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Comprehensive Guide to Display Ads: 15 Best Practices

Display advertising remains a powerful tool for marketers, capable of reaching vast audiences and driving significant engagement when executed correctly. This guide provides 15 actionable insights and best practices to ensure your display ads are both effective and efficient.

Understanding Display Ads

Display ads are online advertisements that appear in various forms, such as banners, images, and videos, on websites and apps.
Google Ads, one example of display ads platforms

Display ads, often appearing as banner ads, are visual-based advertisements shown across various websites, apps, and social media platforms. They are typically integrated into the layout of a web page or app and can appear in various locations, such as at the top, bottom, or sides of the content, as well as within the content itself. Display ads use targeting techniques to reach specific audiences based on factors like demographics, browsing behavior, and interests.

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Importance of Design and Visual Elements

Design and visuals are crucial components of successful display ads. Effective design can combat banner blindness and enhance engagement.

Banner blindness is a phenomenon where website visitors consciously or unconsciously ignore banner ads. This occurs because users have become accustomed to recognizing the shape and placement of banner ads, often associating them with irrelevant or intrusive content. As a result, they develop a habit of overlooking these ads while focusing on the main content of the webpage. This behavior reduces the effectiveness of display ads, as fewer users notice or interact with them.

1. Keep Designs Simple

Complex graphics and cluttered designs can overwhelm viewers and reduce engagement. Research shows that the average human attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, emphasizing the need for clear and concise visuals. Use a single, clear image to convey a message quickly. 

Apple TV campaign is an example of keeping the copy and design simple, yet powerful.
Example of Apple TV gift card campaign

2. Use Strong Visual Hierarchy

Establish a visual hierarchy to direct the viewer’s attention to the most important elements first. 

Organize the layout to follow a natural reading pattern, typically from left to right and top to bottom. This layout guides the viewer’s eye from the headline to the supporting image, and finally to the CTA. Ensure that each element has enough space to breathe, avoiding clutter and enhancing readability.

Place images and logos in positions that complement the overall flow of the ad. Images should be relevant and support the headline and CTA. Position the brand logo where it is easily visible but not overwhelming, maintaining brand recognition without detracting from the main message.

3. Incorporate Visual Cues

Incorporate visual cues such as arrows, lines, or shapes that guide the viewer’s attention towards the most important elements. These cues can subtly direct the eye movement, ensuring that the headline, image, and CTA are noticed in the intended sequence.

4. Storytelling

Create ads that tell a compelling story. Storytelling can engage viewers emotionally and make the ad more memorable. A well-crafted story can make an ad more memorable and impactful. This approach goes beyond simply showcasing a product or service by weaving it into a broader, relatable context that resonates with the audience.

Airbnb’s #LiveThere campaign is an example of telling a story with an ad.
Example of Airbnb using storytelling in its display ads

You may use sequential messaging to build a narrative over a series of ads. This approach allows you to unfold the narrative in stages, keeping the audience engaged over time. Each ad can build on the previous one, gradually revealing more of the story and deepening the connection with the viewer.

Crafting Compelling Messaging

Creating messages that resonate with the audience is essential for effective display advertising. Tailored messaging can significantly improve engagement and conversions.

5. Target the Messaging

Segment the audience and tailor messages to different groups based on demographics, interests, and behaviors. For instance, a cloud service provider might create separate ads for IT managers and CFOs. The ad targeting IT managers could emphasize technical features and reliability, while the ad for CFOs might highlight cost savings and ROI.

6. Present a Clear Value Proposition

A value proposition should be evident and compelling, addressing the viewer's pain points and offering a clear benefit. For example, an ad for a project management tool might promise to "Streamline project workflows and improve team productivity," directly addressing common pain points.

Example of PayPal using strong value propositions to engage its target audience.
Example of PayPal appealing to the business audience with a clear value proposition

7. Consistency with Landing Page

Ensure that the message in your display ad aligns with the content on the landing page. Consistency builds trust and improves the user experience. The landing page should deliver on the promise made in the ad.

If your ad promises a 20% discount, make sure the landing page highlights this offer prominently and provides an easy path to redeem it.

8. Visual and Textual Balance

Maintain a balance between visuals and text. Too much text can overwhelm the viewer, while too little can leave the message unclear. Use visuals to complement and enhance the message rather than overshadow it. The text should be concise and supported by strong visual elements.

