Build Better Creative with These 9 Best Practices

December 20, 2018

The scope and world of display advertising have evolved extensively, growing from simple static images to include video, rich media ads and much more.

When developing creative, there are a few best practices that can be leveraged in order to improve user experience and maximize return. Take a look below for a few high-level recommendations that can help you build better display ads.

1. Size, Standardization and Specification

Since most banner ads are produced to be displayed on someone else’s website — specifically, a website your creative team does not have design control over — adhering to Google Display Network or other platform guidelines is required. When running a campaign that extends beyond a single ad type or format, this becomes even more important.

Most professionals in creative and display probably already know this, but the Interactive Advertising Bureau, or IAB, does maintain a specification of the standards most banner ads adhere to and this is a good foundation when planning new ads. The IAB Display Advertising Guidelines detail a mixture of common ad unit sizes, from small 300 x 250px sidekicks to larger 970 x 250px billboards, including older, “delisted” units that are starting to be replaced.

2. Use IAB Guidelines

The IAB’s guidelines go beyond just simply the size of the ad. The Bureau also distributes guidelines on specifications such as the limit of the Z-Index of the unit, the maximum video frame rate and the file size. These are only guidelines, but trying to adhere to them is a good practice that will guarantee your ad is as technically adequate as it will be aesthetically. We’ll look at a few of these components later in the article.

3. Develop Clear, Attention-Grabbing Copy and Images

When a customer first sees your display ad, chances are they weren’t coming to the landing page looking specifically for your ad’s product or services. Instead, they arrived on the page to see some other piece of content, and your ad is simply there alongside it. Since users aren’t attentively looking for what’s in your ad, grabbing their attention with a combination of images and clear copy is critical.

Your ads don’t have to Apple-like and minimalist with just one image and fewer than five words — there’s no hard science to an ad’s word count. Because you aren’t creating the ad to replace a website or a larger form of media, you need to trim your ad copy to just what’s enough to pique the interest of a user.

4. List Your Product or Service Benefits

This can mean detailing savings when they buy a product or announcing a discount for limited time. This should work alongside visual imagery that makes it clear what your ad is about. Offer users a value, a benefit to clicking on your ad — and keep it short and sweet. Make it simple but make people want to read more.

5. Include a Strong Call-to-Action

An essential element in your banner ad is its call-to-action. This is how you persuade users to interact with your ad and connect with your message. The call-to-action is the first step in a conversion funnel — the journey from the first ad impression to registering a sale or otherwise achieving a goal.

Your ad needs to tell potential customers what you want them to do; otherwise, they won’t do anything. Your ad must direct them to “find out more” or “buy now” so that they can easily navigate through the conversion process. Therefore, you need to create a call-to-action that is hierarchically meaningful to the visual design of your ad and very clearly lays out what to do.

6. Design Unity and Congruency

Just as a website’s design should have unity and congruency between the individual pages that compose it, an ad should be visually relevant to the site it takes you to. Clicking through to reveal a website with little to no visual relationship with the original ad seriously degrades the user’s experience and will likely throw most users out of the purchase process.

7. File Size

Ultimately, you want your users to interact with your ad, so you have to ensure that your ad is quick to appear. No one is will going to sit around and wait for a page to load, let alone a slow loading ad unit. If a user is initiating a feature like audio, video or animation in your ad, you’ll want that user to have the best experience possible. Speed is critical for an ad to be effective, and many ad delivery platforms have ad format requirements that must be adhered to. The file size of the initial ad load should be kept to a minimum.

If your file size is too large, you’ll likely lose out on potential impressions (particularly from users with slower internet connections) or create performance issues for the page as a whole. Neither of these outcomes is good for your display, so keep an eye on file size. Ideally, you should restrict your ads to under the maximum load sizes that the IAB sets out for each standard ad unit so they’re always delivered with high performance.

8. Motion and Animation

Utilizing animation and motion within your ad can considerably increase user engagement outcomes, but too much can easily end up annoying users instead. Building out subtle transitions and motion effects in your ads are a fantastic way of garnering attention and increasing interaction, though you should restrict the length to a non-looped 15-30 seconds (depending on the size of the unit). Although animations that run automatically on page loads don’t necessarily diminish user experience, more intense animations that are flashy and obtrusive can prove detrimental.

There are technical concerns with animation, too. Plugin-reliant technologies like Flash, while once a prominent format for animated ads, should be avoided when there are formats that are more universally available such as HTML5. This especially applies if the same ad is being used as part of a mobile campaign. Keep an eye on file size, as it can significantly increase with the addition of animations and multiple slides or frames of content.

9. Responsive Design/Alternate Sizes

Responsive design is key to future-proofing your ad designs and maximizing their impact on a mixture of screen sizes and devices. As mobile traffic rises, designing mobile ads that are focused on smaller ad formats becomes increasingly vital to success.

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