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8 min read

Anatomy of a Google display campaign and how to make it work harder

Display ads have come a long way from the first PPC banner ad back in 1994, but with a CTR of 44% should we take inspiration from this example of a simple display campaign? Unfortunately, the answer is no, however, we do have some useful tips on how to make your Google display campaign work as hard as possible.

Fundamentally, a display campaign uses visual adverts across third-party websites to encourage targeted users to take a defined action. Internet users are saturated with adverts every time they browse, so being clever with your display campaign is essential for success.

  • The first step when building a Google display PPC campaign is to define your goal. What do you want the campaign to do and what does success look like?
  • Next up is the budget. What is a realistic budget based on the goals you’ve defined for the campaign?
  • Then decide who will be the most valuable audience to target. Are you prospecting to increase brand awareness? Do you want to retarget basket abandoners with an offer? Do you want to retarget past purchasers with new products?
  • Now to get creative. What should your creative look like? How do you cut through the clutter to get the brand front of mind? 

Once you’ve answered these questions, using the SMART objective acronym will ensure the PPC campaign is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and you have a timeframe in place. 

Now you have a basic display campaign, how can you make it work harder?

A successful Google display campaign relies on communicating the right message to the right user at the right time which is why targeting, creative and placement are key. Thinking of those three fundamentals holistically rather than individually is where we can really push the campaign to be as successful as possible.

Targeting – Prospecting & Remarketing

When it comes to targeting in your PPC paid media display campaigns, there are two main types – prospecting and retargeting. 

Prospecting audiences are users that have not previously visited your site and may be completely new to the brand. Targeting a prospecting audience is great for getting in front of new users to increase your brand awareness. Using Google’s audience targeting here will ensure the prospecting audience is relevant to the product or service on offer. Google offers different audience segments to suit the nature of your campaign. For a brand awareness prospecting campaign, affinity segments reach users based on their interests and passions; custom segments reach users based on relevant keywords; in-market users reach an audience based on recent purchase intent & URLs and life events if it was relevant to the business, for example, a home insurance business may want to reach the moving homes audience.

The second type of targeting is remarketing, which helps reach users that have visited your site before. This can be broken down further to and become specific to reach users that; visited your site but didn’t convert; visited your site and did convert; visited your site and completed an action but didn’t convert, etc. There are lots of possibilities and if your site has robust tracking it’s possible to be very efficient with remarketing. If you want to explore more opportunities that Google Ads targeting offers, click here for an in-depth deep dive.

Below is a detailed description of the audience segments and when to use each.

Audience SegmentDescriptionWhen To Use
Affinity SegmentReach users based on their hobbies, interests, browsing habits & passionsGood to narrow down the audience pool when running prospecting activity. If the product/service is broad test different affinity segments with differing creative messaging to find what resonates. Can be large scale depending on the segment sizes.
Custom SegmentUse keywords, URLs & apps that are related to the product/service on offerUseful for prospecting campaigns. The keyword, URL & app selection can be very granular and so the audience will be more specific than affinity segments. Good for more niche products/services. The scale will be smaller.
Demographic TargetingReach users based on detailed demographics such as homeownership, education, parental status etc.Good to reach a wide audience pool that fits into a particular demographic. Good for broad products/services. The scale will be large.
Life EventsReach users when they are experiencing a life milestone e.g. buying a houseUseful to reach users in a particular moment of their life such as buying a house or graduating from university. The audience pool sizes can be mixed and users will be in the pool for a relatively short time.
In-MarketReach users based on recent purchase intentGood for reaching users that are lower down the purchase funnel at the consideration stage and are actively looking for a specific product or service.
Your DataReach users based on 1st party dataIdeal for remarketing campaigns to reach users that have performed a specific action on site

Creative – Messaging

When pushing brand awareness, the creative and messaging need to be eye-catching, informative and memorable (for the right reasons!). All imagery must be high-quality and relevant to the business. Messaging should clearly communicate what the product or service is that’s on offer and try to push a brand USP or trust signals – this is particularly important for smaller brands where awareness may be low.

When it comes to remarketing creative assets there is even more potential to be innovative with creative and messaging based on the audience type you’re targeting. If we’re remarketing to a user we can safely assume they are aware of the brand and product or service on offer so the key here is to be smart with what is being communicated. 

For a site visitor that didn’t take a specific action or complete a specific goal on site, brand name and logo should be visible but a focus on messaging that indicates they’ve visited the site previously adds an element of personalisation. 

For basket abandoners we can dial up the personalisation with ‘did you forget something?’ messaging and why not add in a discount code or free delivery for a limited time to push the urgency and encourage a sale too.

 When communicating with users that didn’t complete a form submission for a service-based business try to push USPs and trust signals instead, for example, the number of years of industry experience the brand has or the number of 4 & 5-star reviews on Trustpilot. 

Creative – Formats

There are multiple standard display formats and sizes available through Google, a static PPC display ad is a still creative that fits into a specific size ad slot. When running statics, a good rule of thumb is to always have a mixture of sizes running. This not only allows Google to optimise on the best performing but also means missing out on fewer opportunities to reach targeted users – there is only a select amount of display inventory available per webpage and if the size available on the page doesn’t match up with the asset size in the Ads account a potentially high-value impression opportunity will be lost.

Once a creative bank has been built up, running responsive display ads (RDAs) is a great way of making the campaign work harder. RDAs are made up of a combination of images, videos, headlines, logos and descriptions that Google combines to auto-generate display assets. It’s important that all elements of the RDA work together to ensure each display ad has clear and consistent messaging that suits the brand’s tone of voice. Google will test multiple combinations throughout the campaign and optimise towards the top-performing elements of each to drive performance based on the campaign KPI.


Getting the advert placement correct could be the difference between catching a potential customer when they’re in the right frame of mind and generating a conversion or reaching a potential customer whilst they’re busy with a completely unrelated task and losing a conversion opportunity. When prospecting, being contextually relevant with advert placement is key to cutting through the clutter and catching users’ attention, particularly with a prospecting campaign. A running trainer brand reaching a user whilst they’re reading an article on a sports magazine site is more likely to pique a user’s interest compared to reaching a user whilst they’re reading a cake recipe on a food site.

When remarketing to users ad placement can be a little more broad, whilst still being brand safe, because the users being served the advert will recognise the brand which should mean it’s naturally more eye-catching and cuts through the clutter.

With any PPC campaign, but particularly display campaigns, running tests is essential for efficacy and growth. Running multiple paid media creatives with different messaging, different logo placements, different colours and different CTAs is great to gather learnings and push the most effective creative to make the campaign work extra hard. And remember, when it comes to testing and learnings no outcome is a bad outcome, if a creative flopped or the messaging didn’t land you know what not to do next time!

Google display campaigns are a great way to get the right message to the right user at the right time and by considering targeting, creative and placement holistically for each audience, tailoring messaging and running tests you’ve got much more chance of a successful PPC display campaign. Although that 44% CTR might be a bit of a stretch!

Want to learn how to edit your ads offline? Check out our guide to Google Ads Editor. Or, you can learn more about our PPC services by getting in touch.