Optimizing Ad Formats and Sizes

Choosing the right ad formats and sizes can enhance the effectiveness of display ads. Testing different options helps identify what works best for campaigns.

9. Test Multiple Sizes and Formats

Different ad sizes and formats perform differently across platforms. Google recommends starting with top-performing sizes like 728x90 and 300x250, but A/B testing is essential to determine what works best for a specific audience and objectives​​.

10. Explore Animated vs. Static Banners

Both static and animated banners have their advantages. Animated banners can demonstrate a product in action, while static banners may be more suitable for simple, direct messages. Testing both formats will help identify the most effective approach for campaigns​​. A SaaS company might use an animated banner to show a quick demo of their software's features, whereas a static banner could highlight a key statistic or customer testimonial.

Enhancing Engagement Through Interactivity

Interactive elements in display ads can significantly boost user engagement and improve campaign performance. Exploring different interactive options can provide valuable insights.

11. Utilize Rich Media

Utilize rich media elements such as videos, animations, and interactive features. Rich media can capture attention more effectively than static images and can provide a more engaging user experience. Ensure these elements are relevant to your message and enhance the overall narrative of your ad.

12. Monitor Performance in Real-Time

Continuously track the performance of your interactive ads using analytics tools. Monitor metrics such as interaction rates, time spent on the ad, and conversion rates. Use this data to optimize and refine your ads for better engagement and effectiveness.

Cerebro enhances operational efficiency with structured campaign data governance.
Cerebro, AI-powered campaign data management solution

Cerebro is an AI-powered campaign management and data governance solution. Cerebro alerts you of any issues, anomalies, or drops in metrics. The platform simplifies monitoring of every component of complex marketing campaigns, including branding, targeting, and key metrics. For instance, Cerebro can track and alert you when a Google Ad, Meta or DV360 campaign exceeds target CPC, CPL, or other KPIs. 

The platform is powered by AI, which enables you to set all business and operational guidelines in plain language. 

Book a demo call with Improvado to get access to timely and accurate performance insights.

13. Leverage Remarketing

Remarketing ads target users who have previously interacted with a website or app, keeping the brand top of mind. As third-party cookies phase out, alternatives like Google’s FLEDGE (First Locally-Executed Decision over Groups Experiment) are emerging, allowing for effective remarketing without compromising user privacy​​.

14. Dynamic Creative Optimization

Use dynamic creative optimization (DCO) to tailor ads in real-time based on user behavior and context. This technology allows for the creation of personalized ads that change dynamically, showing different content to different users based on their interactions, demographics, or browsing history.

15. User-Initiated Interactions

Design ads that encourage users to initiate interactions, such as clicking to expand content, revealing hidden information, or playing a video. User-initiated actions create a sense of control and curiosity, leading to deeper engagement.

See What’s Working for You

Adhering to best practices for display ads ensures that campaigns are visually appealing, strategically sound, and highly engaging. To see what’s truly working for your company and drives sales, integrate a marketing analytics platform and run comprehensive advertising analytics

Improvado offers a pre-build template of the paid advertising dashboard.
Improvado paid advertising dashboard

Improvado is an AI-powered marketing analytics and intelligence platform. It consolidates data from various advertising platforms into a single, cohesive dataset, simplifying the analysis and enabling real-time optimization decisions. With Improvado, marketers can focus on what truly matters—leveraging actionable advertising insights to drive strategy and achieve a better return on investment.


What are display ads?

Display ads are visual-based advertisements that appear across websites, apps, and social media platforms. They are designed to engage potential customers with compelling visuals and messages.

Why is the design of display ads important?

Effective design helps combat "banner blindness" and enhances engagement. Clear and concise visuals are crucial for capturing attention quickly.

How can messaging improve display ad performance?

Tailored messaging that resonates with different audience segments can significantly improve engagement and conversions. A clear value proposition addressing viewer pain points is essential.

What are the benefits of using rich media in display ads?

Rich media ads, which include interactive elements like video and expandable content, can significantly boost user engagement and provide an immersive experience.

Why is it important to optimize display ads for mobile?

With a significant portion of web traffic coming from mobile devices, optimizing display ads for mobile ensures a seamless user experience and increases conversion rates.

How can tools like Cerebro enhance display ad performance?

Cerebro, an AI-powered campaign data management solution, ensures that campaigns follow marketing and business guidelines, validates targeting and other campaign components, and provides real-time alerts for any issues or drops in metrics, enhancing overall campaign efficiency and effectiveness.

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