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Online Advertising 101: The 3 Most Popular Ad Types

Online Advertising 101 – The 3 Most Popular Ad Types

Online advertising is a broad subset of online marketing that is considered one tactic—but with a lot of layers. There are quite a few types of online ads, but we’re going to talk about the three most popular ones:

  1. Keyword search
  2. Display
  3. Retargeting

Depending on your goals, one of these ad types—or more likely, a combination of them—can help drive traffic to your website.

Keyword Search Advertising

Keyword search ads are the ads that show up along the top and right side of search results on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines.  

Keyword Search Ads

The ads displayed on each search are determined by the search engines’ advertising algorithms—most of which take into account factors like keyword match, ad targeting, bid amount, and ad quality.

Choosing Keywords

Selecting the keywords for a search advertising campaign is one of the most important factors in search ad success. Just like with any advertising, if you’re targeting the wrong audience, you won’t see success.

Here are some tips for choosing keywords:

  • Be as specific as possible
  • Use phrases instead of single words
  • Do your research
    • See what comes up on the search engine for certain keywords
    • Use Google’s and Bing’s keyword planning tools
    • Use your existing Google Analytics keyword data if you have it


While keywords are your main way of targeting who sees your ad, you can narrow the field even further.

  • By Location – Choose geographic locations by country, state, county, city, and zip code.
  • By Language – Control whether your ad is shown to users of any language or users of a specific language.
  • By Device – Choose whether you want desktop users, mobile users, or both to see your ads. You can also dig deeper to specify exactly which devices (brands, operating systems) you want to target.
  • By Time of Day – Set your ads so they only show during certain days and times.
  • By a List – Show your ads only to members of your lists (who also search your keyword phrase). Read about lists in the Retargeting section below.

Ad Format

Most online search ads have the following character limits:

  • Headline (25 characters)
  • Line 1 (35 characters)
  • Line 2 (35 characters)
  • Display URL (35 characters) 

Google AdWords Example

You have to get your message across and compel users to click with very little space.

Display Advertising

Display ads, also known as banner ads, are graphic ads placed on websites. If you use the Internet, you probably see dozens, maybe hundreds, per day.

Online Display Ad Example

Display Ad Networks

Display ad networks connect publishers, advertisers, and users. The biggest ad network is the Google Display Network. Others include, Adblade, and

For advertisers, display ad networks allow ad distribution on a large number of websites without having to place with each site individually.

For publishers, display ad networks help fill ad inventory by finding ads to place on the site using targeting algorithms.


You can place display ads a couple of different ways:

  • Directly through a specific website
  • Through a display ad network

Some websites only accept ads placed directly. Some only accept ads through ad networks. And some allow both methods of placement.

When you place directly with a specific website, your ad will show to visitors of that website. Sometimes you can limit reach by geography and/or demographic parameters.

When you place through an ad network, you can target by geography, demographics, and behaviors/interests. You can target by website as long as the site is part of that ad network.

Ad Sizes

There are dozens of ad sizes for online ads. Most websites conform to the standards set by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which can be found here. The most common sizes are:

  • Medium rectangle: 300x250 pixels
  • Leaderboard: 728x90 pixels
  • Skyscraper: 160x600 pixels
  • Mobile banner: 120x20 pixels


Have you ever been shopping for something online, left the shopping website, then found an ad for that exact store or product while you’re browsing Facebook or a news website? That’s not accidental. That’s retargeting.

Retargeting allows you to reach users who have been on your website—any of it, or specific areas. Retargeting is especially powerful for e-commerce websites to target shoppers who abandon or don’t convert.

Retargeting Lists

To retarget visitors, you have to track them. To do so, you have to install tracking code. If you use Google Analytics, you just have to turn on one setting in Admin < Property < Tracking Info < Data Collection. 

Google Analytics Remarketing Setting

Once that’s turned on, you can create your lists in Admin < Property < Remarketing. 

Google Analytics Retargeting

Create different audience lists based on how you want to retarget visitors. In general, you should at least create an “All Visitors” list that includes anyone who visits your site. You can also drill down further to only include people who visited specific pages, people who completed a goal, or people who fall into your saved segments.

Placing Retargeting Ads

If you’re using Google Analytics to track your users for retargeting, you can use Google AdWords to place your retargeting ads. Here are step-by-step instructions from Google.

In addition to Google AdWords, there are third-party advertising platforms that help you place retargeting ads. One we’ve used is AdRoll. These third-party tools require additional tracking tags (which they provide). Instead of just using the Google Ad Network, most third-party tools tap into multiple ad networks, giving you access to a larger ad inventory.

Online Ad Type Comparison Chart

In my next AdWords post I’ll dive into setting up and monitoring online advertising campaigns.