hand side on both images, you'll see the ads. On the first image you see an advert for NowTV, and the second image you see an advert for a Vauxhall Corsa. Both images are separate in size, but both images are display adverts ran through Google's AdWords network.

Google AdWords display campaigns currently reach 80% of global internet users which is by far the largest online display advertising network on the internet. The adverts can come 15 different image sizes and can be displayed on any part of a website's page. With AdWords, you have the ability to advertise on the busiest websites in the world including the likes of The Guardian, New York Times, MailOnline, and it won't be at a premium either.

Whereas you would pay $100's to advertise in magazines and even more to advertise in newspapers, advertising on the online equivalent will cost you nothing if your ad isn't clicked, and will only cost you an average of $0.58 when it does. The average cost per conversion on display ads is $60.76, but this can be improved depending on your website, and the product you are offering

But display advertising isn't there just to create a reaction, or a click, from the viewer. It's also very good at spreading brand awareness as it puts your company's logo and company's corporate image front and centre for all to see, and in some cases next to very reputable brands which will boost your company's prestige and status.

The Drawbacks

Like any type of digital advertising your adverts need to be optimised, and it's unlikely that they're going to start working efficiently right away. Display ads are no different, and in fact, with display, it's probably even tougher.

The click-through rate for display adverts stands at about 0.35% which is considerably less than its cousin, search. There is a case with display advertising that they're often ignored or not even seen by the public. 11% of the global internet population now us AdBlock which blocks out all the ads that you will see on the internet, plus there is a well-known web usability phenomenon called 'Banner Blindness' which is where website users consciously or subconsciously ignore adverts and banner-like information and instead focus on the page's main content.

It's also very important to research the websites that your ad is going to feature on before you set your ads live. Though you know that you have no affiliation to the websites that your adverts are on, that doesn't mean the internet's users will not the conflate the two. If your advert is displayed next to pornography or racism, this could be bad for your reputation and your brand.


There's always going to be advantages and disadvantages for any type of advertising that you do online. No method is without its drawbacks or pitfalls, and not every type of advertising is suitable for everyone. 

The click-through rate may be a bit alarming for some, but display advertising shouldn't be done or relied upon on its own. The times your adverts will be seen will be huge, so the clicks will still certainly come, even if they're not quite as regular as say, search advertising. 

There is also the worry about your adverts featuring on sites that you wouldn't want to be associated with, that's why you need to be diligent when you undertake your display campaign. But that's the same with everything, to be effective and efficient with any kind of marketing you need to be smart and work hard to get the most out of it.

Display advertising has great potential, not just to get to get clicks through to your website, but also to give your brand credibility by being seen on reputable sights, and awareness by people seeing images of your long and seeing your brand. Done correctly, with plenty of thought, display could be a real winner for any business.