Person holding mobile device and scrolling

You’ve heard of the 5-second rule when it comes to dropping food on the ground, right? For me, it’s a 0-second rule, but to each their own. Well, it turns out that there is another 5-second rule for banner ads. The rule: A person is likely to glance at your ad from 1-5 seconds. If you follow this rule when creating banner ads, your digital ad game just got stronger.

That’s it! People don’t go online to surf for ads. They’re online to shop, stay connected, get informed, learn something, or be entertained.

So, in those 5 seconds or less, your ad needs to:

  1. Capture a person’s interest
  2. Tell them what they’re supposed to do
  3. Entice them to act (click!) and leave their current browsing session

With such a limited window of opportunity, I have a whole new level of respect for our designers who create these ads day in and day out.

What makes an ad more likely to be clicked? I sat down with Tim Mehlhorn, one of our developers at Two Rivers Marketing, to learn more. Tim provided some tips and best practices for an effective digital ad design.

Use effective ad sizes

Tim recommends sticking to the top-performing ad sizes according to Google:

  • 300×250
  • 336×280
  • 728×90
  • 300×600
  • 320×100

Remember: Location, location, location

Serving more impressions to any and all websites will not guarantee more clicks. Tim says, “If your goal is brand awareness then, yes, impressions are good. Yet, if your goal is conversions, you should be looking at conversion rates rather than impression numbers.”

For more clicks, the key is to place your ads on sites that are contextually relevant to your product, service, or audience. In other words, the more targeted the better — not a “spray and pray” approach.

And, Tim says, ad visibility is important. You may serve an ad, but it might not actually be visible or in the viewport of the screen. “It’s a topic that has been coming up more in the past year. Google has started to put visibility scores on their Google Marketing Platform reports.” Buy ad slots that have higher visibility scores, like at the top of the page or above the fold to increase your click chances.

Create a hierarchy

Your ads should all contain three key components. These components tell your audience what they need to know:

Make your logo visible, but not the focal point of your ad. You want your viewer to know who you are, but aim to make your value message and call to action (CTA) more prominent.

Your value message should take up the majority of space in your ad. Create a message that is short and to the point. Too much text will crowd your ad and may cause the viewer to skip reading it all together (remember the 5-second rule). Use as few words as possible to convey your message so that it is skimmable, clear, and to the point. Facebook has a 20 percent text rule to better serve viewers and, says Tim, that may be a good rule of thumb for all digital display ads.

You have their attention — great! Now you want to tell them what to do next. If you give your audience something to do, like “Learn more” or “Shop now,” they’re more likely to take action. Try to avoid generic CTAs like “Click here.” Think of what you want your viewer to do. Do you want them to learn more? To shop now? Buy now? To redeem an offer? What you want your viewer to do should reflect what the CTA messaging is. Tim says it’s best to have your CTA look like an actual button. Yes, the whole ad is clickable, but providing a designated button to push will increase your chances of a click. Humans click when we see a button (like the example below): We are conditioned to do so.

banner ad

Note: Facebook ads are the exception. Facebook puts its own call to action underneath the image, so there is no need to place the CTA in a button on the image itself.

Keep it simple

Tim recommends keeping your ads simple, straight to the point, but still eye-catching. Remember, your ad will only receive a glance for a few seconds at best.

Fonts and color
Limit the number of fonts you use in an ad to one or two. “The main thing with fonts in ads is to make sure they’re clear and legible,” says Tim. “On the bigger ads, there might be room for more of those decorative headline fonts, but when you get in to the smaller ads, I would avoid them.” Also, vary your text sizes; your headline and body copy should not be the same size. Lastly, make sure there’s enough color contrast. If your copy is on a colored background or photo, make sure there’s enough color contrast between the two.

You don’t have to use an image for the sake of using an image. Use images when it makes sense, and when you do, use only high-quality images if possible.

Keep it consistent

Make sure your ad is consistent with both your landing page and your brand. For display ads, try to match feel and tone from the page that they’re landing on to the ad colors, images, and text. Your landing page should be a continuation of your ad message so you don’t confuse your viewers. Also, the ad should be consistent with your brand, especially when doing a branding message ad campaign.

Phew! We covered a lot of ground; effective ad sizes, ad location, and keeping your digital ad design simple and consistent. If nothing else, remember this takeaway: you have less than 5 seconds to capture a viewer’s attention. If you keep that in mind, you’re sure to create some visually stimulating and effective banner ads.