This article was updated in January 2023
Because brands have access to various advertising platforms and other digital tactics (social ads, SEO, search ads, email marketing, etc.), display ads are sometimes seen as an obsolete form of advertising for marketers. But, digital display ads are still relevant because they play a major role in driving potential clients down the funnel. Read more about the benefits of digital display advertising on Google here.
Over the years, our digital marketing agency has seen and managed hundreds of Google Ads display campaigns. For that reason, we have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Here are 14 best practices to follow when designing display ads for the Google Ads Network:
1. Create Multiple Formats
There are over 40 display ad formats on the Google Network. The more ad formats you include in your mix, the more opportunities for ad impressions you get. That being said, creating multiple variations of your banner in all the available sizes can be time-consuming. We’d recommend focusing on the standards and most effective banner sizes available (the top 10 performing banners sizes make up 90% of impressions in the Google Ads Network).
Top-performing ad sizes according to Google:
- Large Rectangle: 336 × 280
- Inline rectangle: 300 × 250
- Half Page: 300 × 600
- Large Mobile: 320 × 100
- Leaderboard: 728 × 90
If you have the resources available, our we also recommend testing these banner sizes:
- Mobile: 320 × 50
- Wide skyscraper: 160 × 600
- Main Banner: 468 × 60
- Large leaderboard: 970 × 90
1.1 Use Responsive Display Ads
In 2023, every display campaigns should leverage Responsive Display Ads. In a nutshell, you will provide Google or other platforms with a few different images in square and landscape format as well as your logo, headlines and descriptions.
This way, Google will automatically adjust and combine your assets to fit a wide variety of placements thanks to machine learning.
By doing so, you will, not only save so much time, you will also have a broader reach because your assets will fit most available ad space. You are also expected to hit better results because Google will automatically build the best performing ad at the time of the impression.
For top performing Responsive Display Ads, do not overlay your logo on images, avoid overlay text, avoid overlay buttons, and make sure your product is the focus of the images. Learn more here.
2. Add Your Logo
The main purpose of display advertising is to increase brand awareness and drive more traffic to your website. In order to build brand awareness, your company logo should be included in the ad, and clearly visible.
The latest Under Armour campaign with brand ambassador Steve Curry is a great example. Not only is the fashion brand’s logo in the left corner, but the company’s name is also mentioned in the bottom right corner. As a bonus, the website URL is even mentioned in the CTA (we wouldn’t recommend this practice unless, like Under Armour, your website domain is incredibly short.)
3. Present A Crystal Clear Value-Proposition
Your value proposition is what will get your audience to click on your ad. The value proposition showcases your service or product’s best features. Ask yourself, what makes you different from your competition? Why should people click on your ad? This could be an innovative feature or an attractive offer (50% off, free shipping, etc.). This feature should take up the most space in your ad and be the first thing that your viewers’ eyes are attracted to.
Take a look at the Dollar Shave Club’s ad: their value proposition “free shipping” is written in bold white letters (every word is even followed by an exclamation mark, no one can miss it!). The product image is simple and high quality. In one swift look, the user knows this company sells razor and they can get them delivered to their house, for free.
The same thing goes for WordPress, one of the most popular CMS out there: they position themselves as a cost-effective alternative when building a website: “plans starting at $4 a month”
Smile Direct Club sets its customers’ expectations right from the start. This brand’s unique selling points are clearly stated in the banners: customers will get a straighter smile quickly, at a fraction of the price they would pay for braces.
4. Choose An Enticing Call-to-Action
Adding a button on your ad has been known to increase the click-through rate. Use a bold color to make it stand-out and choose your words carefully. Phrases like ‘Click Here,’ ‘Learn More,’ ‘Watch Now,’ or ‘Register Here’ will prompt users to click on your ad. The CTA is also usually placed in the bottom half of a display ad.
We love the next example. The software company Vimeo took their CTA strategy to the next level. First off, they added their value proposition on the button, and they even mentioned it in a fun and light-hearted way in the ad copy.
The following display advertising campaign by the Guardian Jobs focuses almost entirely on the call to action. First off, the fun and contrasting pastel colors will grab anyone’s attention. Because the ad is simple and not too crowded, the call-to-action can be long and extremely precise, which is something you don’t see too often in display advertising.
In a B2B setting, creating display ads for whitepapers or ebooks might be a great solution to attract more leads. DocuSign tells their potential customers exactly what to do with a straight to the point CTA.
5. Keep Your Designs Simple
The infamous KISS rule (keep it simple stupid) clearly applies to digital display ads. Users browsing the web will probably glance at your ads for a view seconds only. In that time frame, they should be able to know what is your brand and what’s your core message. The more clutter, the fewer people remember the core message. Make sure your ads are simple visually and content-wise.
For example, let’s dissect these AllBirds display ads:
- Real-life product shot
- Brand logo
- Less than 5 words headline
- Shop Now CTA
With such simple backgrounds, the product is always the main focus. The ad copy showcases the value proposition in a few words only, and the CTA is clear and concise.
6. Frame The Image
People are naturally drawn to images inside boxes. If your ad has a white background, make sure there is, at least, a small 1px line outlining your ads, just like Uber did:
7. Choose Your Fonts Carefully
Over the years, our paid media agency has seen hundreds of display banners. One of the worst mistakes made by brands is selecting hard-to-read fonts. Stay away from cursive fonts, extremely thin or small fonts, or all uppercase copy.
