If you're like most businesses these days, your credit union's Web site incorporates banner ads.
Internet advertising is a growing force in the national ad market. eMarketer reports that basic display ads accounted for 21%, or $3.4 billion, of overall U.S. online ad spending in 2006; and a recent tracking study by GroupM predicts U.S. Internet ad spending will increase 50% this year. With so much advertising money being spent online today, you'd think Web site banner ads would be a slam-dunk for e-marketers.
While banner ads can be used as effective advertising tools, the strategy behind design, content, and screen placement is changing as getting messages to consumers becomes more challenging.
Researchers have been studying the effectiveness of banner ads for several years, and they first coined the term “banner blindness” in the late 1990s to describe the likelihood that people ignore banner ads – even when the content is relevant. Research also showed that recognition and recall of banner ads was lower for viewers performing a directed search for information, compared with viewers just browsing a Web site.
More recently, analysts at the Nielsen/Norman Group studied Web site viewers' mouse clicks and eye movements, and found that many people overlook banner ads (or content that resembles banner ads) on a Web page. Web site viewers tend to just glance at the top of the page, before settling into the center of the page, where primary information is placed.
Generating new buzz
Rather than turn away from banner ads, DigitalMailer is helping e-marketers find creative ways to attract viewers' attention with more effective ads. Many credit unions are side-stepping “banner blindness” and generating buzz by developing more eye-appealing ads using interactive technology, or by enhancing design and content.
Consider Northwest Federal Credit Union, a $1.5 billion credit union based in Herndon , VA. . Its old Web site had incorporated banner ads, but there were too many, they were static, and few people clicked on them, said Sandy McDonnell, NWFCU's Web Developer. That strategy changed when the credit union redesigned its Web site this past May ( www.nwfcu.org ).
“Now, we have one banner placement, positioned in the bottom half of the home Web page, that rotates every 15 seconds among six different ads,” said McDonnell, who changes out the ads monthly, if not twice a month, and always before an offer expires. “Our new approach keeps the ads simple and consistent – each has a header, an image and a call-to/click-through line,” she said. “Since the redesign, we've received great response from members and measured many more hits. Our banners get the most hits the first three days of the month.”
McDonnell says the key objectives of NWFCU's Website redesign are to get visitors to log on to home banking, apply for a loan or join the credit union – messages often included in its banner ad strategy. But in addition to NWFCU products and services, member education plays a role as well, she says. A typical ad line-up might include an employment ad, a mortgage promotion, an anniversary contest, and announcements of special events like upcoming financial-planning seminars and Shred-It Day.
“We also use banner ads along the side margins of the pages throughout the site and on top of our eLert messages,” said McDonnell. “We've found that ads unrelated to the page topic or eLert theme are more likely to get clicked on by viewers. Why click on a banner promoting the same information as the ad?”
Raising the banner
NWFCU, like many other consumer-based businesses today, has found success by implementing some basic changes to its banner ad strategy. At DigitalMailer, we've developed the following tips to help your Web site's banner ads grab the most attention:
- Banner ads should first and foremost draw in the viewer. Craft a clever, attention-getting message and design; make your message to “sell” secondary.
- FREE is still the most powerful word in advertising. Consider banner ads that give away “free” items related to the services you provide, bringing to mind your “for profit” products and services.
- For an effective ad design, consider a rolling-message banner combined with interactive elements and a call for action. Ask viewers to “click through” the ad.
- Position banner ads where they're easily seen by viewers within the first screen shot. Avoid placing ads where they require scrolling down to see them.
- Banner ads should be positioned on your home page. This helps drive click-through to the pages with product details, pricing and “closing tools.”
- Response rates tend to drop quickly after three or four impressions, so be sure to replace your banner ads often. Even if the featured product or service stays the same, viewers will take greater notice of messages and designs that change regularly.
Banner ads aren't going away anytime soon. But savvy e-marketers know to be most effective – and produce positive results – today's banner ads take a little extra work and creativity. The secret is in placement, message and variety. With the right elements in place, your banner ad program can paint a clear picture of what the buzz is all about.
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Ron Daly is President/ CEO of DigitalMailer, Inc., a digital communication and e-marketing provider that helps clients gain a strategic business advantage through eStatements, e-LERTS, e-newsletters, email and other virtual tools on the Internet. You can email Ron at email@example.com for more information on any topic found in our newsletters or Web site.