The Straightforward Guide to the Google Display Network

Are you looking to expand your online advertising reach and get your brand in front of more qualified prospects? The Google Display Network (GDN) might be the perfect solution.

With over 2 million sites, apps and videos in the network, GDN has incredible scale – reaching 90% of internet users worldwide. And with sophisticated audience targeting capabilities and engaging ad formats, it‘s a powerful way to build brand awareness, drive website traffic and conversions, and grow your business.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dive into everything you need to know to harness the power of the Google Display Network – from why it‘s important to best practices for targeting, creating standout ads, measuring results, and more.

What is the Google Display Network?

The Google Display Network is a vast network of websites, apps, videos, and Google-owned properties like YouTube and Gmail, that show Google display ads matched to their content and audience. Essentially, it allows you to expand your reach beyond Google Search and get your ads in front of prospects as they browse the web.

GDN spans over 2 million sites and reaches over 90% of global internet users, including 70% of the top 100 most visited websites. So whether your target audience is reading the news, checking their email, watching YouTube videos, playing mobile games, or browsing other types of content across the internet, your GDN ads can reach them.

Why Advertise on the Google Display Network?

There are several compelling reasons to incorporate the Google Display Network into your digital advertising strategy:

  1. Massive reach and scale. With 90%+ global online reach and over 2 million sites and apps, GDN provides unparalleled access to your target audience at scale. According to Google, the GDN reaches over 1 billion users worldwide.

  2. Build brand awareness. Display ads enable you to get your brand and offerings in front of more people who may not be actively searching for your solutions. This helps drive brand recall and recognition over time. One study found that when consumers are exposed to display ads, they are 155% more likely to search for brand- and segment-specific terms.

  3. Reach the right audience. GDN offers a variety of audience targeting options to help you get your ads in front of the right people based on their demographics, interests, online behaviors, and past interactions with your brand. 91% of marketers believe that ads on the GDN have helped them reach their target audience.

  4. Multiple ad formats. Unlike text-based search ads, display ads can incorporate rich visuals, video, and engaging designs. This allows your ads to capture more attention and leave a lasting brand impression.

  5. Lower costs and higher ROI. Display ads tend to have lower costs-per-click compared to search ads, since the targeting is more broad and competition is lower. The average CPC for display ads is $0.58, compared to $1-2 for search ads on the same industries and verticals.

  6. Remarketing capabilities. GDN allows you to remarket to past visitors to your website, keeping your brand top of mind and bringing them back to convert. The average click-through rate for retargeted display ads is 0.7%, compared to 0.07% for regular display ads.

Google Display Network vs. Search Network

If you‘re familiar with search engine marketing, you might be wondering how the Google Display Network differs from the Search Network. Here‘s a quick breakdown:

Feature Search Network Display Network
Ad Placement Shows on search results pages Shows on websites, apps, videos across the internet
Ad Formats Text ads Image, video, rich media, text ads
Targeting Keyword-based Audience-based (e.g. demographics, interests, behaviors)
User Intent High – actively searching for a solution Low – browsing or consuming content
CPCs Higher ($1-2 average) Lower ($0.58 average)

In general, the Search Network is best for reaching bottom-funnel prospects who are actively looking for your products/services and are more ready to buy. It‘s a demand capture channel. In contrast, the Display Network is more of a demand generation and brand awareness channel – helping you reach and influence target audiences higher in the funnel.

The two networks are highly complementary. 50% of customers who click on a display ad later do a search for that product/service, and running search and display together increases overall conversions by 59% on average.

Display Ad Formats and Best Practices

To succeed on the Google Display Network, you need compelling ads that capture attention and inspire action. GDN supports a variety of engaging ad formats:

  • Responsive display ads. These are Google‘s default ad type that automatically adjust their size, appearance, and format to fit available ad spaces. You provide the ad components (images, headlines, logos, videos, descriptions) and Google optimizes the ad format. Best practices: Include 5+ images, 5+ logos, 5+ headlines, 5+ descriptions, and 1+ videos.

  • Image ads. Upload your own static image ads in standard GDN sizes such as 300×250, 728×90, 336×280, 300×600. Best practices: Use hi-res images, keep text to 20% or less of the image, include branding and a clear CTA.

  • Video ads. Showcase your brand story or offering in an engaging video ad. Can run as in-stream ads (before/during YouTube videos), video discovery ads, or bumper ads. Best practices: Keep videos under 3 minutes (ideally 12-20 seconds), have a clear CTA, add captions, grab attention in the first 5 seconds.

  • Gmail ads. Interactive ads that show at the top of the Gmail promotions or social tab. Expands when clicked to display your full ad with images and embedded forms. Best practices: Use attention-grabbing imagery, keep ad copy under 100 characters, have a clear CTA button.

Regardless of format, here are some universal best practices for creating high-performing display ads:

  1. Communicate value. Why should people care about your brand or offer? Highlight your unique selling points, special offers, social proof.
  2. Prominent branding. Make sure your brand name/logo is clearly visible for brand recall.
  3. Strong visual hierarchy. Have a single, clear focal point that draws the eye. Don‘t clutter the ad with too many elements.
  4. Contrasting colors. Use contrasting colors to make key elements like your CTA or value prop pop.
  5. Easy to read. Keep text concise and legible. Avoid tiny fonts or large blocks of text.
  6. Single call-to-action. Give people one clear action to take. Too many CTAs in one ad can be confusing.
  7. Frequency capping. Don‘t overwhelm people by showing your ads too often. Limit ad frequency to 3-5 impressions per user per day.
  8. Create ad variations. Create 3+ ad variations per ad group to give the algorithm more options to optimize for performance.

