As any seasoned display advertiser can tell you, one of the biggest determinants of a display campaign’s performance is creative. There are quite a few established best practices for designing successful banner ads, but not all of them should be taken as gospel.
With design, it’s rare to find rules that are universally applicable. Depending on your product, your brand identity, and each individual campaign’s goals, some rules are made to be broken. Here are a five examples of widely accepted design rules that may be better to ignore:
1. Photos of people always boost performance
It’s often assumed that ads featuring people will always outperform their photo-less counterparts. It’s absolutely possible for a well-employed photo to attract attention, increase relatability, and improve performance, but the wrong photo is likely to do more harm than good.
It all depends the photo and how you use it. For consumer brands, featuring a real person using or wearing your product can be the most effective way to showcase it. For B2B companies or consumer brands with more abstract services it can sometimes be trickier. Some B2B bands have used ads featuring real customers alongside a testimonial, which is one potentially effective way to use photos to establish a connection.
Ultimately, the trick is making sure the photo is truly relatable. If your photo helps your customers see themselves wearing, using, enjoying, or benefiting from your product, then go for it. If not, try a different approach.
2. Green increases clicks, red attracts attention, orange encourages action (and so on and so forth)
Most webpage backgrounds are white, so the prevailing wisdom is to use bright colors to make sure your ad stands out from the background. In 99 cases out of 100, I would agree. (That said, some designers will recommend designing ads that blend in more with the content).
You’ll sometimes hear that green buttons increase clicks or that yellow backgrounds encourage action, but when you look at actual test results, it’s rare that any two stories align. Sometimes a green button beats a red button and sometimes it’s vice versa. There’s no one magic color that always does the trick.
As a rule, it’s more important to stick to your brand guidelines than to follow someone else’s idea of what the perfect banner background looks like. Especially if you’re running a retargeting campaign, you want your brand to be recognizable at a glance. Sacrificing your brand colors for orange or yellow because it’s “action-inspiring” is likely to detract from a retargeting campaign, which derives much of its effectiveness from the power of brand recognition.
3. Always employ an urgent call-to-action
Here’s another piece of banner design wisdom that I agree with: calls to action (CTAs) are crucial, and if you want anyone to click on your ads, you’d better include them.
A lot of design advice goes further, and many argue that the more urgency in a call-to-action the better. But that isn’t always good advice. Sometimes, particularly in ecommerce, adding a level of urgency with CTAs like “buy now!” or “only a few left!” can encourage immediate action. However, with larger purchases like B2B software, softer CTAs like “learn more” often perform better than immediate calls to buy or sign up.
4. Rely exclusively on CTR as a performance metric
CTR can be a valuable measurement tool for the strength of your ads, and it often makes sense to determine the winner of an A/B test based on highest CTR. But there is significant evidence that clicks don’t correlate to conversions. If the goal of your campaign is branding, then clicks aren’t necessarily worth recording. You’ll have to look to other metrics like share of conversation and branded search to measure the impact (Avinash Kaushik has more suggestions for useful metrics here). Even for direct response campaigns, the ultimate goal is revenue, not page visits. If you’re just worried about driving traffic, CTR is a great measure of success, but if you’re running a re-engagement campaign like retargeting, it’s probably about the conversion, not the click. Success should always be measured based on your ultimate goal, so don’t get caught up measuring clicks if you’re looking for sales.
5. Flash is always more effective than static
Most studies that address the performance difference between Flash and static ads have found that Flash ad outperform static ads, but here’s the kicker: the metric used is almost always CTR. I have yet to see any compelling evidence that a Flash banner drives more sales than a static banner, so bear that in mind when deciding on ad types.
When it comes to banner design, never take any rules at face value. In any context, I would recommend A/B testing variations of banners to find out what resonates with your audience.