10 Tips for Better Banner Designs

Stephen Yagielowicz

Troubled by poor banner performance? Given the continuing trend of decreasing click through ratios (CTR), and surfer-implemented ad blocking software, today's Webmasters, marketers, and graphic designers need to find every last advantage for pulling clicks with these staples of Internet advertising. Here's a few tips and tricks for getting the best results:

Love them or hate them, banner ads are by now almost a cliché in this industry. Although I do not consider myself to be a designer, I have in the past produced targeted (non-blind) banners that averaged a 15% CTR, a feat that I would not likely be able to reproduce today. This is not because I couldn't reproduce or even improve upon my past designs, but because the market has changed over the years, resulting in a wholesale desensitizing of the surfer to the point where many people have "trained" themselves to ignore banner ads altogether — even if they are displayed on the page at all.

This last statement brings up another big issue: the proliferation of ad blocking, and even of ad "hijacking" software that either causes banners not to display at all, or even more egregiously (and much to the concern of the Federal Trade Commission), overlays an entirely different banner on YOUR web page, "covering" your ad! While it is my understanding that both server-side and scripted client-side solutions to these techniques are available, I have not used any of them, and can not report on their effectiveness.

What I CAN do is provide you with a few guidelines to help maximize the effectiveness of those banners which ARE seen. Here's 10 of them:

1. Make odd-shaped and sized banners:
If you're making banners for your own use, rather than for example, submission to another site that requires industry-standard 468x60 banners or 120x60 buttons, and you are not limited by the pre-set parameters dictated by your ad rotation software (if you use any), then there is no real reason why you can't make more attention-getting banners that are say 600x100 pixels, or make cool round buttons (using transparent gifs) or even 150x600 "skyscraper" banners as shown at left.

2. Make animated banners:
While I have read several reports lately of consumer avoidance of animated ads, when used in moderation animation can be an effective tool for garnering attention, and if the animation is used to highlight your 'call to action,' such as a flashing "CLICK HERE!" statement, then the results may be quite positive. With animation, a little goes a long way:

3. Ensure you have a 'call to action:'
One of the most time-tested fundamentals of effective salesmanship is to tell the prospect exactly what you want him to do, and "when." If you want someone to "Click Here," then be sure to tell them to do so. Want them to "Join Now?" Then make sure you tell them to — never leave your desires up to someone else's 'psychic ability' to discern them for you! Ask specifically for what you want!

4. Offer something for FREE:
If you can legitimately do so, then do not be shy about using the word "free" on your banners. Have a pay site? Then a banner stating "Click Here for FREE Pics!" and providing a few samples should pull much better than a banner stating "Click Here to Join!" Remember though, if you offer something for free, but only have 'for fee' materials after the click, then you are inviting problems from the FTC.

5. Avoid using 'blind' banners:
While a banner that looks as though it is a 'navigation bar' offering links to free galleries (i.e.: < GALLERY 1 | GALLERY 2 | GALLERY 3 > ) will pull much better than one stating: "CLICK HERE to PAY FOR PORN!" you will have little hope for selling any prospect who clicks through (expecting to find a gallery) a membership at your sponsor's pay site. Not only might these deceptive trade practices get you into serious legal trouble, they are also a surefire way to waste your precious bandwidth. Keep your banners small in file size, clean, and to the point.

6. Keep your banners fresh:
Depending on the amount of exposure your banner receives, it might have a profitable lifespan of only a week or two. Even if your banner or button is seen by relatively few surfers, you can expect it to become 'stale' over time, diminishing in effectiveness the longer it remains 'active.' One way in which you may extend a banner's lifespan is by making a 'pool' of them, then rotating on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even 'per visit' basis. As long as the prospect perceives a 'fresh' offer, you have a better chance at getting him or her to click.

7. Consider 'deep linking' into your target:
Most affiliate programs provide linking codes generically aimed at the sponsor site's 'home page,' but some offer optional targets, such as niche specific 'join pages.' This is also a simple technique for pay and AVS sites that use free 'feeder' sites. Building a free gallery that offers a meaningful content sample, say a shaved amateur photo series, and then linking your banner (which features the same model) to your shaved amateur site's join page (which also features photos of the same model as shown in the referring gallery) is a great way to boost banner click-throughs and increase sign-ups.

8. Avoid the use of hardcore imagery:
Unless you will use your banners exclusively within an age-verified environment (such as within an AVS or pay site 'member's area'), you are taking an unnecessary legal risk by exposing minors to potentially harmful materials. Of course staying 'soft core' may cost you a few clicks, but it will help keep you out of trouble, and if you use the 'tease' to your advantage, you may develop a banner that will outperform a more explicit variant.

9. Keep things as simple as possible:
All too often we complicate matters by trying to be 'cool' or 'hi-tech' with the unfortunate and all too often result of alienating the surfer. Sure, "Flash" banners and other 'active' rich-media technologies are entertaining for broadband users, but how many 'dial-up' surfers will wait for a 100k banner to load? Keep your banners small in file size, clean, and to the point. Choose readable font and color combinations, and avoid audience limited 'boutique' technologies.

10. Finally, always track your banner's performance:
You should always take as much 'guess work' out of your marketing as possible, and using a proper banner rotation program will give you meaningful statistics on your banner's performance, showing at least the number of impressions, uniques, and CTR, allowing you to test the effectiveness of new designs, and show you when it's time to retire your old ones:

I hope that these basic marketing tips and tricks will help you to design better pulling banners that will make you more money, while helping to keep you out of trouble. If YOU have some banner design tips that you would like to share, just click on the link below:
~ Stephen