Biz Tips: Banner Ads 101: Basics and Best Practices

Biz Tips: Banner Ads 101: Basics and Best Practices

Biz Tip:

Banner Ads 101: Basics and Best Practices

Have you been looking for a cost-effective way to tell people about your business, generate leads, and inspire interaction? A banner ad might be the digital marketing solution for you. Also known as display ads, banner ads are those boxes that hover around the edges of a webpage you visit.

Banner ads are significantly cheaper, easier to create, and easier to launch than most traditional forms of advertising. Yes, technically, you could always stand on a street corner and call out to passersby for free, but that hardly seems like an efficient use of your time.

While this type of advertising may feel intimidating at first, with support, you can break it down and make it work for you. First, let’s learn a bit more about what a banner ad is and how it can be powerful. Then let’s take a closer look at how you can create and implement the most effective banner ads for your business.

Table of Contents

Banner ad FAQ

What is a banner ad?

A banner ad — or display ad — is a rectangular ad that runs along the top, bottom, or side of a web page. Like billboards along a highway, they generate awareness, but this digital version of the billboard also aims to generate click-throughs, vendor leads, or even purchases.

Advertisers pay display networks such as the Google Display Network or Facebook in order to have their ads featured on various web pages. The network then connects them to advertising space on web pages based on context or viewer history.

A successful banner ad should be eye-catching. It often relies on images or other media. Any text needs to be short and tightly focused. Animation, GIFs, and video can also make viewers more likely to pay attention to or even click on your ad.

What format, size, and style should you use for your banner ads?

While Google allows you to customize the size of your ads with a wide range of options, there are three main formats for display ads:

  • The leaderboard: a horizontal ad at the top of the page
  • The skyscraper: a vertical ad that usually shows up in a sidebar or menu
  • The square: a square ad that appears somewhere in the content or sidebar

But how big should each of these be? The good news is that responsive display ads, the Google default, automatically adjust to fit the available space, so you don’t need to obsess over every pixel.

However, you should design your ads to accommodate one of the three most common sizes:

  • Medium banner: 300×250
  • Leaderboard: 728×90
  • Wide skyscraper: 160×600

Together, these sizes account for 90% of all display ads, making them easy to place.

Are banner ads effective?

The answer is the same as it is for any digital marketing tool — yes, when they are designed well and used strategically.

First of all, set reasonable goals. Beware of ads for and reports of unusually high click-through rates for display ads. These numbers are often manipulated with bots.

In some ways, you can think of display ads in the same way you think about traditional advertising. The last time you saw a funny ad for peanut butter, did it make you instantly run to the nearest grocery store to buy some peanut butter? Probably not unless you already had peanut butter on your grocery list.

However, the next time you were in the store walking down the aisle, you might have been more likely to buy that brand. Sometimes all an ad does or needs to do is increase brand awareness.

But now imagine that you could click the fun peanut butter ad for an instant taste. While click-through rates may be lower for display ads than for search ads, people do click — particularly when the hook is well baited.

What display network should you use?

While there are actually a large number of display networks you could choose from, the two giants are Google and Facebook/Instagram. Assuming you’re only focusing on one to start, which should you pick?

The two networks read people differently, and that shapes how they select when to show your ads. Google focuses on search and purchase history, while Facebook takes a social approach, considering factors such as:

  • Location
  • Demographics
  • Interests
  • Behavior

Which makes the most sense for your business? Do people often search for the goods or services that you offer when they want them?

Or do you provide something that people either don’t know they need yet or that they buy as a matter of routine — for example, peanut butter? Maybe you need to inspire them to take a local fitness class or tempt them to take that next vacation.

Your budget may also play a role in your decision, and Google display ads are generally less expensive than Facebook ads.

Will Google’s plan to end third-party cookies make Google Ads less effective?

If you’ve heard about Google’s plan to end third-party cookies, you might worry about its effect on your display ads. But never fear — privacy protection shouldn’t harm your marketing strategy.

Google’s currently testing a new solution: the Federated Learning of Cohort (FLoC). Instead of storing personal information, the network will assign users into a group. It’ll refine a person’s cohort off of their internet use, but it will then delete the personal information.

In other words, the Google display network will still be able to matchmake between advertiser and viewer, but internet users should be able to rest a little easier.

What does a banner ad cost?

There are two main ways that banner ads are priced:

  • CPM: Cost per mille — for example, the cost for having your ad seen 1000 times
  • CPC: Cost per click — the price you pay for each time a viewer clicks on your ad

You can also pay per action — paying for each time a viewer clicks through and takes a certain action on your website, but these tend to be extremely expensive.

Ad size and industry are large factors in determining price, and the display network will also customize your price according to a lot of minutiae. As a result, the following averages are extremely rough:

  • Google CPM: $2-3
  • Google CPC: < $1
  • Facebook CPM: $10-12
  • Facebook CPC: $1-3

Those are pretty small price tags when compared to the costs of traditional print or billboard advertising.

