Online Advertising: The 3 obstacles you must overcome to create an effective banner ad


We’ve been asked this question a number of times: how do you create an effective online banner ad that stands apart from the hundreds of thousands of others out there?

I would like to help answer that question by giving you the three major obstacles all banner ads face and options that you can use to overcome them.


Overcome this obstacle by asking yourself: how has your attention been diverted in the past when you were already doing something?

  • If you listen to a radio station with ads while driving to work, which ads did you actually pay attention to?
  • When you are watching TV and your show cuts to commercial, which kind of commercial stopped you long enough to keep you from changing the channel (or looking at your phone)?

In the online world, there are six elements that can help capture attention:

  • Color (think bright and bold)
  • Size (ad size, font size, image size relative to what’s around it)
  • Shape (rectangle verses square)
  • Motion (animation)
  • Position (beginning, end, middle of competing content)
  • Text (content and style)

Use the bullets above as an attention checklist. In order to get a visitor’s attention, you must make something that stands out beyond the content and other ads that it’s competing with.

Visitors are already doing something. You need to get an idea of what they’re already doing and  looking at so you can be bold enough to stand apart.


We’ve seen ads that know how to get attention. Only about 10 percent of those ads though can keep it long enough to have a chance at a click.

This is the hard part. To genuinely get a visitor’s interest you must meet one of their existing needs.

You’re not stupid. You advertise on a site because you know there are real potential customers there. Not only have you matched up demographics, but you’ve also thought about values and lifestyle.

So take that information a step deeper by doing this in your ad:

1.       Identify ONE major need or intense desire that already exists in these visitors (that your offer meets on some level).

2.       Establish relevance (my ad/product is worth your time because…)

3.       Intensify it (make them feel the burn)

Remember, you’re trying to interrupt someone. Your message has to be immediately understandable. You might not have time to state the problem, so experiment with an implied problem statement (a statement that implies a problem that you have a solution to).


An online ad without a call-to-action is ineffective if you want a click.  Visitors understand that they can click your banner. Your job is to intensify their need to click:

  • Offer something

o   Free this or that

o   Discount or promo code on click

o   Get this or that (download, info, etc.)

  • Make a portion of your ad look clickable (this is about formatting)

o   Button with bold coloring

o   Blue Underlined text (even though it’s not a text link)

  • Try leaving key pieces out (and draw attention to it)

o   It’s like leaving a short message on the phone to a friend

o   “Jon, can you call me back? I need to talk to you. Bye”  implies that there is something important that needs to be talked about and requires me to respond to uncover the subject

o   The same technique has been used to generate response in ads on subjects that are interesting to visitors


Robert McKee defined creativity in writing for the screen as “creative choices of inclusion and exclusion.” Just like a screen writer, you’ve got a whole world of value and you’re limited to some sort of box or space in time to talk about it. Every online banner ad that wants to get a click must get past these three obstacles. Be creative in beating these obstacles by making strategic decisions on what to include and exclude.

While these ideas are enough to get you started, they certainly aren’t the end all be all for creating banner ads. How have you beat these obstacles in your banner ad testing?

Related resources

How to optimize your banner ad performance while complying with new privacy regulations — Webinar, Thursday, March  31, 2011, 1-2 PM.

This Just Tested: PPC vs. banner ads?

Sherpa 101: Online Display Ads, Part II – Copywriting, Design Tips & Ad Networks + How to Counter ‘Banner Blindness’

Optimization Summit 2011 – June 1-3

Photo attribution: FindYourSearch

You might also like
  1. Bonnie says

    Jon, May I use some of this information in our media kit. It’s GREAT!! We have a very targeted audience of business users. I will be glad to email you more details. Thanks so much for this article.

    1. Jon Powell says

      Hi Bonnie,

      Thanks for reading! I’d be interested in seeing the details. 🙂 My email is

  2. Joe says

    Thank you, Jon. This is a very great piece of information. I keep learning from you guys as much as I can. Totally awesome.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.