This post has been updated as of June 2019
In April of 2009, we decided to look at running some banner ads on several high-profile, design-related sites. Over the last decade, advertising in our corner of the web has come a long way. There are loads of highly trafficked design sites with excellent content and affordable ad slots. On top of this, the rise of targeted ad networks such as The Deck has made it much easier to get in front of the right crowd.
What are banner ads, and how do they work?
A banner ad, also known as banner advertising, is a method of brand advertisement on websites that makes use of a rectangular image that’s stretched across either the top, bottom, or side of a website.
These banners not only promote a brand, their services, and products, but they also tend to link directly to a page where internet users can get more information and possibly even make a purchase.
What makes a banner ad effective?
Effective banner ads make it very clear what the brand is promoting to viewers. There’s very little wiggle room for teasing here, as the entire idea is to give the reader a solution to a problem and hope they click on your ad to get more information.
Another reason these ads are considered adequate is that they’re generally placed right within the reader’s eyesight, making it very prevalent. These ads can also be used with modern targeting practices to help get your ads in front of those who’d find them the most useful.
Are banner ads worth it?
While banner ads have proven effective in the past, as more and more marketing efforts are moving towards email and social media marketing, the overall effectiveness of banner ads has been rapidly decreasing.
According to Marketing Insider Group, banner ad click-through rates have fallen to less than 0.1%. Does that mean the creation and use of banner ads is a dead art? Not necessarily, and here’s why.
Between 1994 and today, the total number of people who have access to the internet has grown from 30 million to more than 7 billion. With that said, banner ads are expected to see a 7% growth this year alone, amounting to more than $44 billion.
While banner ads are still considered relevant to many marketers, here’s why they’re quickly falling out of favor:
- Bots – Automated scripts scour the internet and click on advertiser banners for various reasons, including attempting to gain revenue for sites that solely rely on banner clicks for revenue.
- View fatigue – Viewer fatigue is very real. Internet users feel so bombarded by ads that most of us have trained ourselves to tune them out and even report them as irrelevant.
- Ad blockers – Internet users are sick of ads and go out of their way to download various ad blockers to keep them out.
What our 2009 research found
We put together several banners, dedicated landing pages, and put conversion tracking in place to measure the results. When looking into this process initially, there weren’t many write-ups from advertisers on what worked, what didn’t, and just how effective the ads had been for them. In the interest of helping fill that void, here’s the process we went through, and some of the surprising results that eventuated.
Coming up with the ad creative
As part of the merger between Campaign Monitor and MailBuild a decade ago(!), we added a stack of new features to make it easy for designers to earn passive income off their clients through email marketing. In a nutshell, you can create a sub-account for each client, set the price they should pay, and earn a profit every time they send.
We figured this was something many designers would find useful, and it became the focus of our banner ads and associated landing pages. Here are the three ads we ran with initially.
For the final design of these ads, we enlisted the help of the clever team at Newism, the same team that coded various versions of the Campaign Monitor site. We couldn’t have been happier with the results.
The landing pages
As well as testing multiple ad creatives, we decided to put together several dedicated landing pages for the campaign. We’d randomly display a different landing page for each visitor and measure which one converted best. We brought in the amazing Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain (who designed our website way back when) and Brad Hayes to help with the design.
Landing page 1: Earn money in your sleep
This key for this page was to promote the idea of earning money in your sleep. We highlighted the three simple steps involved (rebrand, resell, and then profit) and included an inline signup form allowing those interested to sign up and start using the app on the spot.
Landing page 2: Are you a designer?
This was definitely the most controversial landing page of the four. We took the fact that Campaign Monitor is built for designers to the extreme by including a modal window that overlays the landing page, asking the person if they’re a designer or not.
If they clicked “You betcha,” they’d be shown the page below that highlights how easy it is to resell with Campaign Monitor.
If they clicked “Nope,” the landing page behind the modal would fade out with a message explaining that “It’s not you. It’s us.” We then linked to several other ESPs that they might consider checking out that are built for a less targeted audience.
