Unlocking the Power of Google Display Ads: A Step-by-Step Guide to Reach Your Target Audience

Google display ads

Google Display Ads has been a part of Google Ads as far as I can remember. It was always harder to make them work compared to Search ads. But Display ads can be a powerful tool for reaching your target audience and driving conversions. You might have seen these ads on other websites and apps across Google properties. Any website can opt-in to show those ads and make an extra dollar.
And millions of websites are a part of that network, making it possible for you to reach millions of users in any country.

Even though Display ads usually are used to increase brand awareness, with the right strategy, they can generate leads and even drive conversions.
In this post, I will cover the basics of setting up and optimizing Google Display Ads campaigns. I’ll walk you through the process of creating a campaign, choosing targeting options, and designing effective ads. We’ll also discuss tracking performance and making adjustments to improve results. And finally, we’ll cover some advanced strategies for getting the most out of your Display Ads.


Setting up a Display Ads campaign

I’m assuming you already have a Google Ads account. Furthermore, I hope you’re not starting with Display ads because it is a lot easier to get sales with Search ads.
Creating a Display campaign is the same as creating a Search campaign. The only difference is the targeting and the ads. Even bidding options are the same, with one additional option called viewable impressions.

When you click to create a new campaign, select the last option.


creating google display ads


Then select Display.


select display ads


Locations. Choose a country or a city you want to run your display campaigns.

Budget. This is how much you want to spend daily. Remember that Google can go over your daily budget by about 20%. So don’t panic if you see that. It will even out during the month. Read more about Google Ads budget.

Bidding. I strongly recommend starting with manual CPC. Unless you’re really know what you’re doing.


Next, you’ll need to choose your targeting options.

When creating your display campaigns you will have several targeting options. You can target each separately or combine them together, which ads even more targeting “recipes”.

This is what you can use to target your ads:


google display campaign targeting options

I won’t go into details with demographics as this is a straightforward targeting. You have your gender, age, income (in some countries), and parental status.


With audience targeting, you will have the following:

google display audience targeting


Affinity audience is based on users’ interests and habits. It means that Google will try to create some “user profile” for each user it can reach. For example, if I often browse various car-related websites, Google will tag me as an auto enthusiast. And it will show me ads related to cars no matter where I browse. Remember this last part.


The in-market audience is similar but targets people who are actively searching for a product. They are “in market” for something. Affinity is based on users’ interests, sort of like long time interest (hobbies). Things they like to browse usually. In-market is more of a short term thing.


Keywords and Topics used to be one of the primary targeting options a while back. But Google might retire them soon. So there’s no reason to discuss it now. Instead, stick to affinity or in-market audience, or even better, create your custom audience.

Once you’re done with your targeting options, you can create ad groups and design your ads. Again, some of the settings are on the campaign level and some on the ad group level.

Country, budget, and bidding are on the campaign level.

Audience targeting and ads are on the ad group level.

You can have one campaign and several ad groups with different targeting options and ads.


Another cool feature of Display ads is that you can create your ads within the account without a designer. You can, of course, upload your ads if you have them. But if you don’t, you’ll love this.

When you click to create a responsive display ad, you will get a similar view to search ads with just more additional fields. For example, let’s say we want to create ads for an eCommerce store.

You input your landing page, the same as with search ads, and then a business name, usually your domain name.


creating ads for google display campaign


Below you can add images, logos, and videos if you like. This is where it gets incredible. When you click to add pictures, you can do several things. Upload your images, scan your website or browse stock photos.

adding images to display ads


You will also see previously uploaded images, so you don’t have to upload them twice if you want to reuse them.

The magic starts with the Website or social tab. You can input your URL, and Google will scan images from your website to use in the ad. Is that amazing, or what?

As you can see from the above example, I added several images containing products and a few promotional pictures. If I like them, I click on them, and Google will crop the pictures to a needed format and size. This is what I get:


finished display ad


Not ideal, but you have to admit that it looks good. It’s free, and I did it in a few minutes. Google will show you a preview of all the ad formats on the right. If you select more images, Google will rotate them to find the best-performing ones.


Optimizing your Display Ads campaign

After you launch your campaign, it’s essential to track performance and make adjustments if needed. First, you should see clicks coming in, meaning people are clicking on your ad. That’s good. Here you can look at CTR (click-through rate) to see which of your ads performs better. The higher the CTR, the better the ad resonates with your audience.

Usually, Display ads have a low CTR, with about 0,5% considered good. Anything above that is excellent. If it’s below 0,5% it’s not bad. But I would say you need to look at your ads or targeting options. If your ads are being shown to the wrong people, it’s unlikely that they will be effective. So another strategy is to change your ad design. Test different images and headlines to see what resonates with your target audience.

