Imported Layers Created with Sketch. AdHawk Blog
Google AdWords

How to Set Up an AdWords Display Network Campaign

If search ads are the bread and butter of AdWords, as we said, the display campaign is the Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato of the complete AdWords diet.

BLT GifWhile Search campaigns are limited to the Google Search results page, Display campaigns leave the confines of Google and appear on websites throughout the web.

These websites can range from specific URL based targets, like, to some general category of websites, such as Athletic Apparel e-commerce sites, around the web.

To see what I mean, check out the home page for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As you can see, the site maintains its content in the center, leaving the right-hand size for ads duly noted “advertisement”.

It is likely that Marquette University targeted JSonline specifically with a hefty bid, seeing as two (#’s 1 and 3) of its ads are placed in the top 3 ad positions.

Display Ad Example

As a Milwaukee-based University, Marquette has seized a potent opportunity by targeting JSOnline readers, who are seeking to educate themselves with up-to-date news and Pulitzer-Prize winning journalism. As you have likely seen (unless your brain is some kind of adblocking wizard), these ads are everywhere.

What is a display ad?

Display ads are the billboards and magazine ads of the internet.

Unlike traditional Google text-only search ads, advertisers can spice things up when creating display ads. They’re made of pictures, images, symbols, and text that display on AdSense enabled websites. This network of websites, that uses AdSense (aka where your Display Ads can show) is called the Google Display Network, or GDN for short.

There are over 2 million websites in Google’s Display Network, which, in total, reaches over 90% of all internet users. Google Display ads are shown on all major blogs, publications, and apps, making display advertising an excellent tool to reach the right customers at the right time.

What are the types of Display Ad Campaigns?

There are four primary display ad types:


Responsive ads are text ads paired with a stock image, featuring a one-line header text and your url.

Gmail ads look like sponsored emails that show up towards the top of Gmail inboxes. When clicked on, some of them expand to a full-sized graphical HTML page.

Banner ads are graphical ads that live on websites. This is the most popular display ad format.

App ads are smaller mobile-focused banner ads within mobile apps.

No longer available: text ads are search ads, but are displayed in Google’s GDN instead of Google Search. They are made up of a headline, two lines of body text, and a website URL. Google sunset text ads on January 31st, 2018.

How are display ads priced?

Google runs an auction every time there is an opportunity to show your ads. Advertisers set their bid prices and Google determines which advertiser is willing to pay the most for the vacant ad spot.

After determining the winner, Google charges one cent more than the 2nd highest bid, so advertisers don’t overpay for an ad.

There are three pricing models available for advertisers, contingent on your business goals.

  1. Cost-per-Click (CPC): Advertisers are only charged when someone clicks on an ad and visits your webpage.
  2. Cost-per-thousand Impressions (CPM): Advertisers pay per one thousand views. This is the best option for larger awareness campaigns.
  3. Cost-per-Acquisition (CPA): Advertisers pay per conversion on their site, whether it be an email signup or an online purchase.

To read more about pricing, check out our Google Ad Auction Guide (infographic included!)

Most Common Google Display Ad Sizes

Now that you’ve sized your budget, let’s find the optimal ad size. According to Google, here are the most popular, highest performing ad sizes:

  • 300 x 250: Medium rectangle. Performs best when integrated natively within an article or at the end of a post.
  • 336 x 280: Large rectangle – slightly larger rectangle, which also performs best within articles.
  • 728 x 90: Leaderboard ad that is placed at the header of a website
  • 300 x 600: Half page ad, which often times sits on the sidebar
  • 320 x 100: Large mobile banner that is popular in mobile apps and games. The alternative mobile banners are 320×50 and 300×250.

👇 Want the free Illustrator of Photoshop template?

New call-to-action
How to Target Your Audience With Display Ads

Okay, so now that we know we can target up to 90% of all internet users on Google’s Display Network, where the heck do we start?

There are 5 main display ad targeting strategies. Let’s break them down one by one.


Remarketing is an advertising strategy that targets people who have already visited your site, used your app, watched your videos, or purchased your product.

With display remarketing, you can even tell Google to change your ad’s content depending on a viewer’s past interaction with your business. This is known as Dynamic Remarketing.

