5 Steps to Set Up, Launch, and Manage an Online Display Campaign

ChangesNot long ago, I was talking with a client about all the different channels they can use to get their business in front of prospects and customers. During the conversation it occurred to me how much the marketing landscape has changed over the past decade.

In the 1970s, there were five primary ways to build awareness for your brand – TV, radio, print, outdoor, and direct mail. Today, there are more than 30, which include paid search, social media, mobile apps, online display and a few dozen more.

With all the choices that are available to marketers today, it’s easy to get confused. With that in mind, we thought we’d take a dive into one of the more important channels – online display – and show you how to set up, launch and manage a campaign of your own.

What is online display advertising?

So, what exactly is online display advertising? Simply put, online display advertising includes any promotional banner (of any size and shape) put on a web page. But before you write them off as simple banner ads, remember that today advertisers can choose from a range of formats including video, rich media, and interactive ads. The bottom line is that that the online display of today is very different from what it was just a few short years ago.

Why choose display advertising?

The Internet permeates each aspect of people’s lives: from shopping for essentials to finding a new job to interacting with family and friends. With display advertising you get the chance to place your brand and message in front of prospects and customers as they engage in these day-to-day activities.

Display also bolsters all your other marketing efforts and ensures that your brand stays present in your customer’s mind. Furthermore, you can also retarget people who have visited your website in the past, making display advertising even more effective.

Display ads are similar to paid search ads in the sense that you can buy them on a cost-per-click basis. Or you can buy them on a cost-per-thousand basis where you pay a flat fee for every 1,000 people who are served the ad. Both options work – you just have to figure out which approach is best for your business.

Another great thing about online display is that, unlike paid search, you have the ability to add graphics to your ads. By incorporating photography, illustrations, logos and other elements, you increase the branding value of the ads. This extra “oomph” is what makes online display such a good option for many of the businesses that use them.

So, with all that in mind, you’re probably asking, “How do I get started?” We’ve created this guide so that you can launch your own display advertising campaign.

Ready to dive in? Let’s get started.

How to Launch and Manage a Display Advertising Campaign

To help you launch, manage and measure the results of your very own display campaign, we’ve broken the display advertising process into five easy-to-follow steps. Read through this guide to familiarize yourself with the steps involved and keep it handy for when you launch your own campaign.

launch display campaign

Step 1: Select Goals and KPIs

All successful advertising campaigns are informed by sound strategy. So, the first step you’ll take toward launching a display campaign is deciding what exactly you want to achieve through the campaign. Common goals for display campaigns include raising brand awareness, increasing website traffic, and lead generation.

To come up with your own campaign goals, ask yourself, “What do I want the audience to do after seeing my ad?” For example, let’s say you’re the manufacturer of Bass ‘n’ Treble, a brand of headphones. If you want customers to remember your brand as they browse products at their favorite electronics store, you’re looking to raise brand awareness. On the other hand, if you want them to click on the ad and purchase headphones from your e-commerce website, your goal is to drive sales.

Next, you’ll select key performance indicators (KPIs), which are data points that will help you measure whether you’re meeting goals and determine whether the campaign is a success. Typical KPIs for display ad campaigns include the number of impressions served, the click-through-rates (CTRs) on ads, the ad cost-per-click (CPC), and conversion rates.

At the end of the day your goals will determine the KPIs. For example, if the campaign goal is to build awareness, the primary KPI will be the number of impressions served. If the goal is to drive sales, you’ll focus your attention on conversion rates.

Step 2: Define Target Audiences

The process of defining target audiences is closely tied to campaign goals. Target audiences are those ideal people you want to reach through your campaign. While advertising on the Internet gives you the ability to reach a large and diverse set of people, clearly defining target audiences is important because your ads will not resonate with everyone equally. Some people just aren’t looking to buy your product or service, and displaying your ads to these people is a waste of your marketing dollars.

So how do you ensure you’re targeting the right people? Well, if you’re like most marketers, odds are you’ve already created customer profiles or buyer personas. These are descriptions of your typical customers based on demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes. You can use these descriptions to determine who you’ll target through the display campaign.

To illustrate how you’ll do this, let’s return to our headphones example. Bass ‘n’ Treble knows, through creating customer profiles based on primary research and past customers, that their typical buyers are males, between the ages of 18-35, who enjoy electronic music, and also like to spend time on outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. Bass ‘n’ Treble can now use this information to set up a national campaign to reach people who fit this exact description.

