10 design tips for more clickable banner ads

Rebecca Creger

Banner ads are one of the most prolific forms of marketing in today’s online world. Companies of all sizes rely on this measurable and effective medium to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

So let’s say that you’ve written some killer copy and bought ad space close to the main content of a highly-trafficked webpage. All you need now is a design to show it off and bring in those clicks! Below is a list of banner ad design tips and general guidelines for choosing the best design for your ad.

1. Maintain hierarchy

First and foremost, banner ads have three basic components:

  1. Your company logo: To build brand awareness, make sure your logo has a strong presence. It should be less visually dominant, though, than the value proposition and call to action.
  2. The value proposition: This showcases your offer’s unique benefit. It calls attention to itself with special offers and prices, i.e. ‘High Quality,’ ‘50% off’ or ‘Limited time offer.’ It should take up the most space in your ad and be the first thing that your viewers’ eyes are attracted to.
  3. The call to action: The CTA is typically a text link or button with phrases like ‘Learn More,’ ‘Watch Now’ or ‘Register Here.’ It should be a standout focal point of the ad, prompting viewers to click.

2. Stick to standard dimensions, formats and sizes


a. Dimensions:Use the standard ad dimensions for your banner. According to Google Adsense the most successful sizes are:

  • 336 x 280 large rectangle
  • 300 x 250 medium rectangle
  • 728 x 90 leaderboard
  • 160 x 600 wide skyscraper

b. Formats: You’ll need a .JPG or .PNG file for static ads and a .GIF or .SWF (Flash) format for animated versions. Keep in mind that Flash banner ads are not supported on all devices, so always make sure you also have your banner in .GIF form so you won’t miss any potential clicks.

c. Size:The smaller the better, and always under 150 kb, according to Google Adwords. Your ad needs to load fast on that webpage before viewers scroll down and miss it.

3. Keep the design simple and instantly readable


Clockwise from left: Citibank, Starbucks, Citibank, Canon, Sprint

Cut the visual clutter. Viewers are only going to glance at your banner for a few seconds. For readability, make sure the text follows these rules:

Do: make the headline and body copy different sizes, and keep your text to four lines or less.

Don’t: use cursive, script or extremely thin fonts, all uppercase copy, or a font smaller than 10 point (unless you’re including a disclaimer or copyright notice).

4. Use buttons, appropriately


Depending on the type of banner ad, buttons can increase click-through rate (CTR). If you want them in your ad, place them after your copy, on the lower right side, in tastefully contrasting colors. Keep them looking consistent throughout the set of ads.

5. Give your ad a clearly defined frame


From the left: Android, Netflix, Bing

People’s eyes are naturally drawn to a subject inside a frame. So make sure that your banner ad has a clearly defined border with the graphics that extend to the edges of the box. If your ad has a white background, it’s a common practice to add a thin gray border. If it’s not white, a subtle frame (like the faint black border on Netflix ad above) can still make the ad pop just a little more.

6. Stay consistent with your company’s branding


M&M’s ad and landing page

Your banner ad is going to link to a landing page about the offer in your ad. Make sure your ad looks consistent with the company’s branding and the landing page so that potential customers don’t get confused.

7. Use imagery well, and only when you need it


From the left: Victoria’s Secret, New York Life, Ally

Choose relevant images, graphics or photos that enhance your message and that are directly related to your product. No abstract concepts here. Can’t afford professional photography or supermodels? Buy an affordable license for a stock photo. There are millions of high quality ones out there.

It’s not always necessary to use photos or images in your ads. Text ads with killer copy and nice typography can be just as effective.

8. Instill a sense of urgency


Make sure your ad brings a sense of visual urgency to the text with the use of contrasting, bold color schemes and eye-catching images and text. Web ads are not meant to be subtle.

9. Choose appropriate colors that compliment and stand out from the background website


Dos Equis ads on the ESPN website

If your ad visually resembles into the sites that it will be featured on, you’re more likely to earn your viewers’ trust. However, don’t make it blend in too much – the ad still needs to be visible and clickable.

Speaking of colors – all colors have different associations, and it’s important to consider what types of emotions you want to evoke in your viewers. Your color choices have to be on point, because they are the first thing that viewers notice in an ad.

Colors can be subjective and have different associations in different cultures, so make sure to study your target audience during the selection process. Below is a list or colors and the kinds of emotions they typically evoke in viewers for a western audience. Your ads are going to be different combinations of these colors that create the overall mood:

  • Red: Associated with danger, passion, anger, excitement, speed and love. Use in moderation.
  • Orange: Associated with vitality and happiness. Its energetic, inviting and friendly personality makes it a great choice for a call to action button.
  • Yellow: Associated with humor, sunshine, optimism, energy and inexpensive products. Touches of yellow can grab attention but should be used judiciously.
  • Green: Associated with health, freshness, wealth, nature, growth, nurturing and new beginnings. It’s the easiest color on the eyes.
  • Blue: Associated with safety, clarity, serenity, intellect, formality, refreshment and masculinity. It’s often used to signify trustworthiness.
  • Purple: Associated with luxury, royalty, extravagance, wisdom, magic, ambition, femininity and creativity. It has a soothing, calming effect on a viewer.
  • Pink: Associated with love, sweetness and babies. It’s the most feminine color.
  • Black: Associated with exclusivity, mystery, power, prestige, grief and formality. Black text on a white background is the most readable color combination.
  • White: Associated with purity, modernity, simplicity, honesty, innocence and goodness. It’s the foundation for many clean designs.
  • Brown: Associated with nature, wood, leather and humility. It balances out stronger colors is great for background colors and textures.
  • Gray: Associated with neutrality and practicality. When used as a background it intensifies other colors.

10. Consider using animation


Animated ads often out-perform static banner ads, but you have to make sure that they don’t distract from your ad’s message.

Use simple animations that last no more than 15 seconds, and include a call to action on the last frame. Make sure that they don’t loop more than three times.

And there you have it. These are some general design guidelines, and there’s definitely room for experimentation with each. It’s also important to note that a good banner ad is not judged on how pretty it looks, it’s judged on its performance. They’re not the most beautiful form of media, but for now, banner ads are here to stay.

Do you have any tips to share?

The author

Rebecca Creger
Rebecca Creger

Rebecca was born and raised in the Bay Area, where she currently lives. She has a BFA in Design with a Visual Communications emphasis from UC Davis. Her passions include travel, design, pasta, and hanging out with her Beagle, Spud.

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