3 Tips to Create Effective Banner Ads Every Time

Mike Fitterer

3 Tips to Create Better Banner Ads

News flash – people are great at ignoring banner ads!

Websites allowing display advertising often show 3 – 5 different ads per page. Throw in sponsored stories, and that figure can comfortably rise into the double digits. That’s a hefty supply of content for which visitors did not directly search.

In a sad illustration of this reality, Google keeps display ad benchmark stats that periodically get updated. During the period from August 2016 to April 2017 the average Click Through Rate was a paltry 0.11% in the United States for all display ad types. Only 1/10th of a visitor per 100 visits. Absolutely terrible.

Yet, I’m here to tell you it’s not all display doom and gloom. By utilizing a few basic principles you can create simple and effective banner ads.

An abundance of great examples exist, but in order to avoid any potential legal headaches I’ll stick to Portent-themed ads. I’m also going to focus on Google and Bing display formats in order to target my message.

In no particular order here are some best practices:

Imagery is Important

This is the “Don’t use horrible stock imagery” section. People process images WAY faster than words. If you opt for stale, generic, and boring stock images in your ads site visitors are guaranteed to ignore them.

Images should entice potential customers to view the ad’s message – not scare them away.

Here’s a current Portent example (lower res than actual). Nothing says small business like a dude working on bicycle, right? But seriously, select imagery that strikes a chord with your target audience. An image of someone working on a tangible product (e.g. a bike) makes this ad far more relatable for small businesses looking for marketing support than a boring stock image of an office worker on a computer.


Don’t waste time. Be direct.

If you want someone to download an asset: say so. If a free trial is the conversion you’re working towards make that obvious. Are you interested in demo views? Tell people that.

People are inundated with information when they’re online. When you make potential customers guess how you can help them, few will take that step.

A better approach is to select clear wording on the incentive you’re offering. Read: why someone needs your product or service.

Here’s another Portent example:

In the absence of a great image to represent an ebook we went with a neutral background that’s simply on-theme with some of the underlying elements of our brand. There are few words, by design. This ad is heavily geared towards people interested in technical SEO. To sweeten the deal the call-to-action notes that the ebook is free, so there’s a very low barrier for people to click on the button and continue through the conversion funnel.

Flowery and creative language is great when you can pull it off. Unfortunately, when targeting a broad spectrum of potential customers one person’s crafty and cunning message is another person’s head-shaking moment. Simple works, so stick to it!


Website visitors are very accustomed to banner ads. They show up repeatedly on every size and shape of site you can imagine. Still, in the absence an obvious, direct, call-to-action people often won’t register you want them to click on your ad. That you’re actually offering something beyond a brand reminder.

Don’t make people struggle to find your ad’s purpose. Include a nice, visible, button or arrow that clearly offers people a place to click through to your website or landing page.

It’s specifically important to be direct with the CTA button. Have the message align well with the rest of the ad’s wording. For example, the Portent ad in the last section has a bright button with “GET THE (FREE) EBOOK” text. That wording is very hard to miss, and it’s a clear offer of value.

3 Winning Features

If your banner ads can contain these 3 features you stand a far better chance of using display advertising as an effective marketing tool, especially in the initial awareness building phase of your marketing funnel.

Using clear imagery, a simple and direct message, and a call-to-action that ties in the entire ad, display can become an integral part of your digital marketing efforts.

Please feel free to comment with questions or additional best practice recs you would like mentioned!


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