Banner Basics: Create Ads That Work

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Banner ads are everywhere – Internet users are bombarded with Web advertising on almost every site they visit. Obviously, emarketers have recognised banner advertisements as a powerful way to promote their businesses.

However, whether you’re a major player or one of the little guys, the difference between a poor banner design and a great one could see your ROI and site traffic go through the roof. So it’s essential that your banners stand out from the crowd. But how can you create a banner that will generate high clickthroughs, or have a strong brand impact? First, you must understand current trends in Web advertising. And once you know this, you’ll have the foundations to prepare effective banners for your business.

Traditional Banner Usage

The Web is still a relatively new advertising medium. While the Web itself has been around for quite a few years now, its effectiveness as an advertising medium hasn’t been tested and proven to the extent that more traditional methods such as television commercials and billboards have.

This explains why most banner ads to date have focused on the generation of a direct response. Ad executives, company CEOs and others who make advertising decisions are less willing to take risks with the new medium, and demand to see direct results from ad spend. This is why direct banner ads have become so popular so quickly – they’re easy to track, and make ROI calculations simple.

The problem with this model is that companies and Website owners have come to demand an instant response from Web advertising. Unlike other real world media, the Web is seen as a medium which, if it fails to deliver an immediate ROI, will be slashed from ad budgets. However, the recent decline in ad rates, clickthroughs, and the general effectiveness of direct response banners, has seen many companies flounder, unsure which way to turn. Their “endless” pool of direct marketing leads has, in some cases, started to dry up.

What’s the Purpose of your Banner?

As we discussed above, banners are usually used for one of two things:

  • To generate clicks and attract visitors to your site, or
  • For branding purposes

These two ad formats necessitate different design approaches. Let’s consider them in turn.

1. Design for Clickthrough

Once you’ve decided that you want you banner to attract visitors to your site, it’s time to design! There are many elements you can include to increase the number of clicks your banner generates.

  • Use prompting words:

    Using words that prompt the user to take immediate action will have a positive effect on the results of a banner advertisement. Words such as "Click Here", "Click to Visit", "Visit Now!", and "Free!" are good examples, and can increase the likelihood of clickthrough.

  • Create a sense of urgency:

    For a visitor to click on your banner, they must get the impression that the information on your site is more important than the site they’re currently viewing. To achieve this, you’ll need to create a sense of urgency. Phrases such as "Hurry!, “Only while stocks last" and "Available for a limited time!" exemplify the kind of language that makes users click.

  • Keep it simple:

    Keep your banners clear and simple. It’s the job of the banner to get the user to click through. And it’s the job of the Website to provide information about your products and services. So optimize your banner space with elements that generate clickthrough.

  • Format for success:

    Your banner’s colour scheme is very important. Follow these guidelines to ensure a successful palette:

    1. choose complimentary colours that grab the users’ attention
    2. keep the colour scheme constant throughout the banner, especially if you’re using animation
    3. ensure key words such as "Free" and "Click Here" stand out
  • Make your banner look interactive:

    One technique you will have seen is to make your banner look like you can click on individual parts of it. You can do this by adding “buttons,” and other objects the user is familiar with clicking on. Banners that simulate the "Windows" environment have become quite common.

  • Target your audience:

    Targeting is the key to effective banner design. Be sure to think about the kinds of things your target audience would be familiar with, interested in, and are likely to click on.

Implementating Direct Response Banners

Incorporate some of these ideas into your next banner ad, and you could enjoy a dramatic increase in the number of clickthroughs it generates. Also, keep in mind the fact that the effectiveness of banners decreases over time, so it’s a good idea to create new banners every month or so, or rotate different banners through the same locations.

2. Design for Branding

The concept of ‘branding’ covers a huge range of activities, and the word is often used in different contexts by different people. So what defines a branding banner? Here I’ll consider branding as a way to broadcast your Business name, domain name, logo, and slogans to an audience who will hopefully, either now or in the future, be interested in the services you offer.

The ultimate goal of branding banner ads is to help the public associate your Website with a particular product, topic of interest or service. Yahoo! is an excellent example. If I asked you to tell me the names and URLs of some good searchable directories I could use, chances are Yahoo! would sring to mind.

So let’s look at how we can use banners to achieve your online branding objectives.

  • Choose once and stick with your decision:

    When you launch your business, it’s important to choose a name and logo that you can stick with for the life of your endeavour. To get 2 years down the track and then decide to change your logo does nothing positive for brand recognition. Make sure your name and logo are simple, attractive and unique. And, if your plan is to market internationally, make sure your name and logo are transferable between different cultures.

    One strategy that many large, well branded companies use is to make their company name their logo. For example, think of Microsoft, Yahoo!, eBay and IBM.

  • Make colours part of your brand:

    Try to use the same colours that appear on your Website and in your logo, throughout your banner. Believe it or not, even a colour can be enough to prompt your audience to make a mental association with your company. The pipe-playing, paint-splattering Intel blue men you might have seen on TV are an excellent example. The blue men and green paint alone were enough for many people to associate the advertisement with Intel and the Pentium III.

  • Use your URL:

    While the purpose of this type of banner is not to draw immediate audience action, you’ll probably want to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find you when they do require your service. Including your URL in the banner is a subtle but successful way to achieve this. Obviously, a short domain based on keywords for your target niche will be advantageous: a short domain is easy to remember, and one which contains relevant keywords will help users associate your Website with a particular need, product, or service.

  • Basic design and layout:

    Branding banners must be clear, attractive and uncluttered:

    1. Place your logo in a dominant position on the banner.
    2. Make your logo as large as possible, without cluttering your banner. When it comes to getting noticed, bigger is better.
    3. If you have a slogan, try to work this into the banner as well – it can really help make that mental association stronger for your viewers. For example, “eBay – the World’s online marketplace” and “Nokia. Connecting People”
    4. If you use animation, make sure your logo and URL appear in every frame.
    5. Don’t use gimmicks and other irrelevant features on the banner. Be succinct and clear about what your Website and business offers. Gimmicks don’t help build trust; nor do they support the creation of a mental link between your brand and the market need you fulfil.

Implementing Branding Banners

The creation of effective branding banners, like direct response banners, is an art. Experiment with some of these suggestions, and see how they work for you. Try different designs, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t generate instant results. Remember, indirect brand advertising doesn’t typically produce the easily measurable results that you’ve seen in direct advertising. However, brand advertising has the potential to prove very successful in the long run.

The Future of Banners

As we discussed above, direct marketing methods have been popular in the past, as results are easy to measure. Branding, on the other hand, falls into the category of indirect marketing, and its results are much harder to measure. These marketing efforts have no direct call to action – they don’t require the user to act straight away, but instead ask only that you "remember that name". The general belief is that this communications effect doesn’t even require much buy-in on the customer’s part – even if the viewer isn’t interested in your brand when they see your ad, they’ll still associate your brand with a particular need, product or service (provided of course, that your message effectively communicated this association in the first place).

As you can see, results from this type of indirect marketing are unlikely to be immediate, and can take months or even years to result in profits. For this reason, brand advertising of any type can be difficult to measure.

However, as the Web advertising industry evolves, more emarketers have rejected the notion that direct response advertising if the only way to go. Instead, they’re learning the value and appropriateness of both direct and branding ads in the context of their overall marketing plans.

In future, while the overall ad spend might be far less reckless than it has been in the past, it’s likely to be a lot more intelligent and effective.

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