While paid advertising is traditionally viewed as an outbound marketing tactic, it can be a huge value-add to your inbound strategy. Search and display ads pour a little fuel on the proverbial fires; they help drive website traffic and conversions while your SEO and social media strategies develop.
Since display ads through Google, Bing or social media are an investment, it’s important to have an effective advertising design to drive the preferred actions of your users. By incorporating some of these strategic and technical best practices into your designs, you can generate greater returns from your paid advertising budget.
1. Know Your Goals
Display advertising can really be separated into two broad categories: awareness and action.
Awareness display ads are meant to appear as much as possible. You want users to see them time and again and develop an understanding and awareness of your brand or solution. Awareness ads are ideal when your target audience has yet to identify their problem or when your goal is to position your brand in the market.
These ads may be planting the seeds of a problem or simply associating your brand with a solution. That way when the viewer inevitably has an issue, they remember your business as a solution. A key metric for measuring success with awareness ads is impressions.
Action ads are meant to drive conversions. They generally offer something of value to the viewer for clicking and filling out a form. This could be anything from a downloadable guide to a product demo with your team.
Awareness ads perform well when they have an emotional impact on your audience while action ads rely on timeliness and urgency to drive clicks. That’s why knowing what you’re trying to accomplish with your ad will ultimately inform your advertising design.
Bold, urgent headlines that emphasize exclusivity or scarcity are perfect for action ads but leave less of a lasting impact for an awareness ad. Cool colors like blues, greens and purples may have an emotional resonance with your viewer for an awareness ad but won’t drive action like warm tones such as reds, oranges and yellows.
2. Balance Brand Consistency with Compelling Content
Your display advertising campaigns are excellent ways to build your brand. They can easily reach a wide audience over and over again, associating your business with your preferred messaging and imagery.
That’s why it’s important that your advertising design has a considerable degree of consistency with your core brand. Implementing the same colors and fonts that a user would traditionally see on your website or other design work is an effective way to tie the ads back to your business.
Still, your display advertising can also be a place to experiment and flex your brand. On one hand, your ads have to stand out and capture attention. If you consistently use the same design over and over again or your brand color palette is generally more subdued, your advertising design is a place to play a little bit.
When designing your ads, identify the elements that will perpetually adhere to your brand and the elements that you can experiment with. For instance, perhaps your font and colors will always remain the same across all of your ads, but you experiment with illustrations instead of photography.
Your advertising can be a place to take risks. Even though many people can see your ads, they have a shelf life that you alone control. If a design doesn’t work or strays too far from your identity, pull them!
3. Favor Minimalist Design
Display ads are tiny. While social media ads have slightly larger canvases, banner ads on websites or on mobile can be quite tight. Even more challenging, display ads compete with a lot of other content for space and your attention.
That’s why it’s best to favor a minimalist design. Cut out excess imagery and copy and focus on what is most important.
The ideal advertising design communicates exactly what the viewer needs to know in as little time and space as possible. If it’s an action ad, what’s the offer you’re trying to promote and why should someone download it? If it’s an awareness ad, what’s the brand and why should someone know them?
Some marketers make the mistake of trying to communicate everything they think their viewer needs to know instead of creating something compelling enough to entice the viewer to learn more on their own.
When focusing on a minimalist design, it’s best to ensure that your ad features the following things:
- Logo or brand representation: A viewer should be able to glance at your ad and immediately know who it’s coming from
- Clear call-to-action or value proposition: The takeaway from the ad needs to be communicated clearly and quickly. If it’s a downloadable offer, there should be a download button.
- Strict character count: Again, display ads are tiny and fleeting. The more copy you incorporate the less likely it is to be read. 150 characters is a good standard to stick to.
Leveraging these essential elements in a creative way is how you can stand out from the noise and generate better results from your ads.
4. Create a Seamless Experience
In the same way that you shouldn’t distract from your message with excess imagery or copy, you shouldn’t distract from your message with irrelevant images and copy.
Your advertising design should reflect the experience or value that your user could receive by clicking on your ad. This is particularly true of action ads, but it rings true for awareness as well.
Essentially, do the imagery you use and the headlines you write align with the download or takeaway message from the ad? If you’re promoting a free trial of your product and the visuals in your ad are only available on the paid version, then that’s a recipe for a bad user experience.
Beyond that, does the look and feel of your ad differ dramatically from the landing page a user clicks out to? If it does, it can be jarring to the user and cause them to bounce from the page without converting, perhaps thinking they clicked the wrong ad.
The more you can set clear expectations for users in your advertising design and then deliver on them in the ultimate takeaway from the ad, the more seamless experience you create, leading to more conversions.
It’s also important to note that even if your ads are compelling if they are flat-out misleading, they may be denied by Google or other advertising platforms.
5. Test Frequently
As we’ve already covered, advertising is a great place to take risks with your brand and design style. While you are investing funds to get it out into the world, you can just easily stop those funds.
Much like how you can structure your advertising campaigns to test different content offers, you can also test different advertising designs. By creating multiple ads for the same offer, you can determine which design elements are generating better results.
Which headlines or copy choice drove the most conversions on your guide? Did photos or illustration ads generate more traffic to the website?
By testing early and often in your campaigns you can make better-informed decisions on what to do and what not to do with your advertising design in the future.
6. Remember Your Tech Specs
Whether it’s a banner ad or a social media ad, there are different technical specifications that you will have to adhere to in order to make sure your ads display properly, if at all.
While there are many display advertising sizes on the Google Display Network, the general maximum file size at the time of writing this is 150KB. High-resolution photography and illustrations can quickly eat up space with such a limited file size.
Not only is that another argument for favoring minimalist design, it’s also a reminder to remember your platform’s technical specifications as you’re designing. Adhering to certain resolutions or file sizes will shape the creative design choices you make or the character counts you have to work with.
Before beginning a design process for a campaign, review the platforms you plan to run your ads on and determine to think through what you can reasonably expect to create within the specifications.
The quality of your advertising design can make or break your campaigns. Designing eye-catching, compelling display ads will attract more visitors and convert more leads than bland ads that get lost in the noise.
Even still, advertising design is only one part of truly successful advertising campaigns. Before your ads can grab attention, you must also make sure you’re serving relevant content to the ideal audience, which starts with a comprehensive paid advertising strategy.
Chris is a Brand Marketer at New Breed where he is responsible for crafting design and video assets that support our brand. When he's not behind the camera, he enjoys kayaking and tending to his sourdough starter.