Tips to Make Your Ad Banners Click

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Is the use of ad banners as an online marketing strategy losing its appeal? Consider the following:


• According to Ad Relevance's August 2000 report, 75 percent of Web sites use ad banners to drive inbound traffic. Jupiter Communications says the use of banner advertising is up from last year, with 97 percent of advertisers using banners in the second and third quarters of 2000. The average company is spending $91,000 per month on online advertising, with business-to-business companies spending $53,000 per month.


• Seventy-five percent of respondents to a Jupiter survey said they plan to put more money into Internet advertising than any other form of advertising in the next 12 months. And at the 2000 Jupiter Communications Online Advertising Forum, officials forecast that online advertising expenditures would reach $16.5 billion by 2005, exceeding outdoor advertising, cable and yellow pages advertising.


Ad banners have become as common in cyberspace as chat rooms, appearing in every shape, size, color, format and software platform. Some argue that the proliferation of ad banners has made them an overused cyber-eyesore. Though we agree some banners may be poorly designed, lackluster or ineffective, to cease using this marketing strategy is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. So what is the secret to making a banner "click?" Here are some tips to maximize the impact of your ad banners:


• Work with professionals. There is both an art and science to creating effective ad banners. Being a good designer is just one part of the equation. One also must understand Web marketing. Make sure the designers working on your banners (in-house staff, outside agency or consultant) have proven expertise in ad banner design and marketing. If they don't, consider hiring an outside resource that does. We have often turned away business when clients insist on using their own designers who are not marketers. Web designers may create beautiful ads, but their lack of marketing expertise may lead to the creation of ad banners with no call to action, offer or incentive to click.


• Take risks and have fun. One of the advantages of the Web is its interactivity, which makes it more fun and entertaining than other media. So be playful with your ad banner creative and don't be afraid to take some risks. Creativity and interactivity can come alive through rich media banners, which use Flash or java technologies. The best example that we have found of rich banners can be seen at www.enliven.com. Rich media banners allow the user to interact with a company and promote a positive, entertaining experience, which is one step toward creating brand loyalty. The only drawback to rich media banners is their cost, which can run from $3,000 to $15,000, and the four to eight week time period they take to design.


• Use animation. Simple animation can increase response rates by 25 percent. After we added animated elements to their banner ads, Go2Orlando.com, an Orlando travel guide, experienced a 700 percent increase in traffic to their site. Depending upon the audience, offers of free goods and services can dramatically improve click-through rates. Contests and the word "Free" always pull in more traffic.


• Get bright. We have found that bright colors typically raise click-through rates. Look at the color scheme of the sites where your ad will run and consider using striking, contrasting colors and patterns to drawn attention. Conversely, using the same color palette as the site will make your ad banner look similar to the site's own content.


• Use the words "Click Here." In all of our banners we use phrases such as "Click Here," which tend to improve response rates by 15 percent. There are still many "newbies" online who need guidance on how to jump to another Web sites through ad banners. This is a simple tactic that is often overlooked.


• Avoid cryptic messages. While the use of such messages typically increase click-through rates by 18 percent, I/Pro research says they may not attract the right audience or reinforce branding, so we try to avoid this unless it makes strategic sense for the client.


• Less is more. The approach to designing an ad banner is similar to one you would use for a highway billboard: Keep it short. As an interactive advertising agency, we have only seconds to capture the Internet user's attention before they click onto the next page. Stick to one message and get it across in the first animation. Avoid the "slide show" effect, which uses 3-4 frames of different text.


• Trick or treat? There are many gif banners that try to trick the user into pulling down a menu of options when there actually are no options. In the short term, this may increase click-through rates. In the long haul this tactic may hurt your brand's credibility. If you want to create a pull-down menu, design a real html banner.


• Place equal importance on design and media placement. You wouldn't design compelling banners and not buy media placements, would you? Yet you would be surprised at how many companies will invest thousands of dollars in a media buy but not place equal importance on their creative to make it effective and persuasive. Driving traffic to your site requires both elements to succeed. If you are working with an interactive agency, make sure they can design the ads for you, not just buy the advertising. An entire online campaign can flop if the creative is poor, regardless of how much money you spend on your ad buy.


Track the banner's performance. This may seem obvious, but this critical tool for analysis is often overlooked. Tracking your banner's performance enables you to analyze what is working well. Your rep or agency should keep an eagle eye on your advertising campaign, especially when it first launches. The work starts not when the campaign is sold, but when it launches. This is the crucial point when you can optimize your campaign by removing poorly perfoming banners, move impressions and tweak the media buy.


The beauty of the Internet is that real-time tracking of your campaign allows for real-time enhancements, thus saving you money and increasing your ROI. We want to know the results of a campaign as it is underway, not at the end when it's too late. We also recommend that you design more banners than you think you will need, so you can remove the losers without diluting your online campaign.


With thousands of new Web sites launching every week, you can't afford to leave ad banners out of your online marketing strategy. If your current banners aren't doing the trick, give some of these tips a try. And if you don't have the internal resources to accomplish an effective online media campaign, consider outsourcing to an agency with this expertise. Occasionally, clients have been reluctant to launch some of our creative, but with a little reassurance, they take the leap. Invariably, they come back and tell us that the particular banner outperformed the others by 2 percent to 3 percent.


• Hillary Bressler is founder and president of interactive marketing agency .Com Marketing, Orlando. Reach her at bressler@commarketing.com.
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