We are all familiar advertising with banner ads, also called Content or Display advertising, that fill the margins of our favorite websites. Unfortunately for advertisers, over the past five years multiple researchers and internet advertising bodies have documented banner ad blindness, the condition in which website visitors ignore banner ads. Is it time to abandon banners?
Measuring Banner Ad Effectiveness
The first question to decide if banners ads should go the way of the dodo is whether they influence visitors to do something that you want them to do on your website, called a conversion. This is a question we can answer. Ad serving and tracking technologies today can analyze whether someone visited a page where an ad appeared and later converted on the advertiser’s website, even if the visitor did not click the ad. This conversion is a view-through conversion. A/B testing with blank ads or public service announcement (PSA) ads has consistently shown that banner ads boost conversions by 10-20%. This boost is often what makes the difference between losing campaigns and producing campaigns.
Overcoming Banner Ad Challenges
Since banner ads can produce a lift in web conversions in spite of measurable banner blindness, we need to understand what factors contribute to banner blindness and how solve them. Advertisers are aware of three main challenges. The first is simply viewability. Until recently, the denominator for calculating click-through and view-through rates was impressions, or the number of times a web page served a banner ad. The main problem is that upwards of 46% of banner ads end up “below the fold”, which means a visitor did not scroll far enough down a page to see the ad. Recent standards in viewability, now defined as at least half of an ad showing in the browser window for at least a second, have helped advertisers know that their ads had the opportunity of being seen. Many banner ad platforms including Google AdWords now allow advertisers to bid only on viewable impressions.
The second challenge facing advertisers was that banners can be boring. People using the Internet expect a more media-rich experience now, including video or application like interfaces. Advertising platforms have started to roll out “engagement ads” that offer more interactive experiences. Important for advertisers is that they are usually charged only when people engage with the ads.
Now that there are technologies to insure that banner ads are viewable and engaging, we need to focus on ad content. Today’s consumers are savvier about marketing messages and know when they are being fed a marketing line. To address this third the challenge, advertisers are adopting native advertising, a form of advertising focused on their target market’s desire for relevant or just plain fun information, rather than mottos or taglines.
Even though viewable, engaging ads and content are a good start, the true revolution in banner advertising is not changing the banner, but rather the audience. The direct marketer’s mantra is to show the right message to the right person at the right time, and “big data” has made this increasingly possible for banner advertising. Big data is a catch-all term that describes the algorithmic selection of audiences for ads based on qualifying characteristics and patterns of behavior. Advertisers can now use media buying vendors who select audiences based on the profiles that you provide, like data from your own customer relationship management software. There are also many self-serve platforms like Facebook and Google, where you can choose combinations of demographics, in-market status, or interest profiles to create your audience. These platforms can also generate expanded audience reach based on the visitors who have already come to your site and from your email lists. These expanded audiences are usually 10-100x larger than your current visitor or customer lists, and in my experience, they convert at twice the rate of audiences you create yourself.
Future of Banner Ads
The future of banner ads is secure, and the greatest hope for these ubiquitous ads is that customers and clients will see ads that are more engaging, meaningful and useful than ever before. However, the use of big data in advertising has privacy implications, and the recent White House report on privacy issued some recommendations that may affect how such advertisers use this data in the future.