You’ve probably seen Dynamic Remarketing first hand. For example, have you ever checked out a specific product on a website only to see that same product in every ad for the next few weeks?

If you looked up pink sandals on Amazon, you might see an ad on of the same pair of pink sandals, reminding you to complete the purchase.

Read our full guide on how to set up remarketing on Google AdWords.

Placement Targeting

With placement targeting, you can pick and choose which websites you want your ads to show on. Remember, though, there is still an auction and there is no guarantee that your ads will show.

Contextual Targeting

Google scans every webpage within their network to determine its core topic. They then match them with your keywords, languages, and the topics you’re targeting so that your ads show to the most relevant audience possible.

For example, if your ad is targeting “sports” related keywords, your ad might show up on Sports Illustrated, ESPN, or Barstool.

Interest Targeting

Target groups of people with interests in certain topics, based on their historical browsing behavior.

Demographic Targeting

Target people based on gender, age range, and parental status.

Topic Targeting

AdWords provides a long list of topics you may target such as industries, careers, and niche topics. Then Google will show your ads in a group of websites that fall under these categories.

Inversely, interest targeting places your ads in front of individuals who are interested in your given topic.


Google Display Ad Best Practices

There are a ton of great ads, but also a ton of really really terrible ads out there. We go through binders full of them every day, which is why we wrote this post just for you! Before we go into the best practices of Google AdWords ads, enjoy our fun little #HawkTalks video where our ex-Google CoFounders try to determine whether these Google display ads are real or fake.

You can catch the 2nd episode and the blog post here! Okay now to the strategies.

Identify and Remarket to Similar Audiences

If you already have more than 1,000 visitors on your remarketing list, use similar audiences to find more people with the same interests, demographics and behaviors. This is a quick and easy way to target more qualified leads and ultimately improve your conversion rates!

Clarity is key

Keep your copy short and your designs simple. Be sure to highlight one selling point, one clear call-to-action. Design with your ultimate goal in mind, whether it’s a click, signup, or a sale!

Exclude placements

First and foremost, you must absolutely check your site category exclusions, to ensure your ads are not showing up on mature, violent, or outlandish content that is incongruent with your brand!

After that, you can check which websites are showing your ads. Exclude the lowest performers and even consider removing yourself from mobile apps.

Test your ads with ad rotation

The best way to determine your highest performing ad is through ad rotation, a feature also available on Search. Google will rotate your ads in similar conditions for a set period of time and will report to you the performance of your different ads. For a full explanation, check out our ad rotation guide.

Find competitors and inspiration on MOAT

MOAT is a fantastic resource where you can find display ads from whatever company you are looking for. Start by looking at your industry leaders and see if you can draw some inspiration from them.

How to set up Display Ad Campaigns

Setting up display ad campaigns is easy. Here’s a step by step tutorial on how to get it done on both the new AdWords experience and the original AdWords interface.

New AdWords Experience

From your “Campaigns” dashboard, click the blue + button.

Create a display ad

Select the “Display” campaign type.

Display Campaign Type

Next, select your campaign goal.

AdHawk Protip: If you choose to create a campaign without a goal, you have access to all of the features of a display campaign, which allows you the most customization and flexibility.

Campaign Goal

After you select your campaign goal, you will be able to enter a name for your campaign. Although AdWords enters a default campaign name for you, choose a name that clearly describes the theme of the campaign.

Campaign Name

Next, select your campaign subtype. You will have three options to choose from:

  1. Standard Display Campaigns (recommended) gives you manual control over your settings and targeting, with a few automation options on top
  2. Smart Display Campaigns lets Google handle bidding, optimization, and targeting with automation
  3. Gmail Ads show ads in people’s emails

Campaign Subtype

Next, specify the locations where you’d like to target. If you would like to add multiple locations or target a radius around a specific location, you can select “Advanced Features” and add in your targeting.

For more information, read our complete guide to geotargeting.

AdWords Geotargeting

Now it’s time to set up your bidding. Choose your campaign’s main optimization focus:

  1. Conversion: the action that is being measured by interacting with your ad. For example, a signup or a purchase.
  2. Conversion value: the financial worth of each conversion
  3. Clicks: someone clicks on your page
  4. Viewable Impressions: pay when at least 50% of your ad is showing for at least one second

Setting up bidding

Now select your bidding strategy. You will have the option to either choose an automated bidding strategy, or a manual bidding strategy.