Should you put your digital marketing budget into banner ads or search ads?

This one’s tough because there is no universal answer. While display ads account for more digital ad spending than search ads, a number of factors will determine which ad is more effective for your business.

Paid search ads put your business listing at the top of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), designating it as an advertisement. Because they target immediate search interest, they have a higher rate of conversion than display ads and cost more. (For more on Google search ads, see “ Google Ads for Small Businesses.”)

However, display ads can be effective at intriguing new customers, generating brand awareness, and reminding browsers of previous interest.

As you’re getting started with Google ads, dedicate a little money to experimenting with both types and see what gets the best results — both between and within search ads and display ads.

8 tips to help you create effective banner ads

Depending on your brand and business, some of these strategies may work better than others for you. But consider these tips as you start to craft your own display ads.

1. Use eye-catching images.

Adobe banner ad featuring a young woman with rainbow colored hair against a sky blue backdrop

Adobe’s colorful design makes users want to create work with the same exciting visuals, which is exactly what the company is selling.

A company selling images better have impressive visuals in their advertisements! Fortunately for Adobe, the colors in this display ad really pop, grabbing the browser’s attention. Once they have that attention, Adobe offers the browser a gift, a free taste of their product.

2. Use animation to overcome banner-blindness.

Vimeo banner ad with lilac background

Vimeo animates simply designed banner ads to ensure that browsers see them.

As personal experience attests, advertisements are such a constant part of internet use that viewers tend to start ignoring them out of habit. After a certain point, they hardly see them at all.

This Vimeo ad may not look like much, but the designers use simple animations and transitions to catch the viewer’s eye. The calm aesthetic and simple messages keep the ad from becoming obnoxious or overwhelming.

3. Offer a discount, free download, or free trial.

Disney banner ad featuring several of their holdings -- Disney + Pixar + Marvel + Star Wars + National Geographic

Disney+ offers new subscribers a free trial and hours of free entertainment.

Everybody loves a coupon, and banner ad promotions can help you generate new leads.

Disney+’s display ad reminds the viewer of the depth of its catalog. It isn’t just the home of animated fairy tales. Disney owns the massive properties of Marvel Studios and the Star Wars franchise.

Once it’s piqued your interest, it presents a call to action (CTA) that is hard to argue against. Disney offers new customers a free trial, relying on its content to keep them hooked.

4. Spotlight your product.

Nike banner ad for the LeBron 18 shoe

Nike focuses its ad on a single shoe, keeping both the visual and the CTA clean and clear.

Sometimes less is more. There’s no need to overthink things. If you have an attractive product, trust it to sell itself.

This Nike ad works well largely because the brand resists the urge to clutter it. Instead of providing multiple tiny pictures of shoes and hoping that the viewer can find one that appeals, it sets one shoe in front of their eyes. The bright colors help too. The viewer can’t miss it.

5. Inspire urgency.

Forever 21 ad -- black and white with pops of red

Forever 21 advertises a sale and the day that it ends, prompting viewers to take action before the deal slips from their grasp.

Forever 21 increases its chances that viewers will click on this banner ad. Advertising a sale is a good idea. Advertising a limited-time sale and starting the countdown is a better one. It gives the viewer the sense that they must take action now. The bold lettering further contributes to the drama.

6. Slay them with a statistic.

aws cloud ad

Amazon Web Services spotlights a single statistic, relying on it to persuade the viewer of their superiority to comparable services.

Amazon Web Services makes its case efficiently and compellingly. Instead of simply claiming to be “better,” they justify it with hard numbers, choosing to focus on a common user concern. This makes their ad both memorable and convincing.

7. Offer a solution.

NYT ad "This is when journalism matters most. Subscribe to The Times"

This New York Times ad is visually effective and delivers a powerful CTA.

This New York Times ad works for three reasons:

  1. It keeps things simple. The stark black and white is both striking and thematically appropriate. The message is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
  2. It establishes shared pain. The Times appeals to a common struggle, both the pandemic and the large amount of misinformation available, creating sympathy.
  3. It offers a solution. The Times presents itself as a needed voice of authority in this difficult time. The soberness of the ad underscores their credibility.

8. Give your banner ads a professional look.

screenshot of Constant Contact landing page for social marketing

Get help with Constant Contact’s ad-creation tools to help you create your perfect banner ad.

Your ad will be competing for attention, and sloppiness leaves a bad impression. Don’t just throw something together. Take the time, and use ad-creation tools in order to make your ads stand out.

Get started making your own banner ads

You’re ready. You know your display-ad 101. You know what banner ads are, approximately how much they cost, and where to place them.

You’re also armed with strategies for success and tips to help you get the most out of every dollar you hand over to the display networks.

Now’s the time to get started.

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