5 Display Ads Best Practices to Use with Every Ad

by McKenzie Stanworth August 6, 2018

Display ads—in all their forms—are one of the most common advertising tools in today’s online world. In fact, you’ve probably already seen a few today as you browsed…but did you notice?

If you’re like most people and the ads were like most display ads, odds are that you don’t even remember seeing them. Banner blindness is a very real phenomenon—one that you want to avoid with your own display ads.

Chances are good you’re here because you want to make sure that others see and interact with your display ads as they browse, rather than ignoring them. Here are some tips to help you create ads that pack a punch and turn casual browsers into customers.

1. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

It can be tempting to try and get the most bang for your buck when it comes to display ads and throw as much on there as possible. However, it’s important to remember that many of the most common display ad sizes are small and too much information in a small space can be overwhelming, confusing or difficult to read.

Keep your messaging, imagery, and Call-to-Actions (CTA)  as clear and simple as possible.

It might not say a ton, but a simple, clean design that utilizes white space and a clear hierarchy can be incredibly effective.

2. Use High Quality Assets

Just because display ads are often small, that doesn’t mean you should cut corners with quality. Use high-quality imagery (whether that means photography or illustrations), legible typefaces and ensure that any brand elements such as logos are especially clear and crisp.

In addition, it’s a good idea to export at the highest quality possible while still staying under the 150 kb file limit used by Google Ads and always review exported images for quality before uploading.

3. Make It Stand Out

You want your ad to stand out from the page the visitor is viewing. Not just for aesthetic reasons, but also to ensure that your ads are approved by ad networks.

Design your display ads so they have clearly defined borders by bringing colors or images to the edge. Not only does this help with compliance, but it draws visitors’ eyes to the ad. After all, we naturally gravitate towards things in boxes.

If you are using a background that is white or may blend with the webpage, you can add a 1-2px grey border around all sides to define the edges.

This helps set the ad apart from the background and gives it good definition that attracts the eyes.

4. Be Relevant

As with all online marketing, you want your display ads to be targeted and relevant. It might be tempting to use a generic design and copy, but studies have shown that users are more likely to click on ads that they think are useful to them and their situation.

Make sure that you understand the target audience and tailor everything from imagery to text to that audience. Highlight sales, include unique selling points and try to show how whatever you’re advertising will affect your targeted user.

5. Stick to the Brand

There are too many reasons why this is important to discuss here, but I will try to touch on a few points. First, it is vital to maintain consistency across all deliverables and create a unified image for the company.

These Nike ads are a great example of this:

Each of these display ads has the same basic look and feel, so even if you’re looking at a different ad, your brain instantly connects the new ad with the old ad and associates it with Nike. Users trust things that are consistent and reliable and you as a designer should be doing all you can to encourage that trust.

Second, consistency creates brand recognition and loyalty. I’m sure you can easily picture brands for big companies like Apple or Wal-Mart. Their products are also easily recognizable (which again, builds trust). A company’s brand should be utilized across every touch point the user encounters and it’s your responsibility to see that through.

Bonus – Spell Check

Yes, this needs to be mentioned. We’ve all had those days where we are rushing to complete everything on time and skip this step.

Don’t do it.

Every ad you create should be spell-checked and proofread before publishing. These ads are generally either a customer’s first interaction with a brand or used to encourage previous visitors to complete the sales process and convert. Neither of those things are likely to happen if you are displaying an ad with a painfully obvious typo or grammatical error.

By skipping this step, you can end up negating all of the hard work you’ve put into creating trust in your brand.

Display Ads Done Right

There you have it! Some of these tips may seem obvious, but often the obvious is the most easily overlooked.

It can be tempting to use as many fancy effects as you can in an ad, but never underestimate the power of a simple design that is built on strong design principles and effectively communicates your message to the viewer.

As they say, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees—so by ensuring your designs are clear and free of distracting elements, you are making your marketing campaign that much more effective.

By the way, if you’d like some help putting together great display ads for your company, let me know here or in the comments. I’d love to help!

How do you approach display ad creation? Have any best practices you’d add to this list? Do you think display ads are worth investing in? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

  • Graphic Design

McKenzie Stanworth

McKenzie Stanworth

McKenzie has been designing for over 5 years and loves design work that allows her to strategically think through problems and come up with unique solutions (and hopefully take advantage of her OCD), particularly for site testing and optimization. When she’s not designing, happily formatting spreadsheets, or organizing everyone’s calendar at work, McKenzie likes to bake, kickbox, read, and spend time with her dogs.

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