vector newsletter

How to make your "Banner Ads" look UGLY ! ! ... but produce better results

This newsletter was originally posted in 1998, just as the effectiveness of banner advertising was evolving from the early enthusiasm of a new web-surfer clicking "anything that blinked" to the more savy, "experienced" population expecting ads relevant to the page topic. Video ads and smoother animation possible due to the higher bandwidth available for the average web-surfer make this newsletter out-of date, [as did the arrival of "content-relevent text-based" ads by Google and others]. The basic premise is still correct. Ugly banners ads get more attention.

       Most Internet experts will tell you that banner advertising is dead. They say that it's expensive, the "click-through" rates are falling faster than the stock prices and it is likely that you'll end up spending more money than you'll make. But wait, just a few years ago those same experts were guaranteeing instant success to anyone utilizing the very same banner ads. What is the real story? In the early days of mass consumer use of the Internet ( read: AOL ) the click-through rates were 10 to 15 times higher than they are now. What changed? Has the whole concept of banner advertising has become obsolete? Did everyone become immune to Internet advertising? Or did we just forget the basics of advertising in our rush to Internet riches. I believe that is the problem. 

    The difference between the successful banner advertising of yesterday and the weak response of today is an ego problem. Ego? That's right, ad agency and web site developer egos, not yours. Just look at the banners displayed on any popular web site. The banners have a professionally designed logo, smooth animation, pleasing color styles, and maybe a product photo. These banners are great works of art. That is exactly the reason they perform so badly. 

    Don't miss-understand my message. I'm not encouraging ugly ad banners. Unless you desperately need to build "brand identity", your main concern should be producing results, not be what your banners look like. Spend your time and effort on the advertising placement and how they work. Pay attention to how many completed transactions you make and how high your ROI is. Forget the aesthetics.

    Some web site owners I've spoken with are initially worried that such an approach might damage their reputation in the eyes of the consumers. We are finding that relevance matters most. I'll talk about relevance again in a moment, but beauty is over-rated. The prettiest ad for a digital camera will get no traffic, if the viewers bought one yesterday. Your ad agency will say, "Unless the ads look good, they might negatively affect the company's brand image. OK, I'll agree with the arguement only so far. A large, well-known businesses must maintain a consistent image. Think of UPS, FedEx and DHL Worldwide. We all instantly recognize the trucks, even if we can't read the lettering on the side. Their banner ads should reinforce the company's image. If you're a small business owner, you shouldn't over-emphasize the importance of branding. If you are reading this newsletter, you are probably an above-average web surfer. You've seen hundreds of banner ads in the last week. Can you remember what any of them looked like? What company or product they were advertising? Don't worry, I've just made my point. 


Here are my suggestions on

"How to make your banner ads look ugly, but produce better results"

    1> Place your banner ads with an overall plan .

    Placement is everything. The drop off in "click-through" rates can partially be attributed to the thoughtless way the banner ad sales industry allocates placement onto web pages. Know what you are paying for and where your banners are being seen. A banner ad selling Bibles won't create much traffic on a pornography site. 

    2> Banner ads are not TV commercials.

    The ultimate goal of banner advertising is to create just enough interest to get the "click-through". Banners must fight to get the attention of the viewer. Well written messages create interest and traffic. Your web site should capture that interest and close the sale. Don't confuse the two processes.

    3> "Click Through" traffic should arrive at a special page.

    Create special pages inside your web site to receive the traffic your ad banners deliver. These special pages are called "Landing Pages", because your click-thru traffic "lands" on them. If the banner ad makes a promise, the first thing visitors should see is the "follow through" on that promise. Don't deliver traffic to your home page, expecting customers to navigate your site to find the "pay off". Landing pages are a great tool. Because you know who will be viewing them, you can write very, very specific messages to a target audience. Don't be afriad to create many landing pages for each ad and test them in "A+B" comparisions to find the best script and message to complete the sale process, that the banner ads began.

    4> Don't hide your trees in the forest.

    Many banners are designed to co-exist in harmony with the design of the web site they are displayed on. While this makes the web site look better, it is also easier for viewers to overlook or ignore the poor advertiser paying the bills. Do not allow your banners to fade into the background. We don't advocate ugly or obnoxious banners, but make yours stand out. It should be clear that your banner is something interesting that must be clicked, not viewed as part of the scenery. Go back to the basics. Use Windows-style navigational elements, instructions to "click here" and colors that contrast with those used on the web site. The results will be more effective.

    5> Remember web page load times.

    Graphics and images have their place, but rarely is it on a banner ad. Pictures of pretty girls, tropical islands or your product may be nice to look at, but they also increase the time it takes for your banner ad to display on the page. Animated ads that take 10 seconds to get to the point might work on TV, but not on the web. If your banner is at the top of a page and doesn't appear instantly, viewers may have scrolled down the page looking for content. You won't get any traffic, if no one sees your advertising banner. Unless the picture is vital to convincing the user to click-through, don't use it. A photo of a pile of cash sounds like a good idea when advertising a sweepstakes, but simple text screaming "WIN $10.000" would be just as effective and would display much, much faster. Images also take up space, limiting the amount or the size of the text in your banner too.

    These are only a few simple guidelines on

"How to make your banner ads look ugly, but produce better results"

. If you would like to know more about effective use of banner ads, contact the VectorInter.Net office nearest you. Creating web page banners that look simple and even a little unprofessional might seem counter-productive. Remember that banner advertising is not an art exhibition. It's a sales tool. Simple, straightforward banners that stand out get "click-through" traffic. When the revenue is tallied, what matters is whether your banner advertising helped you make a profit, not how beautiful or elegant they looked.

Read "Why every "local" business needs a web site" or the "Common Traits of Successful Web Sites."
and "Who invented the @ symbol in every E-mail?" Visit the VectorInter.Net newsletter archives.