Banner Ad Blindness

Ian Lurie

In the last year we’ve probably run about $350,000 worth of banner advertising.

The immediate return on investment stinks. This ClickZ article just backs up my conclusion.

A lot of the issue, I think (and ClickZ agrees) is trust: In the age of adware, spyware and viruses, no one’s going to click on an ad if they don’t recognize the brand.


But this study misses one very, very important point: Banners are still pretty good branding tools. Even if folks don’t specifically spend time studying a banner, the presence of a well-branded company on a number of sites will have an impact: One of our clients ran a 2,000,000 impression banner ad campaign. They didn’t see any direct sales from it, which was frustrating. But over the succeeding month, their site traffic and sales rose 30% (a 3x return on the campaign investment).

When we studied the numbers, it was clear that traffic grew even though search rankings hadn’t changed. The only thing that had changed was the presence of the banners. We tested our theory (with the client’s permission) by turning off the banners for 2 weeks. Sure enough, a month later traffic and sales dipped. We turned the banners back on, and things picked up again.

Here are some basic tips to make the best of an often maligned medium:
– Design simplicity: Use high-contrast text, with minimal animation. You have a better chance of clicks that way.
– Brand powerfully: Make sure your banners tie back to your other creative, both online and off.
– Buy carefully: Try smaller buys on blog networks or smaller sites, first. Then expand to bigger players if you want to.

I’m not saying everyone should buy banners. Most site owners should not. They’re expensive, and they can take a long time to develop momentum. If you have a limited budget, start with paid search and search engine optimization, instead.

But banners can be a powerful branding and marketing tool. Don’t count them out just yet.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Excellent thoughts here. There have been a number of studies focused on search listings that show the organic results get 3 to 5 times the click volume than do the ads – yet another illustration of this phenomenon.

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