Audience Targeting Strategies

Choosing the right audiences to show your ads to is critical for success on the GDN. Some of the key targeting capabilities include:

  • Demographic targeting. Reach people based on their age, gender, parental status, or household income.
  • In-market audiences. Show your ads to people who are actively researching and considering buying the types of products/services you offer. Google looks at clues from web browsing activity, ads clicked, and content viewed.
  • Affinity audiences. Target people based on their lifestyles, buying habits, and long-term interests. For example, "fashionistas," "auto enthusiasts," or "outdoor enthusiasts."
  • Custom segments. Create your own audiences by specifying keywords, URLs, and apps related to your ideal customers. Google will show your ads to people who have recently interacted with that content.
  • Placement targeting. Choose specific websites, YouTube channels, apps, or ad positions where you want your ads to appear.
  • Topic targeting. Target your ads to appear alongside content related to certain topics like fitness, travel, or photography.
  • Remarketing. Show your ads to people who have previously visited your website, used your app, or given you their contact info. You can also create remarketing lists for certain web pages visited or products viewed.

So which audiences should you target? A good place to start is looking at your Google Analytics data to identify your highest value web audiences – those with the highest engagement and conversion rates. For example, you might find that women age 25-34 who spend time on your product pages are most likely to convert.

You can then use the lifestyle and interest audiences in Google Ads to expand your reach to similar audiences who have not yet engaged with your brand. One caveat: The broader your audience targets, the less targeted your ads will be. It‘s important to continually test and optimize your targeting to home in on the sweet spot of scale and relevance.

In addition to proactive audience targeting, don‘t overlook the power of remarketing to people who have previously shown interest by visiting your website. The average click-through rate for retargeted ads is 0.7% — 10 times that of regular display ads.

You can get even more granular by tailoring your remarketing ads based on the specific actions someone took on your site. For example, you could show one ad to people who abandoned their shopping cart and a different ad to those who visited a product page but didn‘t add to cart.

Measuring and Optimizing GDN Results

As with any digital marketing campaign, tracking and optimizing your performance is key to getting the best return on your Google Display Network investment. Here are the main KPIs to measure:

  • Impressions. How many times your ads were shown. An indicator of brand awareness.
  • Clicks. The number of clicks on your ads. Shows engagement.
  • Click-through rate (CTR). The percentage of people who saw your ad and clicked on it. Benchmark CTR for display ads is 0.35% for search and 0.46% for display. But aim for 1%+.
  • Conversions. The number of people who clicked your ad and took your desired action, such as a purchase or signup. The ultimate measure of success.
  • Conversion rate. The percentage of ad clicks that led to a conversion. Aim for 2-5%+.
  • Cost per click (CPC). How much you paid for each ad click. Lower is generally better.
  • Cost per acquisition (CPA). How much you paid to acquire a new customer. Aim to be below your target CPA.
  • Return on ad spend (ROAS). Revenue generated divided by amount spent on ads. Aim for 2-4x+.

In addition to high-level performance, you should also monitor your performance by audience, ad creative, device, geography, and placement. This will help you identify opportunities to double down on what‘s working and cut what‘s not.

For example, you might find that your ads perform significantly better on mobile devices vs desktop. Or that certain ad variants, audience segments, or placements are delivering an outsized share of conversions.

Armed with these insights, you can continually experiment to find the best mix of ad creative, audience targeting, bids, and placements to maximize your results.

Some tips for optimizing GDN campaigns:

  • Review placement reports to identify and exclude low-quality or irrelevant sites generating lots of waste spend
  • Implement frequency capping to avoid annoying people with too many ad impressions
  • Create tighter audience segments by combining two or more targeting criteria
  • Set up A/B tests to experiment with ad variations, landing pages, audiences and more
  • Add responsive search ads to complement display campaigns and engage high-intent searchers
  • Adjust bids based on device to optimize for where your ads perform best
  • Set up automated rules to pause low-performing ads/audiences or increase bids on top performers


As you can see, the Google Display Network is an immensely powerful tool for advertisers to expand their online reach and get in front of target audiences at scale. With its massive network of websites and apps, variety of engaging ad formats and granular audience targeting capabilities, GDN can help businesses build brand awareness and drive conversions like never before.

Of course, succeeding on the GDN is not as simple as launching a campaign and sitting back. It requires compelling ad creative, continual testing and optimization, and strategic audience targeting. But for marketers willing to put in the time and effort, the rewards can be substantial.

The key to achieving a strong return on investment is knowing your goals, understanding your audience, monitoring your performance, and making data-driven optimizations. Start with conservative bids and work to identify your top performing ad-audience combinations. Then gradually increase spend as you dial in your strategy.

By following the tips and best practices outlined in this guide, you‘ll be well on your way to driving more brand awareness, engagement, and conversions with the Google Display Network.