We always recommend using distinctive fonts or sizes for headers and descriptions. Also, try to keep the text to a minimum (we don’t recommend going over 4 lines of text.)
These Shopify banner ads showcase these best practices: the headline and the description are different sizes, the sans-serif font is easy to read, and the font colors contrast well with the pale background.
8. Strong Imagery
Imagery, whether its illustration or photos, can take a display ad to a whole new level. Be mindful of the images you select: they should be meaningful and support the messaging.
This Meyers’ ad campaign reflects this concept really well. Although the final product is quite simple, the imagery plays a major role in getting the message across. The product bottle mix with the roses supports the core message: Meyer’s offers a new, limited edition, rose scent.
Keep in mind that imagery isn’t necessarily needed. Bold colors and fonts can also produce significant results. This Hulu display ad is a great example.
9. Make Sure Your Landing Page and Your Design Match Your Brand Guidelines
Your display ads should closely match your brands’ guidelines to ensure brand consistency between your marketing efforts. When your brand personality is constantly changing from one medium to another, you’ll have a hard time creating brand awareness and brand loyalty.
Also, make sure your ads visually matched your landing page in terms of color and fonts. A smooth transition from your ads to your landing page will increase trust and user experience.
Brand consistency doesn’t only apply to visuals and fonts. It also applies to the message, the tone and the word choices. If you are presenting a particular offer on your display ad, your landing page should give information on that specific offer. No one wants to look around and dig to find what the information they are looking for. A generic landing page (such as your site’s homepage) often leads to less engagement and a higher bounce rate. So, make sure your landing pages are always tailored to your ads.
In the example above, Quickbooks’ “90% off” offer is at the center of their display advertising campaign. The same offer is also the first thing a user sees when he clicks on the ad. The banner and the website also uses the same fonts and colors which helps with consistency.
10. Install Urgency
Great display banners entice people to take action NOW. This can be done in various ways. The most obvious one: text that suggests a limited offer, an end date, an exclusive deal, etc.
This tactic is incredibly popular for e-commerce stores with frequent sales and special offers. In the example below, Roots uses text like “Limited Time Only” and “Shop Now” to drive action.
Fabletics played a similar strategy with their advertising campaign. Their 70% off deal is said to be “The Deal of the Decade”. This statement implicitly says that this deal doesn’t come by often and users won’t want to miss it.
11. Test Animated Banners And Static Banners
Animated ads are available on the Google Ads Network. Animated banners are more complex and more costly to produce, but they usually perform better than static images.
That being said, the animated elements shouldn’t distract from your ad’s core messaging. Your animation shouldn’t last longer than 15 seconds. Make sure your core messaging, or at least your brand logo, can be seen in the first few seconds. Plus, your last frame should present a call to action.
Our digital marketing agency suggests testing both formats to see what works better for your brand. Your animated banners need to be in an HTML5 format.
12. Tailored Your Messaging
Banners ads are often used in two different settings: prospecting and remarketing. In one case (prospecting), users have never been to your website, they might not even know your brand. In the other case (remarketing), users have visited your website but haven’t converted. Take this information into consideration when designing your ads and writing ad copy.
Fizz display ad campaign is a great example of tweaking the messaging depending on the buyer’s journey. When I saw the first ad (left) I had never been on Fizz’s website. Once I clicked on it, I saw the second ad (right) not too long after.
The first ad showcases Fizz’s unique selling point: free modem, fast delivery, no hidden fees. The second one, tell me to come back to the site as Fizz is the winning solution for my problem. Also, note that the branding is consistent from one ad to the other which helps with brand recall.
Banner ads can be personalized based on other targeting factors such as location. Stripe produced different banners based on its users’ location. That’s a great way to customize your banner ads easily and make them more appealing to your target audience.
13. Use Unique and Fun Ad Copy
Take time to think about your ad copy because it plays a major role in capturing your users’ attention. Clever taglines, questions, jokes, or bold statements can be as powerful as beautiful imagery or illustrations.
Let’s take a look at Patagonia’s recent display campaign. The play-on-word “Shell, Yeah!” is simple, bold, memorable, and it ties in with the product. We love that they paired that headline, with a straight to the point description: “Recycled Waterproof Jackets”, so everyone still knows what the ad is about.
UberConference’s display campaign is also quite interesting. Their ad copy “Taking meetings notes? What is this 2018?” is funny, and resonates with their audience. Asking a question is always an easy way to speak with your audience directly.
14. Test, Test, Test
Keep in mind that the best practices in this article are guidelines to help you produce high-engaging display ads. And, just because you check-off all these best practices doesn’t mean it’ll automatically work for your brand or your campaign. The best way to know what works and what doesn’t for YOUR brand is to A/B test different creatives.
Try different ad copies, different backgrounds, various images, multiple calls to action, to figure out which ad is achieving the best results.
Like BRITA, who tried different visuals to showcase their environmental impact. Sadly, we don’t have access to their data, but it would be interesting to know which ad worked best, the one with the plastic bottle or the one without. By collecting these insights, BRITA can adjust its creative strategy in the future.
And, the key to successful A/B testing, is to keep the number of test to a minimum. Try to focus on one thing, so in the end, you can really pinpoint what made a difference.
HR Block also did a great job at testing which ad copy drove the most traffic and the most conversion to their website.
*All the banners shown in this article came from moat.com
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marie-Joelle works at Bloom, a digital marketing agency, as the Director of Marketing. She's passionate about digital marketing tactics (from social media to web design) for B2B businesses looking to grow online.