Daniel Burstein

Display Advertising: How your peers optimize banner ads

Banner ads are the billboards of the information superhighway. And much like billboards, many of them can be so downright, well, annoying. And much like a garish billboard detracting from the natural beauty of a scenic drive, so many banner ads are so downright … well … annoying.

Or obtuse. I see your big logo, but what on Earth is the value to me to stop engaging with the content on the page (the reason I came here) and give you a click?

So how do you design banner ads that get results?

We’re sharing our discoveries about banner advertising in today’s Web clinic (educational funding provided by HubSpot) at 4 p.m. EDT – Banner Ad Design: The 3 key banner objectives that drove a 285% lift.

But before we share our discoveries, we wanted to hear how your marketing peers handle display advertising. Here are a few of our favorite responses…

Optimization based on data

My perspective comes from the agency side, working with very large/recognizable brands running complex acquisition and awareness campaigns, for which we create very specific goals and use robust measurement and management/optimization tools to attain them.

There are two approaches to banner campaign optimization. The first considers the banner alone as the source of performance; the second considers the banner within the context of the page on which it’s displayed.

The ‘banner alone’ approach assumes a champion design/ad copy combination will perform equally well across the spectrum of publishers and viewer contexts they present – page design, content, number of ad spots, etc. – that exist in a media plan. However, the reality is that while on each publisher you can find a best-performing creative, that banner variant very rarely will deliver those same best results across your entire plan.

The programs I design, therefore, lean heavily on the second approach, which facilitates optimization based on data, not assumptions (albeit informed) about design or copy that will work best. At the outset, we intentionally design multiple banner variants and then, by observing response metrics, let the audience show us the best variants.

The results inevitably surprise us. Banners we think will be dogs wind up doing extremely well on certain sites – or within certain viewer contexts. Ultimately, this approach drives faster optimization and better overall results because we have so much to work with in terms of testing and optimization. Also, based on how we tag our creative, we’re able to create even more granular optimization over time, getting down to performance at the line-item level of our media plans.

None of this is meant to discount the importance of banner design. Obviously, what banners say, the interaction they offer, etc., all impact performance. When we focus on optimizing banner design, we take the same approach as to landing page optimization by changing single elements at a time, measuring, and building on the results.

In summary, we’ve found that by far the most economical approach is to avoid drawing assumptions up front about what will perform best, to instead launch with a broad portfolio of creative, and to let the people show us the way!

– Wesley Picotte, Web strategist, Experience Lab

Banner ad process checklist

  1. You have to follow good design principles for anything visual.
  2. You have to keep your goal in mind: What are you trying to get the audience to do? Visit the website to learn more information? Sign up for something? Use your service? Buy your product?
  3. Customize your ads to your target audiences. It doesn’t make sense to talk about being a mom if you’re showing your ads to college-aged people.
  4. Create multiple versions of your banner ad. Change up the position of elements, color scheme and ad copy. Change up your target audience if you must.
  5. Track, and TRACK CORRECTLY!
  6. Measure against desired outcomes. Back everything into your ROI and optimize based on goal achievement.
  7. Find something that works and try to scale it. Ride the working creative as long as you can, because at some point it won’t deliver your ROI anymore. Keep working at it, because marketing is a living, breathing process that never ends.
  8. Enjoy the work of the process, because otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Aaron Welch, Social media manager, Genesis Today Inc.

Banner ad design checklist

  1. Follow a minimalistic approach. Don’t clutter your banner with too much information/objects.
  2. Preferably no Flash or gif. But, if that is very necessary, try to be as ‘decent’ with it as possible.
  3. The graphic or character in your banner should ideally relate to the service/product you wish to advertise.
  4. Caption should be about 3 words, and descriptive text should not exceed two lines (15 words).
  5. Very important. Have a strong but not desperate call-to-action in your banner.
  6. I understand that you want to attract attention with vibrant color schemes, but make sure it is not unpleasant to the eye.
  7. Readability. Shadows, textures, gradients, outlines – all look great as long as I can read the text in your banner.
  8. Important related aspect – optimize your landing page so when somebody clicks on the banner ad, he doesn’t “bounce” because of a bad landing page.

Nivesh Jain, SMO Executive, Invensis Technologies

Related Resources:

Banner Ad Design: The 3 key banner objectives that drove a 285% lift (Today’s Web clinic)

How to Test Your Value Proposition Using a PPC Ad

Search Marketing: Three questions to help you think like your potential customers

This Just Tested: PPC vs. banner ads?

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Categories: Marketing Q&A Tags: , ,



  1. Pattie
    September 1st, 2011 at 12:04 | #1

    Is there an archived copy of this webinar available? I would love to see it

  2. September 1st, 2011 at 14:41 | #2

    @Pattie
    Hi Pattie,

    Yes, there will be a replay available. If you are subscribed to our newsletter, you’ll be among the first to know when it’s published.

  1. September 2nd, 2011 at 10:37 | #1
  2. September 2nd, 2011 at 10:45 | #2