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Best Practices: Digital Display Advertising

This guide serves to help tech marketers and advertisers better plan and measure the success of their display campaigns. The following insights are based on digital campaigns run on UBM Tech’s IT media sites, InformationWeek, Dark Reading and Network Computing.

While these best practices focus on “clicks,” it is important to note that the click is just one measurement of performance. We recommend that clients also track visitor behavior on their sites. Did visitors bounce off the page immediately? Did they take any action on the site? Were they engaged with the content and visit more pages? A high volume of visitors who bounce are not as valuable as a smaller group of engaged prospects. Advertisers should also track the sites that are sending top prospects as a part of their campaign’s success metrics.

For reference, these are the average industry clickthrough rates (CTR) for standard-size banner ads. Click the images to enlarge.

What is a “good” CTR?

“Good” varies because every advertiser has a different campaign and goals. One client may expect a .10% CTR of standard banners, but another might expect .50% CTR based on an aggregate that includes standard and high impact ads like welcome ads and bookends.

What banner types perform best? (refer to image for size names)

  • Standard banners: Leaderboards outperform MPUs. We believe this is because the rectangle, MPU position, is often lower on the page than the top leaderboard.
  • High Impact: Based on CTR, bookends and welcome ads outperform standard banners.

Is size a factor in their performance?

No, not necessarily. However, a large leaderboard (970x250 versus 728x90) can perform much better than a normal leaderboard, so it is worth testing.

What location performs best?

Above the fold always performs better than below.

Is animation a success factor?

Based on our data, animation does seem to help with performance, but that’s not a guarantee.

What calls to action (CTAs) get the highest response?

Clear, simple calls to action work best. If you review the top performing ads, each of them ask the viewer to take some sort of action, e.g. learn more, download now, watch video, regardless of whether the advertisement is for a product, service or a white paper.

ExamplesCTR Examples of ads that have run on with their CTRs

If the ad is animated, should the CTA be on the final frame? 

Yes, however we recommend that a CTA be shown throughout the ad whenever possible.

What CTAs should advertisers avoid?

Ads that perform poorly are for something niche, i.e. only relevant to a small portion of the audience, or very broad. Ads without a clear to action also perform poorly.

How soon can an advertiser tell if an ad is performing well or needs to be stopped?

Ads should have at least 10,000 impressions served before an ad is deemed good or bad.

What could an advertiser do to save a campaign in trouble?

Optimization tactics include frequency capping and above-the-fold delivery only. It is also important to evaluate if there are certain areas on the site where the ad is performing better. A request for new creative should be a last resort.

How can contextual targeting affect CTRs?

Contextual targeting helps if the advertiser’s message is truly more meaningful to that audience. Contextual targeting can actually backfire if you use a broad message, but ask for a narrow audience.

Should advertisers test different creative?

It is recommended that advertisers test multiple versions and it is best to update creative regularly (at least monthly).

There will never be a single solution for successful digital display advertising campaigns, but we've learned that "good" ads should meet these criteria:

  • Clear call to action
  • Prominent, above-the-fold positions
  • Animation
  • Test, test, test!
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