After getting started with the Google Ads platform (if you haven’t, we suggest you read our guide on How to Advertise on Google) you may be curious about using Google display ads.

Chances are, you see Google display ad examples daily when browsing for ways to help your small business grow. Millions of consumers buy products they see on them every day, so how can your business get in on the action?

Let’s go over how Google Ads works, how display ads fit into it, how much Google advertising costs and how to get started on your way to targeting potential customers with a new advertising strategy.

How Does Google Ads Work?

Google Ads is a way for small businesses to reach customers that are likely to want to buy their product or service.

It works by matching ads to consumer behavior based on the keywords they’re using and their interests on other websites. You can advertise on search engine results pages (SERPs) or various platforms through the Google Display Network.

Businesses bid on ad space, and those bid amounts are combined with the quality of their ads to come up with an ‘ad rank.’ This ad rank is used to determine which business gets the coveted ad space. The amount you pay per click is based on your ad rank and how much competition you face.

What Are Google Display Ads?

Google display ads are advertisements that are shown on Google’s partner sites. They’re not to be confused with Google search ads, which show up on SERPs when users search for certain keywords.

Google Display Network ads run as banners across the top of a webpage, a sidebar or as a pre-roll video ad before popular YouTube videos.

Here’s an example of Google display ads on a Wall Street Journal article. You’ll see that there are two Google display banner ads. They’re there because Google and the two companies advertised (Tag Heuer and Chevrolet) believe someone on this page would be interested in trucks, hockey and watches. In this case, they have targeted the user (me) quite well.

Google display ads examples of effective banner ads.

Your ads can target people who have visited your site previously or have shown interest in related products in your industry or product category. The targeting option you choose will depend on your business, industry and your digital marketing strategy.

It’s important to develop that strategy to make sure you know what Google Display Network ads will work best for you.

If your customers are likely to turn to the Wall Street Journal for business advice, like in the Google display ad example above, you might want to bid on that ad space.

What Is the Google Display Network?

The Google Display Network is a collection of websites that businesses can buy ad space on. It includes Google-owned sites like YouTube and Gmail, as well as partners that agree to offer ad space through Google Adsense.

According to Google, the Display Network consists of over 2 million sites. They include big names like HuffPost, ESPN, Wall Street Journal and more. With its collection of sites, Google claims to be able to reach around 90% of worldwide internet users with Google display ads.

That’s a lot of opportunity for your business.

Pros and Cons of Google Display Ads

If you’re on the fence about how Google display ads can work for your business, consider the pros and cons.

Pro: Reach

When listing the benefits of Google display ads, the most important is reach. Nowhere else do you have the ability to work with a network of that many websites.

The Google Display Network gives you the ability to have customers get eyes on your product from over 2 million sites from every corner of the internet.

Con: Less Control

The sheer size of the Google Display Network comes with an inherent drawback. It can be great to be shown on certain websites, but others, not so much.

Since you don’t have control over ad placement, your Google remarketing ad could be seen where you don’t want it to. This could be something as simple as being on a site that doesn’t make sense for your customer. On the other hand, placement on certain sites could get your business lumped in with a brand that doesn’t fit your values, casting a negative light on your own.

Pro: Multiple Formats

While Google Search Network ads look like organic search results (which has its benefits), Google Display Network ads give you more creative freedom.

You can use text, GIFs, video or images to define your brand, as long as Google approves it. This allows you to make compelling ads that boost your chances of getting a click.

Con: Potential Cost

While best practices for Google display ads try to limit them, it’s possible to waste a lot of ad spend on the Display Network.

If you’re not careful about targeting the right customers, you could end up spending most of your budget on customers not likely to buy your products.

Pro: Brand Awareness

The Google Display Network is a good place to build your brand. When you’re growing, you may not have the clout to compete with larger companies in your industry. That makes it difficult to get clicks through organic SEO or Google search ads.

With the right visuals and a solid value proposition, customers will remember you the next time they want something you offer. It can be a great way to get your logo and products out to customers early, so they come to you when it’s time to buy.

Con: Timing

Although it’s good for brand awareness, the way Google display ads work can make it tough to see immediate results.

Google search ads target customers when they’re searching for a solution. This allows you to position yourself as that solution before they form an opinion elsewhere.

Google remarketing ads on the Display Network catch customers after they have left your site, which may be after they’ve decided against your product/ service. This strategy can result in wasted ad money.

How Much Do Google Display Ads Cost?

The average cost per click will determine how much Google display ads cost your business. You can choose to pay per click, conversion or impression depending on what you want from your campaign. These costs can range from under $1 to over $10 per action.

Paying by impression costs much less per action than paying per click. If you want to pay per conversion, you’ll pay a premium since these are more valuable and less common. Google charges more for these to make money off your ad in proportion to how valuable their ad space is.

Small business tip: Be aware of what action is right for you to target. If you’re trying to promote brand awareness, it may be a good choice to pay per impression. If you want to go after customers further along in the buying process, you can get away with paying more per conversion.

Any impressions you make that don’t turn into a payable action can then be considered free advertising.


Your ad rank determines the amount you pay for each action through the bidding process.

An ad rank takes your maximum bid and quality score into account. Your quality score is based on numerous criteria, including the quality of your ad, its relevance to the customer you’re trying to reach and the expected click-through rate (CTR).

