Online display: A Jungle survival guide

Survival Guides | 28th May

What is online display?

Online display advertising is an Internet marketing term used to describe the placing of display ads on other company’s websites. These can be in the form of banners, leaderboards, skyscrapers, MPUs, buttons and, most recently, video formats – especially the highly successful pre-rolls which can send response rates through the roof.

Unlike paid search advertising where the currency is clicks, online display tends to be bought on the basis of the cost per thousand impressions delivered, known as CPM.

Online display can involve taking over a whole homepage, a website or just sponsoring a relevant section of a website. In some cases, advertisers pick and choose exactly which websites they want to advertise on (which is expensive) and in other cases they use online advertising networks to advertise across a broad range of sites to deliver a certain demographic of customer.

Many Internet marketing agencies work in conjunction with a Demand Side Platform (DSP) company that allows digital advertisers to buy on several different selling systems through one interface. This offers unsurpassed targeting opportunities for businesses, allowing them to reach their audience defined by a number of factors, namely: online behaviour; geography; technology used to get online; demographics and timing.

Third party ad serving software ensures ultimate flexibility and responsiveness. Campaign reports can be monitored daily and any placements which are not delivering the ultimate business objective can be switched off.

Below is an infographic, courtesy of our friends at Slideshare, which explains how online advertising networks and DSPs work and where they fit into the online landscape.

Market size/Industry Trends

According to recent figures by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), online marketing now accounts for a quarter of all advertising spend in the UK, with the value of the digital sector growing by a massive 2.8% in 2010 and breaking through the £4bn barrier.

The biggest growth area was display advertising on social networks, which grew by nearly 200%. A trend the IAB expects to continue, as faster broadband makes new formats increasingly attractive.

Online display is unsurpassed for building brand awareness and reputation, and studies have proved the halo effect delivered across all advertising channels through the use of online display. For instance, according to Yahoo (and they should know) online users exposed to both search and display are 244% more likely to purchase the advertiser’s products and service.

Advantages of online display

When viewing a webpage, the ads alongside are difficult to ignore or overlook. Creative imagery, animation and even video formats can immediately capture the attention of a potential customer and, before they know it, they’ve clicked through to your website. So basically, display ads tend to attract higher response rates due to better cut-through.

This is a cost-effective form of digital media as, unlike cost-per-click advertising, online display is bought by CPM – that’s cost per thousand impressions delivered.

Display ads are known to create a halo effect on other forms of advertising – so if people get a favourable impression of your brand by this type of advertising, they’ll be more likely to respond positively to others. The old adage is true – first impressions count.

By employing the services of an experienced digital marketing agency, you can ensure that your display ad campaign works hard and gives you good ROI. They can track the performance of your campaign, monitoring each time your ads are clicked and analysing which should be changed, tweaked or switched off all together.

Disadvantages of online display

Although creative, interactive display ads are difficult to overlook, ads placed in traditional spots on the webpage (typically at the side) very often get ignored – this is because people know they’re ads.

Display ads are sometimes blocked by viewers who either turn off scripting in their browser or have some other type of blocking software installed.

Limited space means you can’t convey a lot of information with a display ad. Even with rolling animation you usually only have 10-15 seconds of time to get your message across.


We thought this bite-sized glossary of keywords and phrases might prove useful.

The act of displaying an ad on a webpage, an ad served on two separate occasions equals two impressions.
Webpages displayed before or after content page to display ads
The web spaces in which ads are served, sold by publishers.
Providers of web spaces (or inventory)
Pop under:
An ad that shows in a browser window directly behind the initial browser window.
Run-of-site (ROS):
Ad buying option where ads may appear randomly on any pages of a target site.
Splash page:
A page or screen that appears while a game or programme is loading.
An ad in video format that is inserted before a main video and cannot be turned off.
Long horizontal online advert placed across the top of a webpage.
Long, vertical online advert found running down the side of a webpage.
MPU (Multiple Purpose Units):
A square online advert to serve flat or interactive content.
DSP (Demand side platform):
A company that allows digital advertisers to buy on several different selling systems/ exchanges through one interface.
RTB (Real time bidding):
A real time bid on inventory (created dynamically and based on past performance, inventory, user groups etc.)

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