But don’t get hung up on the CTR. It’s good to work on it, but if you’re getting a lot of clicks, you should also look at your conversions (purchase, lead sign up, or any other important action). Many people say you should look at the conversion rate, which shows how many people who visited converted. But I say look at the conversion number and how much it cost. This is important because if it costs more money to convert users than your actual product or service, does it really matter what conversion rate you have?

Don’t get me wrong, increasing the conversion rate works. The higher the conversion rate, the more people you convert. But the costs are more important since you need to make your money back.

A/B testing is also a great way to optimize your campaign. This involves creating two versions of an ad and testing them to see which one performs better. Once you’ve identified the winning ad, you can use it for your campaign. Again, you can use third parties or a built-in solution within Google Ads.

Remarketing is another powerful strategy for optimizing your Display Ads campaign. This allows you to target people who have previously interacted with your website. It can be just a visit or more actions on your site that may be used to create your remarketing audiences. These people are more likely to convert, so focusing your efforts on this group makes sense.

Even though it’s a display campaign, in general there is a distinction. Usually, people look at it as a different type of campaign because you target your website, visitors. However, remarketing campaigns are usually quite successful and can boost sales. That’s why most marketers don’t mix it with the “ordinary” display campaigns, where you target people that never been to your site. Also called a “cold audience.”

Advanced strategies

Once you’ve mastered the basics of Display Ads, you can use a few advanced strategies to get even better results.


One of these is targeting specific placements. This allows you to choose where your ads will appear, such as specific websites or apps. This is great because you exclude all other websites that are irrelevant, thus saving money.
I recommend creating a new ad group and adding placements there. Don’t mix a lot of targeting options in one ad group.

google display campaign placements

Frequency capping

Since Google’s display network is extensive, billions of available impressions exist. This also means your ad might be shown to the same audience more often.

But what if you don’t want to show your ads to a specific audience over and over again? Especially if they don’t convert. At the very least, it isn’t very pleasant.

Google has the option to limit that by capping frequency. In other words, you can limit how many times the same users see your ads in a given period.

The question is, how often do users have to see your ad before clicking? It’s a tricky question and depends on a product or service.

When you don’t have any data to help you out, start with any number. For example, you can ask yourself, “if a user sees my ad five times a day, is that enough to get the message through?”. Then start here. Limit to 5 views per day.

What happens when you do that? Your ads now start showing for a larger audience. Not broader, just larger. Your targeting options still limit Google. Unless you choose a particular audience, you will only show your ads to some within your target audience. Most likely due to a limited budget.

Frequency capping helps you reach other people. As soon as people see your ad five times, if any budget is left, Google will continue showing it to other people. Thus reaching a larger audience.

If you limit to just one view, the audience gets even larger. But you risk people not noticing your ad. One impression in the vast ocean of banners might not be enough.

Click on your display campaign and find settings. Then click again on additional settings to show more options.


google display campaign frequency capping


Check the device performance of your campaign, and if you see a difference reduce or increase the bid for that device category. This will help you save some budget.

This works in combination with other techniques as well. So the effect is even stronger.


Bidding strategies

As I mentioned, I’d like you to start with manual CPC. You can switch to CPA bidding or try any other strategy if you get enough conversions. Just keep an eye on the metric you’re optimizing for. Most likely, it will be conversions. Make sure that changing the bidding strategy has an impact on conversions. Otherwise, switch back.




It is hard to make the display work, but if successful, you can open the floodgates of new conversions. The main reason is that you target people that are not necessarily interested in your product or looking for one. And it takes a lot of effort to convert that traffic.

That does not mean you should ignore it. If you can’t expand on your Search Ads and you’ve hit a ceiling, you can always try to expand your audience with Display ads. You will have to try harder, but the rewards could be huge. You might find an audience that otherwise would not have found you.

Besides, all your visual ads will have your logo, so you can always look at it as your brand awareness campaign.

Remember to experiment with different strategies to see what works best for your unique audience and goals. All advanced strategies can help you optimize your digital marketing efforts and drive better results for your business.




  • “The in-market audience will see ads only on that particular website.”

    I don’t believe this is true. In-market audiences are researching products and are actively considering buying a service or product like yours, but they don’t necessarily need to be on a website about that service or product when the ad is served. They just may have been on those types of sites recently. Google may even use past search history to determine if someone is “in-market”.

  • Rokas Golcas says:

    Hey Jeremy, you are correct. The whole paragraph seems of, so I corrected it. I don’t know how it ended up in the post. I write everything in the docs as a draft. Maybe some things got mixed up.

    Sorry about that, but it seems you know your way around it;)

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