Google display ads generally cost less than their search counterparts. Since Google Search Network ads target customers that are ready to buy, advertisers pay a premium for this space. Average CPC for display ads can be under $1, half of what similar search ads cost.

Competition, industry and location can raise costs, however. For example, a lawyer in a large city advertising to take workplace injury cases would face a lot of competition, inflating the price to reach their target customers. Expect to pay as much as $10 per click in the most competitive fields and more if you wish to pay by conversion.

Google display ads allow you to pay per click to your website.

Getting Started with Google Display Ads

It’s easy to get started using Google display ads. Once you’ve set up your Google My Business profile and created a Google Ads account, the process is simple.

Step 1: Choose who you want to target

Step 2: Bid and set a budget

Step 3: Pick a spot to advertise

Step 4: Create an ad

Step 5: Launch and optimize

Pick a Target Audience

The first thing you want to do when advertising on the Google Display Network is to find the right target audience. Doing so allows you to control wasted costs and get the most return on your advertising investment.

Google Display Network ads can be targeted towards customers by specific location, age, gender, income and more. Consider what your current customers look like, or go after a demographic you think will generate higher sales.

You can also target customers based on their interests and web-behavior. For example, a sporting goods store in rural areas would be better served to focus in on consumers who frequently spend time browsing sites related to hunting and fishing.

Consider how well-positioned your brand is and what types of customers you want to reach. If you run a small, brand new pizza shop, it may be a good idea to focus on easier-to-reach customers local to your restaurant looking for the “best pepperoni slice in town”.

Google Remarketing Ads

Businesses who want to target previous website visitors can focus on Google remarketing ads. This practice (often referred to as retargeting) is a great way to remind customers of your brand.

If you’ve ever wondered why you keep getting ads for a website after you visit it, this is why. It’s useful because it targets customers who have already shown interest in your product. This makes it a preferred advertising method for many small businesses who worry about paying for ads that the end-user doesn’t care to see.

Set the Right Budget and Make a Bid

What you’re willing and able to spend on Google display ads has a significant effect on whether your ad ever sees the eyes of potential customers. While it’s possible to win the bid for a specific ad if a competitor is willing to pay more, it does put you at a disadvantage.

Still, you have to be wary of how much your Google display ads cost. You’ll be asked to set both a maximum daily budget and a maximum bid per impression, click or conversion.

Small business tip: When creating a daily budget for Google Ads, simply take the amount you want to spend on Google advertising per month and divide it by 30.4 (the average amount of days in a month). This way, you don’t have to worry about exceeding your monthly ad spend.


You can choose to let Google automatically set your bid to maximize the number of actions you get or do it yourself. The latter option gives you more certainty but can limit the number of ad placements you win.

Choose Where Your Ads Will Show

One of the benefits that swing business owners debating Google display ads vs. search ads is the ability to choose where your ads are placed.

The Google Search Network is limited to show bland SERP ads and small advertisements in the “shopping” tab. Display ads, on the other hand, can be anything from banner ads on websites to Gmail text ads. You can also make Google ads for YouTube, allowing you to create attractive videos that generate more clicks than static text and images.

Your strategy will depend on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. Budget also comes into play. As you can imagine, a 30-second pre-roll Google ad for YouTube will cost more than banner ad placements.

Create a Compelling Visual Ad

The most important part of creating an ad is understanding your audience. Figuring out how to optimize Google display ads for your customers will ensure your campaigns are successful.

Think about who your customers are. Do they fall into a specific age group? Gender? Location? Do they have similar interests or values? Knowing this helps you create messaging that appeals to them on a more personal, emotional level.

Certain people are attracted to different images and ad copy. Understanding your target demographic’s interests is the key to persuading customers to click your link and choose to do business with you.

After coming up with a strategy, you need to choose whether to make your ad or let Google create one for you. If you decide to do it yourself, you’ll need to ensure you have the tools and ability to create visually and emotionally appealing ads. If not, it may be worth outsourcing to an individual or agency with more experience creating display advertising.

Google responsive display ads take the guesswork out of the creation process. All you need to do is give Google the following information, which they call assets:

  • 5 short headlines
  • 1 long headline
  • 5 brief descriptions
  • 5 images
  • 1 logo
  • Your business name

Once Google has these assets, it will create automated, compelling ads for you. These all follow best practices for Google display ads in text, image and native formats, the latter of which matches the composition of the website it appears on and increases CTR.

Whichever way you choose, make sure your ad has the following:

  • Smart, snappy copy that hits the keywords your customers search for
  • Your unique value proposition
  • A call to action that compels customers to click
  • Visuals that match your brand and draw eyes to your ad

If you follow these steps and think about what your customers want, you’ll have great ads that bring returns on your ad spend.

Monitor Your Google Display Ads Performance

It’s important to track the performance of your Google Ads campaign. Even after learning best practices and how to optimize Google display ads, you’ll still need to make some changes.

Use your Google Analytics and Ads accounts to see how many impressions, clicks and conversions you get from each ad campaign. If you aren’t getting the results you want, try to make changes that can help fill in any holes in your previous strategy.

It’s not an exact science. Test out different strategies until you find what works perfectly for your unique business and customers. Once you settle on a good system, you’ll get great results and drive sales with Google display ads.

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