101biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: advertising design 101

by Stephanie

i am excited to welcome back kate caprari of three square design for another great biz ladies post (check out her previous post about getting your buisness online). kate is a web designer and digital ad expert, and works with many of design*sponge’s advertisers to perfect their online presence. she is celebrating the launch of Ads With Intention—a new project that specializes in digital ad design for small businesses—and today she will be sharing with us how to create the perfect online advertisement. thanks kate for helping us advertise with panache!--stephanie

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As more blogs develop loyal followings of readers, online advertising has become an incredible way to target your product to the perfect audience.

Look to the right of this post. Which ads catch your eye? Which ones have you noticed before, and which ones entice you to learn more about the product?

Banner ads are often the first point of contact a new customer will have with your company. A tiny square on the side of a blog might not seem like much, but it can have a big impact if it’s designed to engage your audience upon first glance.


Customers get annoyed by them

We all love finding a great new product that makes our life easier or more beautiful. Many merchants approach ads with the idea that they need to “trick” customers into clicking their ads and landing on their website. In fact – the truth is just the opposite. Set a clear intention for your ad – plan from the point of view that you have a fantastic product, and people will be excited, happy, and interested to learn about your work.

This works particularly well for artists and small businesses. In our mass-produced world where everything from Wal-Mart and Target starts to look the same, readers of blogs like Design*Sponge are looking for alternatives.

People never click on them

It can be discouraging to wonder how your little ad will ever got noticed in the sea of the Internet, but by targeting your ads correctly and creating a good design, you’re miles ahead of the game.

Good starting points for where to advertise include blogs that you like to read and ones that feature products similar to yours in their editorial coverage. Finding the right audience will significantly increase the effectiveness of your ad.

They are all ugly with flashy blinky parts

Many online ads do use flashing headlines and gimmicks to attract their audience, but luckily there’s an alternative.  I recommend keeping ads simple in message and lovely in design.


Ad Sizes – the Wild West

Blogs are still so new and unregulated that each owner invents the rules as they go along. There is no higher blog power making sure that everyone follows consistent rules – which is great if you’re looking for unique content that doesn’t follow trends – but can be frustrating if you’re trying to design an ad program across multiple publications.

One blog might require their sidebar ads to be 200 x 150, while another asks for 180 x 150, and still another has only square ads at 130 x 130. (Helpful note: whenever you see an ad size listed as “a number x another number” the dimensions are in pixels, width first, then height.)

In order to advertise on each of these blogs, you’ll need to redesign your ad to fit the specifications. A majority of blogs (D*S included) follow standard ad sizing specs, but you’re likely to run across all different shapes and sizes around the web.

Ad Options

There are two basic options for ads: static or animated. Static means that your ad is one frame, which stays consistent the entire time; animated ads include a series of frames, each with a different image or an unfolding story.

Studies report that animated ads produce a more immediate response or “impulse” purchase. Static ads are useful for building brand-recognition and long-term loyalty. (Yahoo Insights Strategy Snapshot, April 2009) In most cases, you’ll be advertising a product or a service that you want customers to buy right away, so animated ads are a good choice.

Within the animated ad category, there are two different technologies used to build an ad with moving parts: animated GIFs or Flash.  Generally, animated GIFs are cheaper to develop, easier to implement, and more widely accepted. If you have a specific idea for a really cool Flash ad, most likely it can be created, just remember that your audience might not stick around to watch the whole animation.

What to Include in Your Ad

Your ad will only have a fraction of a second to attract a customer, so if you use an animated ad, each frame should stand on its own. Rotating 3-4 of your best products is a good rule of thumb to follow. When selecting your products, think like a designer and choose the images that will be most eye-catching at a small size.

Also be sure to include your company name, for brand recognition. If your .com address is part of your brand (like Zappos.com or Amazon.com), then use this name. Otherwise, there’s no need to include a complete URL. Online ads are always set up to link to your website – or even a specific page on your website – when a user clicks them.


When to run your ads

If you’re having a sale or special promotion, that’s a good time to run an ad. But I’ve also noticed that a lot of merchants tend to do this all at the same time – for example, just before the holidays or Valentine’s Day. An alternative strategy is to run your ads during slower periods, like March and April, or during the dog days of summer.

During these less popular times, blogs might have discounted rates or be more open to negotiation. You’re also more likely to land above the fold (in the top few ads on the page) rather than competing with the rush of holiday ads.

Tracking your results

Another post in the biz ladies series, Advertising 101 for Small Business Owners, written by D*S’s talented ad manager AC, offers a fantastic in-depth look at how to track your ad metrics. I’d highly recommend checking out this article and diving in as far as your interest takes you.

A great feature of Design*Sponge and certain other blogs is that you can run as many creatives as you’d like at no extra charge (a “creative” is the industry term for one particular ad). You can design two or three different ads, which can then be optimized to show the most popular one more often.

Click-through rates are the basic test of ad effectiveness. That is, how many people saw your ad compared to how many people clicked through to your website. High click-through rates are almost always a good sign; however, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.

Recent studies show that people who view an online ad have a greater likelihood of visiting the brand’s site and Googling the company, beyond just the basic click-through from the ad (Online Publishers Association, June 2009).

The best measure is to keep track of your sales and see if they correspond with times when you have ads posted around the web.


If you’re savvy with graphic programs, then you can design an ad yourself. Check with the blogs where you’re advertising, and be sure to follow pixel and file size guidelines.

If you need additional help, you can hire a designer to create your web ad. Ask your regular web designer, or I’d also be delighted to help you – please visit Ads with Intention, my company that specializes in designing digital ads for small businesses.

To sum up, advertising on blogs is a great way to target specific populations and put your products in front of a handpicked audience. By creating a thoughtful and well-designed ad, you’re beginning a dialogue with the customer and inviting them to learn more about your work. If you have a great product, customers will respond in kind. Good luck!

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