Better Banner Design

Nothing turns people off more than poorly designed banners and slow loading pages..

Banner design is one of the most important aspects of a banner ad
campaign. To come up with a banner that is neat, small in file size, and
information packed is a big challenge. But hopefully with these 10 tips, you
can have a banner with all of the above.

1. Target

When it comes to effective advertising, there is simply nothing more
important than thoughtful planning. Before you start up those graphic and
layout programs, you need to sit down and ask some key questions such as:

  • What are we trying to accomplish with the ad?
  • Are we after name branding?
  • Do we need to produce qualified leads?
  • How will we measure success for this ad campaign?
  • Are we looking for high click through?
  • Will we be happy with increased awareness or will we live and die by
    the number of leads generated?
  • Who is most likely to be interested in our product or message?

You have no business designing an ad if you don’t have answers to these
questions. How many of you designers can relate with the following scenario?

  1. Executive orders designs for an ad campaign.
  2. Upon seeing proposed designs, Executive shoots them down because he
    considers the aforementioned questions only after seeing the fruits of your
    labor.

Thoughtful planning is the foundation of any advertising campaign. If
you’re trying to build name recognition, then you’ll want to pepper your
banners with your logo and name. If you’re looking for click through, your logo
might get in the way. A svelte ad might be just the thing to get the fitting
folks to fill out those forms, but if you’re trying to imprint your name in the
public’s mind you’ll want to get down right funky.

Similarly, targeting the audience effects the direction of the campaign.
If your target audience is the youthful set, set,advertisingadvertising at many
of the high volume big name corporate sites might be a waste of money. If your
key consumer is the no-nonsense business type, you might want to avoid frills
like, hefty graphics, animation, and humor. Knowing where you will be placing
your ads is also important because some sites impose stipulations on banner
ads, such as limitations on file size and physical size of ads.

Careful consideration to these issues translates into better results.
The days of the novelty factor are gone; you can’t just put up any old banner
on any old site and expect to get any amount of response.

2. Design

The fact that Super Bowl advertisements create a dilemma for small
bladder impaired viewers should not be missed by Web banner designers.
Creativity can often be the difference between a 1% click through rate and a
20% click through rate. Creative design doesn’t have to mean flashy graphics
either. Effectual design can just as easily mean a two word pitch on a white
background as it can mean winning the next animation contest.

One important aspect of design is the staying power of an ad. Even the
best banner ads get old and a good ad campaign typically involves a series of
fresh ideas. Not all ads need to be similar. Mix it up. A range of approaches
increases your ability to apply your message to a variety of targeted
environments.

3. Animation

Animation remains one of the best ways to augment the impact of an ad.
Whether it’s because we have an innate desire to satisfy our curiosity or we’ve
been trained by television to respond to motion :Animation works. However, the
Web standards for animation are increasing. Better tools, better technology,
and faster connections are increasing expectations. Clumsy animation is a
signal to a potential customer that your site isn’t worth clicking to.

Animation also increases the file size of a banner ad. Beyond
optimization (which is one of the points discussed below), one way to deal with
this is by using creative looping. For instance, you might time the animated
banner such that the first frame displays for a prolonged period of time,
giving the other frames time to load. Conversely, looping animations are an
annoyance to the viewer, causing a negative impression than a positive one.
Therefore, use the banner loop only a few times before it stops on a key frame.

4. Colors

Color can be a designer’s best asset. A multitude of studies indicate
that people respond more to bright colors, such as blue, green, and yellow, or
certain color combinations, like a rich yellow on dark blue. However, some
audiences respond better to certain colors. For example, dark rich colors might
appeal to the sophisticated set while bright and trendy colors can grab the
attention of the hip crowd. While colors such as white, red, and black have
recently fallen in disfavor, they might be utilized if they provide a level of
contrast or distinction in the context of the ad.

5. The Pitch

Writing is an integral part of a campaign. Common strategies include
posing questions (e.g., Have you been to Hawaii lately?), using cryptic
messages (e.g., It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys!), and using directives
(e.g., Click Here). Questions are effective because they initiate interaction
with the potential customer. Some people need the little extra nudge that the
classic Click Here provides. Avoid the false sense of urgency, the Click here
now or lose millions of dollars type of message. It’s tacky and most surfers
are too sophisticated for the used car salesman mentality.

Font choice is also important. Banner ads are not the place for those
tasty fonts. Viewers are bombarded with information and messages on the Web;
you’re lucky when they give your ad a second glance. Therefore, it’s best to
make sure they can understand your message the first time by using fonts like
Futura, Swiss, and Helvetica.

