Types of Digital Ads


We offer a variety of ad placement options on multiple digital platforms. This article is not all-inclusive of all ad objectives, capabilities, and potential strategies, rather, it is a high-level overview of the four primary platforms we run ads on, different ad opportunities, and some example ads. Each ad platform offers unique targeting abilities, requires various ad sizes, and provides different benefits. It's also important to note that, with the ever-changing nature of digital platforms, it's important to keep up-to-date and, while many best practices outlined here will be evergreen, some platform-specific content will need updating. 


Ad types on Google include Search, Display, video ads on YouTube, app campaigns, local campaigns, smart campaigns, performance max, and shopping campaigns. Each campaign type has various ad placements and objectives within them. In general, Google allows a media buyer to target based on location, age, gender, and interests (affinity, custom affinity, and in-market). Google also provides options to place ads on countless websites that offer ad placements. 

Search - There are responsive, call-only, and dynamic options available for Search placements. Responsive ads allow for multiple headlines, descriptions, and logos to be uploaded so that the platform can test and serve up the potentially best-performing combination. 

Call ads prioritize phone calls, and dynamic search ads are created by Google using information from your website content. 

Search ads, while seemingly less visual due to their text-based nature, can be highly effective because they enable media buyers to target a specific list of keywords or phrases. A search ad can appear when its keywords or phrases are searched within a specific, targeted location. 

At Brand Catalyst Company, we run mostly responsive ads due to the customization opportunities. 

An example of a Google search call ad. It shows the name of the website, a few pages from the site, and a call button below.
An example of a search ad. It shows the name of the website, copy from the site, the site logo, and four listed pages.

Display - There are single-image and responsive ad options available for Display. Single-image ads are static ads that are user-uploaded and placed manually, while responsive ads allow for more refining over time by automatically cycling through a variety of graphics and text combinations to determine and serve up the best-performing version of your ad. 

Display ads appear on any website within the Google Display Network, which is currently comprised of over 2 million websites. This ad type requires a variety of graphic sizes. For information on asset sizing, you can view our digital ad specs guide. These ads are ideal for awareness, which makes them pair nicely with search ads. We’ve found significant improvements in search performance when pairing it with display. 

An image example of three Google display ads. There is one image ad sized at 300x250, one text ad sized at 300x250, and an example of a native ad at 300x250.

Video ads on YouTube - Skippable in-stream, non-skippable instream, in-feed videos, bumper ads, out-stream ads, and masthead ads are all different types of video ads for YouTube placements. Similar to Display, with video ads, you bid on the placements you wish to deliver your content. 

An example of an in-stream ad. The video is square with text below advertising a sale. There is a black button over the video allowing you to skip the ad.

App Campaigns - This ad type enables app owners to encourage downloads or engagement with their app. The ads can appear on Search, Google Play, YouTube, Discover on Google Search, and the Google Display Network.

Smart Campaigns - Smart campaigns are fully automated and created by Google using artificial intelligence. With this ad type, the media buyer will provide some initial information, such as goals and budget, and technology will do the rest. This can be a comfortable starting point for small business owners, but not an ad type we at Brand Catalyst utilize because it limits the customizability and targeting opportunities. Further, when copy is pulled from any page on the website the system can create messages that don’t make sense which does not represent the business well. 

Performance Max - This ad type combines various static images, videos, and text into one ad group, and allows for placements on SERP, Google Maps, Google Display Network, YouTube, Gmail, and Discovery networks. Google uses machine learning to serve up the best combination of assets. PMax campaigns were originally used for e-commerce businesses. As of 2023, all former local campaigns were rolled into PMax campaigns. Local campaigns promote a GoogleMyBusiness listing to help people find a physical store.

An example of a PMax ad placed on Google. It prompts the viewer to visit the site.

Shopping - Shopping ads display e-commerce products when someone searches or shops for a product on Google. Products are categorized into groups to deliver the best set of products for specific terms. Negative keywords tend to be more important for ads of this nature. 

Discovery - These ads can be placed on YouTube, Display, Search, Gmail, and Discovery. Up to 20 image options can be added, 5 logo options, up to 5 videos, up to 5 headlines, long headlines, and descriptions. A website link can be added (we generally create links with UTMs for improved tracking) and a specific call to action can be added or pre-built automatic options can be selected. 

An example of a Discovery ad placed in Gmail. This one links to the site, advertising a sale and using a CTA that reads 'Shop Now'.

Meta Ads Manager [formerly and still often referred to as Facebook Ads Manager]

Meta ads can have two different buying types, Auction and Reach and Frequency. Auction has campaign objective options of awareness, traffic, engagement, leads, app promotion, and sales. The Reach and Frequency buying option has campaign objectives of awareness, traffic, and engagement. 

The objective you select should be based on the phase of the user journey, audience size, intent, and goals. Each of these objectives has different conversion location options. For the sake of keeping this article high-level, we won’t go into all of these details. As an example, a traffic campaign can have a conversion location for website traffic, app traffic, landing page views, messenger, app, or calls.

Placement options include the Facebook newsfeed, marketplace, Facebook search, video feeds, Facebook shop, Facebook reels, right column, and stories. If Instagram is connected to the Facebook page and the business wishes to also place ads on Instagram, this platform allows that. Meta provides targeting options based on location, demographic, profile information, and online activity. There is a range of targeting options with customized audiences such as lookalikes. 

An example of a Facebook newsfeed ad. It features a square image and a link below the image, prompting the viewer to visit the website to learn more.e
An example of a Facebook Story ad. Over the fullscreen image, a button prompts you to visit a website to learn more.


Instagram ads are managed out of Meta Ads Manager. The objectives and placements are the same as those offered for Meta placements, plus a few Instagram-only placements such as Instagram shop, Instagram explore, reels, and others. When a media buyer creates an ad in Meta Ads Manager and the Facebook page is connected to the Instagram page, there are options to automatically select to place the ad on both platforms or only one. 

An image showing an Instagram ad placement in the Explore page on Instagram. The other squares are greyed out, highlighting the ad, which shows an image, the company name and logo, and a 'Shop Now' button.
An image displaying an Instagram Ad Reels placement. It shows a reel with a learn more button at the bottom.
An image showing an Instagram story placement. This placement is identical to the Facebook story placement.

LinkedIn Campaign Manager allows businesses to place ads on LinkedIn. The uniqueness of this platform provides the opportunity to target based on the user's employer, title, higher education, and industry, making it an ideal platform for business-to-business advertising, recruitment, and reaching audiences based on different demographics. Of course, this platform also allows for targeting based on age, location, retargeting, and lookalikes. LinkedIn breaks ads into three simple categories: awareness, consideration, and conversion. Awareness ads include the brand awareness objective. Consideration includes website visits, video views, and engagement. Conversions include lead generation, website conversions, and job applicants. Much simpler than other platforms, these ads are placed in the newsfeed or the right rail. LinkedIn also offers sponsored message ads. 

An image showing a Linkedin ad placement. It shows a video with a 'learn more' CTA underneath.

Programmatic placements allow for unique geofencing targeting that can also enable event conversion tracking. This lets businesses reach people who attend an event, visit a competitor, or enter another location target. You can learn about this type of targeting in our “what is geofencing and how does it work” blog post.

Other platforms we can place ads on include Twitter, Pinterest, and TikTok. The five we covered in this article are, however, our most popular platforms for managing digital ads. If you have questions or are interested in partnering with us to reach your ideal audience, schedule a consultation with our team today.

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