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Rethinking the Banner Ad

a banner ad is a guaranteed- delivery micro-message-capsule

and doesn't require an immediate click to grow your business

There are 2 sets of viewers who see you banner ad, and you should cater for both.

Nearly all articles about web advertising concentrate on getting the clicks and click rates - and ignore the 94% to 99.5% of readers who are going to see your banner (or ad text) but don't click on it (at that moment in time).

What impression are they (the silent majority) left with (in their heads) after seeing the banner?

In February 2000 I wrote an article called Aspects of Web Advertising in which I described the alternative ways in which you can use banner ads.

As a publisher, we've been using banner ads for over 12 years to promote new articles, news headlines etc. As with any banner ad, I can measure in real time which article links or headlines are most popular, and kill those which have low interest. It's also a way to discover if a new subject area is going to be popular.

Many people just think of "banner ads" as a way to get people to click and visit their web site. That's as accurate as saying that you can use the pages in a newspaper to light a fire. It's technically accurate, but completely misses the point. A banner ad should be regarded as a communication which changes the way that someone thinks about your company, or changes their behaviour. When you ordered the banner ad, you bought the right to communicate a guaranteed number of times with potential customers, using an industry standard size window and format.

There are 2 sets of viewers who see you banner ad, and you should cater for both.
  • the most important set, are the 94% to 99.5% who are typically going to see the banner, but not click on it at that moment in time.

    What impression are they left with after seeing the banner?

    A well designed banner will convey the message that your company's name and logo are connected with a particular type of product or service. Most readers will not have a need to follow up that particular idea at the moment, but over a long period of time you can use banners for branding.

    The impression that you give the reader is that when they have a future need for your product or service, you are in that market. They can easily follow it up, because you have invested in advertising, which is a customer service. The advertising signposts you leave around the web mean they don't have to work hard to find you amongst more than 2 billion web pages.

    If your banner ad appears on a specialised portal, then readers can search for your company based on what they remember from the banner ad. The effect can be larger than the number which instantaneously clicked on the banner. If you have a short and memorable url, like, then show it in the banner ad, in blue underlined text like a link. Readers can remember short links long after after they see the original banner.
  • the next most important set are the 0.5% to 6% or so of viewers who instantly clicked to follow up on more information, when they saw the banner. Maybe they're just curious, or maybe they're actively researching for suppliers of your kind of products. You've made contact, but remember they're in control and can disengage at any time. Even if they're really interested, they're not going to add a $100,000 solid state disk to their shopping cart and charge it to Visa. What happens next depends on the value of the product or service, and what it's reasonable for a buyer to do. With careful planning, the web page they see next reassures them they've come to the right place and provides information they expected to see. It invites other actions by links which give them options to see more information, make contact with your company, or inititiate a buying process.

    The banner can filter interest for different types of products, and / or different types of customer. Viewers will self select a banner which looks like it's addressed to them. This can also backfire, if your message is too vague, because readers can also self select themselves out.

    A message which says "come to our event in Santa Clara next Friday " will work better than one which simply says "we're holding an event" with the location and date unspecified.

    What happens next will depend on what they see on the landing page they get routed to. If your web site doesn't make it easy for them to get more information, or it doesn't say anything at all which looks familiar, then you've just wasted a customer communication and you're in trouble.

    A good strategy is to repeat the banner ad on the target page, with some expanding text which says more than you could in the ad format. But if the banner contained your logo, and all your web pages include your logo, that's another familiar reference point.The reader doesn't think they've gone to the wrong place, and will invest a few more seconds to look at what's on that page.
Use banners for PR. When you launch a new product, then instead of running a banner ad which simply contains a picture of your product and the price, you can run simple text with the first line from your press release with your logo, and just lead readers into your press release. The click rates could be higher, but also as part of the process you have the satisfaction of knowing that 50,000 people, or however many banner impressions you bought, are aware of your news headline. And as I said in my original article, if you've bought and paid for an advertising communications medium which has a guaranteed delivery format and time frame, then you don't have to bother about taking the editor out to lunch.

The industry standard size for a banner ad from 1995 to 2002 was 468 x 60 pixels.

That's the same size as the block of text in the box below
you can say in lot in this space

More by the same author...
  • What's a Good Click Rate for a Banner Ad? - what you learn from testing banner ads - often results in you having to change the way you talk about your company in other places... your web site, your PR. Leaving this important task in the hands of graphics designers is lunacy. ...Later:- in 2010 - I updated this popular article to compare how banners compare to Google ads - in the same publication and with the same placement.
  • Think of Web Ads as Signposts - they can lead the right people to your destination. But give them a credible message so that the brain follows the mouse click for sound business reasons. Ideally the ad should also signal to the wrong type of customer they can filter themselves out at this point and not waste their time and yours by following this path.
Zsolt Kerekes - Publisher
Zsolt Kerekes, is the editor of

This article was published in July 2002 - so it talks about "banner ads". But the concepts discussed apply equally well to any kind of online ads.

Some of the concepts in this article (in particular the idea of using an ad-like delivery technology to deliver PR, editorial comments and micro news capsules) were adopted later by the social media industry to display tweets etc.

Although those industries didn't exist when this article was written.

SSD ad - click for more info

Many of these missing market segments don't even have names.

Hey - that means SSD-world is like a map of the US before Lewis and Clark.
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