6. Optimize

It’s remarkable how many banner ads are run that are not optimized. The
faster an ad appears, the more chance it will have to be seen and read.
Particularly if the ad is on a page with a lot of content because it loads
before the rest of the page.

You should also look for ways to optimize banners that are animated
(which most are now anyway). GIF animations can be optimized in two ways: By
reducing the number of colors in the ad and by employing interframe
transparency. Animation programs that automate optimization include — Gamani’s
GIF Movie Gear, Extensis’ PhotoAnimator, Digital Frontier’s HVS Animator Pro,
Boxtop Software’s GIFmation, and Ulead’sGIF Animator. If you’re using GIF
Construction Set or GifBuilder, then yourbanner ad animations are probably
overly large.

7. Technology

Due to their accessibility and ease of creation, GIF animations still
dominate the banner ad scene. In general, new technologies need to get as close
to this ideal as possible. Before you fall in love with the promise of
interactive ads or more robust animation, you need to be sure that any
alternative technology for banner ads remains reasonably accessible and fast.

These requirements largely rule out Java, DHTML, and Shockwave. One of
the more promising emerging alternatives to the GIF animation is Macromedia
Flash. Flash’s ability to deliver more robust animations in real or near real
time make it an appealing alternative. While Flash requires a plug-in,
Macromedia has succeeded in making the Flash plug-in one of the most
successfully distributed plug-ins on the Web. In 1997 Flash outpaced even
Shockwave by almost 10 million with 23.6 million downloads. Macromedia reports
4.1 million downloads of the Flash player in January 1998 alone.

Flash offers several appealing things for Web-based advertising. For
example, full screen animations with streaming audio, which emulate standard
television ads, are even possible with Flash, compliments of Macromedia’s new
partnership with Real Networks in the form of Real Flash. However, smaller
Flash-based ads are far more viable.

An increasingly popular alternative to the standard banner ad, employed
at such sites as the Sci-Fi Channel and IBM, is to display a Flash-based ad in
a separate small browser window. The ad plays once, like a television ad, and
then the small window is closed using JavaScript.

8. Location

Location isn’t everything, but it helps. Early Webmaster wisdom presumed
that the best place for a banner ad was at the top of a Web page. However, many
site owners are finding that the top isn’t always the best place for an ad.
Joel Comm, CEO of InfoMedia, Inc., is the creator of a family entertainment
site called World Village, a site whose revenue is largely based on banner ads.
We need a new way to display ads on the Internet because people are getting
used to just mentally skipping the top inch of a Web page. The result is less
click through.

Notable alternatives for banner ad placement include positioning banner
ads in a small separate browser window. Of course the downside to this approach
is that viewers can easily close the window before having seen the ad. Another
approach is to creatively place an ad within the content. For example, if the
site contains a graphics interface or navigational unit, you can integrate the
ads into its design. Also, Webmasters are finding that banner ads get more
click through when banner ads are placed close to Web items that surfers are
used to interacting with such as a Web scroll bar or link to download free
software.

Also, note that while the standard 468 pixel wide by 60 pixel high
banner ad still dominates, other sizes and shapes are increasing in popularity.
Half-sized banners, 234 by 60, are becoming more popular because they are less
intrusive. 100 pixel square banners are showing up in pre-sized browser window
interfaces (such as in Disney’s Disney Blast)

9. Where Do I Point This Thing?

Web ads don’t always need to point to your homepage. While it is nice to
see those main page statistics jump up, linking to your home page will require
the viewer to navigate through a series of pages before they get to where you
really want them to go. If you want to create leads, then point the banner
directly to your forms. If you want to promote anew product, then point the ad
to the product specs page or to a download page. If you’re promoting content,
then direct surfers directly to it. Surfers will appreciate the more direct
approach and your main page statistics will increase as a by-product of your
increased customer loyalty.

10. Test it

Good ideas are hard to come by. What may seem clever to you, might be
incomprehensible to everyone else. Also, it’s hard to predict to what kind of
ad a given market segment might react. Create a series of ads — some animated,
some static, some flashy, some plain — and generate a test group to see what
kinds of ads get more response. One of the nice things about the Web is that
it’s easy to perform quick tests and make changes easily. All major television
design firms test their ads, why should Web ads be any different?

Web-based advertising is still in its adolescence. When you consider the
progress in sophistication that has occurred in broadcast television and direct
mail models in the last 40 years, it’s easier to gain perspective on the humble
little banner ad. As the Web matures, advertising will mature along with it. As
technology and connection speeds increase, so will the role of Web advertising.
These steps are just the first steps toward that growth.