The manual bidding strategy allows you to have the most control over your ad campaigns.

Manually set bids

Next, set up your budget and delivery method. Google will spend up to double your daily budget on days your campaign is seeing high-engagement. However, Google will never spend more than your monthly budget

When selecting the delivery type, you have two options: Standard & Accelerated.

  • Standard delivery (recommended) spends your budget evenly over the day
  • Accelerated delivery spends your budget as quickly as possible, which could result in your budget running out early in the day.

Standard or Accelerated Delivery

Once you have set up your budget and delivery methods, click the “Additional Settings” drop-down.

Ad Budget Additional Settings

Here you will find 3 important setup options:

  1. Frequency Capping
  2. Location Options
  3. Context Exclusions

Frequency capping limits to how many times your ads appear to the same user on the Display Network. By limiting the number of times someone sees your ad, you can help avoid ad fatigue, and unnecessary spend. Frequency capping can be set on a per day, week or month basis, as well as on the ad, ad group or campaign level.

For a full rundown, read our guide to frequency capping.

Location options allow you to change how you target your specified geographic region.

Target people “in your targeted location” as opposed to the defaulted “in, or who show interest in, your targeted locations.” This ensures that you are only showing ads in your desired locations as opposed to people who are “interested” in the location.

Context exclusions allow you to opt out of showing your ads on content that doesn’t fit your brand. Be sure to opt out of mature and sensitive content, as well as different content types like games, apps, and videos.


Original AdWords Interface

  • From your “Campaigns” dashboard
    • Click the +CAMPAIGN button
    • Click “Display Network Only”
    • After naming your campaign, Click “All Features” for type for the most flexibility in terms of customization
  • Locations > Enter where in the world you want your Ad the show
  • Languages > Enter what language demographic you wish to target
  • Bid Strategy > Enter budget
  • Ad extensions > There are two extensions available for Display Ads. For a deep dive, check out the respective tutorial videos:
  • **Advanced Settings: We break each of these down in other videos. For a basic campaign, leave these alone. An example of an Advanced Setting is Ad Scheduling > choose when you want your Ads to show. To make bid adjustments based on timing, check out our how-to video here
  • Creating your first Ad Group:
    • Ad group name: Use a descriptive title applicable to your target audience. This will be crucial to keeping your reports organized and legible
    • Enhanced CPC: This bid per click will override your orginial settings. This is an opportunity to funnel more, or less money towards the specified Ad Group
  • How to target your ads
    • Display keywords: target websites that have THESE keywords in them
    • Interests & remarketing: targeting people with the specified interest found in the drop-down menu
      • Affinity Audience: people who have shown interested
      • In-Market Audience: an audience Google has determined as ready to buy or in the market for certain items.
    • Use a different targeting method
      • Topics: the topic of the website (ie. Sports Websites)
      • Placements: pick specific websites
      • Demographics
    • **You can overlay different targeting options. For example, you can target people who are interested in a certain topic (ie. Basketball) who are surfing on certain placements (, These overlaid targeting options narrow the scope of your target – think Venn Diagram.
    • When it comes to retargeting your display ads, make sure you have frequency capping setup so you don’t start annoying people with your ads.
  • Creating your Ad
    • Text & Image Ads: This part is largely up to you as the marketer. If you have specific questions about ways to add some originality to your Ads, check out our other blog posts: here.
    • SAVE your Ad. You will be able to re-use this ad
  • You can revisit your target audience after the Ad is created by navigating to the Display Network tab, and using our guide above on How to Target your Ads


That’s a wrap!

Once you get the hang of basic set up from our tutorial below, take the deep dive into the various capabilities and optimization settings of Display campaigns with our other videos on our YouTube channel.

As always, we’re here to help! If you have any questions about Display Ads, let us know in the comments or on Twitter (@adhawk).

Further reads

  1. How to set up a search campaign
  2. Which websites show your display ads?
  3. Ultimate keyword guide

About the Author

Marketing and Growth Director at AdHawk. Helping business find confidence and success online, one hefty article at a time.