The headphone manufacturer can also use the information about their target audience’s behavior to create ads that will appeal to them and place them where they’re most likely to be seen. They also have the option to retarget those who have visited their website but not taken a desired action, such as filling out a form or making a purchase.

Step 3: Buy Media

Now that you’ve finalized campaign goals and target audiences, it’s time to buy media or ad space on different websites.

Advertisers can buy media through the following channels:

  • Publishers: Advertisers can buy ad space directly from publishers. Often, publishers save prime inventory or ad space to sell directly to advertisers. This inventory usually costs more, but advertisers are guaranteed that their ad will be displayed on the website.
  • Ad Networks: Advertisers can also purchase inventory through ad networks, which serve as intermediaries between them and publishers. Ad networks act as a single point of contact between an advertiser and multiple publishers, thus making it easy for advertisers to run their ads across multiple websites.


targeted audienceDemand-Side Platform (DSP): This is an online environment that makes it easy for advertisers to purchase highly targeted display inventory across multiple websites, through one single interface. Similar to Google AdWords, DSPs allow the advertiser to set up ads, target specific audiences, report on results, and bid on inventory in real time. The big difference is that DSPs are predominantly for display advertising (banners, skyscrapers, and other graphical ads), and that bidding is done on a CPM basis instead of the CPC model typically used for text ads.


  • Advertising Agencies: If you’re a business with more than, say, $2 million in revenue, and advertising is an important part of your marketing mix, then you might consider working with an ad agency. It might cost a little more, but the quality of work is superior to what you’d get if you did the work yourself. In the end, agency experts know a lot of little tips and techniques that you won’t know about, so the extra fees will probably pay for themselves in higher performance.

If you know that your target audience visits a certain website frequently, you might purchase inventory directly from the publisher. On the other hand, if your focus is on retargeting or on reaching the target audience regardless of the website they’re on, you should go with ad networks, DSPs, or an advertising agency.

When buying your ads, you’ll pay for them on a cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis. (If these terms are unfamiliar to you, check out our glossary of essential digital advertising terms).

Step 4: Develop Campaign Creative

It’s helpful to think of your display ad as a highway billboard. Your audience is moving fast and you only have a moment to make an impression. Creating ads that are eye-catching is how you can make the most of that one moment.

There are several display ad formats and sizes for you to choose from:

  • Text: These are simple ads that contain only text.
  • Image: Currently the most popular form of banner ads, these are ads than contain a graphic along with some text.
  • Video: Ads with a video embedded within them.
  • Rich Media Ads: Ads with an interactive element, such as a carousel of products, a quiz, or a game.
gambas magazine ad specs

A typical selection of banner ad sizes

The most successful creative is one that captures audience interest with graphical elements and compelling copy, and is branded so that the audience remembers the advertiser.

Step 5: Tracking and Optimization

One of the advantages of display advertising is that you can track campaign performance and optimize it in real time. During the campaign, you’ll want to track your KPIs several times a day – once a day at a minimum.

If your campaign isn’t meeting benchmark KPIs, there are several changes you can make to improve its performance, including tweaking the following items:

  • Targeting: Launching the campaign may reveal that certain sub-sets of your target audience are more responsive to your campaign than others. For instance, you may find that audiences located on the East coast are more likely to click on your ads. As a result, you may want to geo-target, or limit your campaign to the East coast.
  • Inventory: If your ads are underperforming on certain websites, you can always remove their inventory from your targeting.
  • Creative: You may find that your ad creative isn’t compelling enough for users to interact with it or click on it. In this case, you’ll want to try different versions to see which one resonates most with the target audience. You can also A/B test creative regularly to determine which ad elements cause audiences to respond favorably to it.
  • Landing Page: This is the web page users are directed to once they click on the ad. Landing pages should be compelling enough for the visitor to want to take an action on the website. Sometimes making even the smallest of changes, such as adding a pop-up form or changing font color, can improve the performance of your landing pages. Perform A/B testing on your landing pages too, so you can optimize every element of your campaign.

260x200-landingpagesRemember, the goal with display advertising is to test your way to success. At the end of your first display campaign you’ll have a clearer idea about your target audience and their behavior and preferences, and your KPIs will tell you if you’re on track to meet your goals. You can then use this insight to create other campaigns in the future, and improve your return with every iteration.

Now that you are more familiar with how to drive traffic to your landing pages, the next step is to optimize them for conversions. Learn more about optimizing your landing pages with our ebook, Building Better Landing Pages.