We received several emails from people complimenting us on being open and honest with people. The truth is that we’ve always referred potential customers to our competitors when we know they’re not the right match.
It’s how we’d want to be treated, so it’s only fair that we do the same to our customers.
Landing page 3: Modal-free just for designers
In the interest of testing what sort of impact the modal window might have on conversions, we also tested it against the very same landing page modal-free. The page was exactly the same otherwise, so should provide a nice comparison.
Landing page 4: Our home page
In the past, we’ve just pointed people to our home page, which, in itself, is a landing page aimed at converting people to give us a try. Will it out-perform the dedicated landing pages that have a clearer connection to the ad creative?
Over April and May of 2009, we booked advertising spots with The Deck, along with Smashing Magazine, Six Revisions, Webdesigner Depot, Webresources Depot, and CSS Elite.
We set up a redirect script on our servers that’d choose one of the four landing pages above for each visitor and pass through any of the required parameters in the URL so we could track everything with Google Analytics.
We had several goals set up, so we could track important things like a customer signing up, sending a test campaign, and becoming a paying customer.
We judged the performance of each banner ad and landing page on the number of visitors that signed up to Campaign Monitor, as opposed to basing it purely on revenue.
The best performing banner ad
The blueprint banner ad outperformed the other two with a conversion rate of 3.5% resulting in 370 people signing up for Campaign Monitor. Here are the full results.
The best performing landing page
This one surprised everyone. We were concerned that the modal window would result in a lower conversion rate because of the barrier of an additional click. I was pleasantly surprised to see this page gave us 25% more conversions than the next-best-performing page. Possibly the biggest surprise of all was that the “Earn money in your sleep” page with the inline signup form didn’t give us one new customer. Here are the full results:
The best explanation we could provide for this is that people like to check out a product more before signing up (there was no link to the product from the page; the focus was on the signup form). The other landing pages provided links back to the site where an interested customer could take a feature tour, check out the pricing, etc. before signing up. On top of this, the form had a total of eight required fields. Reducing this to the bare minimum and asking for the customer data after they signed up might have helped convert more.
The best performing advertiser
From the day we turned these ads on, Fusion Ads was consistently our best converter.
We also saw good conversion rates from other advertisers, which you can see in the results below.
It’s important to keep in mind that these are conversion rates only, and don’t give any indication of the true return on investment. For example, while The Deck has been our second-best converter, it’s also more expensive than any of the other ad slots. Because of the rates we’ve managed to negotiate with some providers, we can’t share the costs associated with each ad spot.
Was it worth it?
When this was originally published, we only recovered around 25% of all expenses in revenue from new customers. Having said that, a large percentage of our customers continue to use our software for an extended period of time. This means the exercise was most likely worth it, even if it took us a while to see results.
The most important element was actually testing everything as we went. By putting in a little extra work, we could quickly gauge which ad creative, landing page, and advertiser was giving us the best results and react accordingly.
We then continued to refine the winning landing page using Google Website Optimizer to improve conversions further. On top of this, we tried some new ad creative and threw a few new advertisers into the mix.
Banner ads are advertisements that get right to the point, something that many consumers appreciate. With little to no back-and-forth, internet users can get right to a product that they find interesting, with little hassle.
However, with the sheer number of ads online, people are tuning out. In fact, more and more internet users are downloading at least one ad blocker to help rid themselves of repetitive, annoying adds. So are banner ads really worth the investment? That choice falls on you and your brand.
Here are some key points to consider:
- Many websites rely on banner ads for their revenue
- While prevalent, banner ads are quickly losing favor over social media marketing and email marketing
- While the revenue from banner ads may be there, internet users are equipping more ad blockers to keep annoying adds out
Believe it or not, there are many types of digital marketing advertisements that may suit your brand better. Check out these 5 types of advertising campaigns that are sure to help your small business.
This post was originally posted in June 2009