5 ways to change a bad banner ad into a good one

It’s been nearly 30 years since the first web page banner ads launched, way back in 1994. One of them, on Wired magazine’s then website hotwired.com, featured the copy “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here?”, followed by a vaguely threatening “You will”. The ad linked through to a campaign by American telecoms firm AT&T.

AT&T banner ad.

Joe McCambley, co-founder of The Wonderfactory and the man behind the campaign, has said the ad returned a 44% click-through rate while it was running (I’m sure the novelty factor played a big part in drawing in curious clickers).

These days, as internet marketers and advertising bods, we’re over the moon if our display ad conversion rate gets above a couple of percent. Banner ads can be a tough nut to crack. Many factors now play against the format, the biggest being the dwindling trust web users have for this in-your-face, ‘outbound’ style of advertising.

But don’t write them off just yet. Done right, banner ads can still be a valuable lead generation tool. If you master the basics (we’ll cover them below, in case you’re a little rusty!) and optimise, optimise, and optimise again for today’s tech-savvy audiences, you’ll stand a better chance of success.

Challenges of display advertising

Remember the 2016 TV ad for Febreeze, featuring the strapline ‘You’ve gone nose blind’? It’s a genuine phenomenon, describing how people can become accustomed to bad odours and no longer smell them.

A similar term ‘banner blindness’ has emerged to describe web users who are completely unfazed by banner ads, flashing and blinking left, right and centre on a web page. In fact, we’ve all learned to tune out of the irrelevant messages and imagery that bombard us online every day. For this, banner ads get a particularly bad rep.

So how can you overcome banner blindness and get people to click your ad and, even better, actually convert on your campaign goals?

What makes a poor-performing banner ad?

Let’s look at where it can all go wrong – and what you should do instead. If you’ve had a display ad campaign die a death, it’s more than likely that one of these culprits was to blame:

  1. You didn’t go mobile-first. As of April this year, 54% of global internet traffic is now on mobile (in the UK, desktop and mobile is more or less 50/50). You’ll have heard it before – a mobile-first strategy in digital marketing is now crucial if you’re going to provide the best user experience and have the best chance at capturing leads. This is especially important when it comes to your banner ads. Make sure you test and refine your ads for the smaller screen users or you’ll be missing out on a big opportunity to grab their conversions.
  2. You didn’t target, personalise and segment. Engaging with your online audiences is tough. It’s even tougher if you aren’t tailoring your ad campaigns to their needs and wants as much as possible. These days, you can go a step further by taking a real-time – or ‘moment’ – marketing approach. Serving up ads that capitalise on a particular thing that means something to your audience is key. There are always the yearly calendar events to capitalise on (think holidays, Valentines Day, Mother’s Day etc). But you can even make use of things like weather events – pushing those soft-top convertible sales during a heatwave, if you’re in the automotive space – or content based around a particular time, day or location.
  3. You didn’t use rich media. We’ve come a long way since those heady days of the first banner ads in 1994. Back then, just some text on a plain background was considered innovative. These days, if you’re not taking a rich media approach to your ads, you won’t stand out and engage your easily-distracted, time-poor audiences. Carousel banners, video content, ads that pull live feeds from news sources are all possible in the modern age. If it all seems too high-tech and high-budget, just adding some animated or simple video content to your ads can have a dramatic effect on conversions.
  4. You didn’t A/B test. There are so many factors that determine a successful banner ad campaign. We’ll touch on the basics below. We’ve also covered some more involved areas like rich media and personalisation. But if you aren’t testing these aspects of your ads in concurrent campaigns, you’ll never know what works best. Nowadays, tracking the performance of your ads and seeing which elements deliver the best results is easier than you think. A dedicated lead attribution tool such as Mediahawk can help you trace a lead right back to source. You’ll start to build a valuable bank of information about the copy, creative, and many other factors that worked in helping to generate your leads.
  5. You didn’t nail the basics. OK, so the basics we’re talking about are the copy, imagery and colours you use in your ads. Using colours that match your branding is clearly important to build brand recognition, and ensure that people have a consistent experience when they click through to your (hopefully!) smartly branded landing page. Beyond that, you need copy that engages and resonates with users at the deepest levels. And your imagery needs to be as high quality and relevant as possible, too. Other factors such as where your ad is placed on the page and, of course, the website your ad is on (does it really have the right audience for your business?) all need to be tested and nailed if your ads are ever going to make a dent in your lead generation targets.

Digital marketing and the technology we use to do it have changed significantly since the early days of banner ads. Now, there are many challenges to overcome and a growing number of tech-savvy users to impress.

But with the right approach, you can still get good results from your banner advertising campaigns. Follow these steps and you’ll be on the right track to see positive results and higher conversion rates.

About the author - Natalia Selby

Marketing Executive at Mediahawk, with 20 years experience in analytics and content management.

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