In praise of the good old banner ad

While search advertising is where most businesses concentrate their online marketing, image (or “display”, or “banner”) ads are challenging again. Their performance needs to be measured closely, but there’s no reason not to do so. We’re finding that the keys to success are the same as they’ve always been – good targeting and good messaging – but these are easier to master than ever.

For most companies, I wouldn’t look any further than pay-per-click advertising. If the websites you want to advertise on aren’t prepared to guarantee performance by only charging for the business they provide, you have to ask why. So the easiest place to start with image advertising is Google AdWords, which can place your ads all over the web through a single interface, on a pay-per-click basis.

Google AdWords allows you to choose sites individually, or by category. It allows you to choose pages relevant to a particular subject. It allows you to choose an audience (including people who’ve visited your own site). And it allows you to choose a combination of these. That’s quite enough to be experimentation options for most advertisers.

As for the messaging, it’s easier than ever to create really good quality ads. Google AdWords’ “responsive” format just asks you for an image, logo and some words, and then creates ads to fit any of the dozens of different ad sizes found on the web. The designs are basic, but surprisingly effective. What they lose in sophistication they gain in image quality. Sharpness is key to an online advert looking good nowadays. If you’re going to provide your own ads though, you need to be using the HTML5 format. Fuzzy old JPEG designs look a bit amateur in comparison.

After that, all you need is to ensure you’re measuring the performance of the ads really carefully.