Why Niche Banner Ads Fail

Why Niche Banner Ads Fail

The following is an opinion piece on the state of niche web design/development banner ads. Have your own thoughts? I welcome you to discuss them in the comments!

Successful advertising campaigns are not produced by the publisher. The publisher just provides the real estate. It is up to the advertiser to fill that space with something worthwhile. Lately, it seems like advertisers have been slacking. They count too much on the sheer volume of impressions rather than the genuine appeal of an ad placement.

So what can be done to improve this rapidly sinking ship of mis-marketing? It starts with a mentality of being valuable.

Be Compelling, Not Just Present

Impressions for a website are an indicator of many potential visitors could click an advertisement. But high traffic can mask actual effectiveness. A truly effective advertising campaign should not have to rely on high traffic alone to reach a benchmark. Click through rates (CTR) are largely unaffected by overall traffic, but a much better metric of success.

“With such high traffic, we have a much higher chance of someone clicking our advertisement!”

This type of shotgun mentality is lazy. Do no pay extra money in order to avoid making truly effective campaigns. Do not think that success relies on volume of exposure rather than genuine appeal. That is backwards.

If you’re having problems catching fish, don’t just dilute the pond — pick better bait! This concept applies to online advertising. If an ad can perform well on a small scale, it should only improve with larger numbers. The reverse is not always true. Appeal to a target audience and not just a large one. If your ad was on a blog read by only ten people, would anyone click it?

Getting a high CTR on an advertisement may not be easy, but there are things that can help improve the odds. Too many banner ads have a weird way of embracing cheesy “Make money” flashing graphics. The problem is that we’ve seen these all over the place, and most of the time it’s uninvited…

Hauntings from a Pop Up Past

People still remember the days of pop up ads. Even though they still exist today, there are many more options for prevention. Pop up ads are junk. Don’t circulate ads reminiscent of one. Especially if it’s a long term commitment like the ones formed through BuySellAds. Don’t be a banner placement for spam.

All You See is Money

Do visitors buy into the blinking promises of wealth, women, and fame for almost no effort? I would hope that few people click through looking for a legitimate business opportunity.

It’s a Niche Problem

The typical contextual ad is less than compelling in the web design/development niche. Google’s Adsense has a tendency of serving up some incredibly bland or gimmicky contextual banner ads for many basic keywords. This is not a fault of the system, but by the quality of the advertisement pool itself. This gap in quality isn’t the case for every genre however.

We’ve recently helped our friend Chris Collins launch a blog oriented to artists, musicians and writers. The Nonsense Society has some of the best contextual Adsense ads I’ve ever seen. They are unobtrusive, relevant, and blend extremely well into the layout. It is extremely rare to find a featured advertisement “gimmicky” on the site. Take the screen below for example:

Artistic Contextual Ad

That is one attractive advertisement! There is no text. It’s purpose is a mystery. I would have to click to find out more. The appeal is in a combination of curiosity and aesthetic.

Original is Attractive

One of the most clicked ads that we’ve run through BuySellAds on this blog was for a caricature artist. That’s impressive, considering that every other ad running at the time was far more relevant to a web design audience. I can’t say whether any of those clicked turned into sales, but the important point is that this ad was successful in motivating this blog’s audience to click through.

It was something unique, and genuinely interesting. As Seth Godin points out in his TED talk on marketing originality, it is the extraordinary that grabs attention. When reading fellow niche blogs I am rarely drawn by ads offering WordPress themes and XML management tools anymore. These are commonplace, and therefore often unspectacular. It’s the state of the blogs. Phrasing like “WordPress Themes” have to shift to something specific, fresh, and intriguing if these sites want continued traffic from their ads. You’re not going to win people over with buzzwords anymore.

A More Effective Solution

Advertisers should welcome originality. Embrace that most niches have interests that are not so simple as tag lines of “Make MONEY!!” inside of blinking squares. Exclamation points have a range of effectiveness, and it usually expires after one.

Believe it or not, there are good examples of online advertising. College Humor runs campaigns in a particularly unique way through skinning the site’s background.

Theme Based Advertising

The screen above shows the site during a movie promotion campaign. The core content remains the same, but a very targeted theme has taken control of the page’s visuals. The content remains the same, but even regular visitors are quick to notice the not-so-subtle changes to the design. Notice how the advertisement molds to the site’s design, rather than the other way around.

What Would You Click?

This was a long post, but I leave it as a conversation starter. After all, it is the readers of a website that ultimately determine the success of an advertising campaign. What are your thoughts? Online advertising won’t be going away anytime soon, but what would make it more effective? Have you ever run a campaign of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted Sunday, April 12th, 2009 · Back to Top


Add Comment

23 Comments 5 Mentions

  1. Cristhian Bedon Author Editor

    Like stated above – an ad that doesn’t scream out ad but gives of the sense of mystery – and makes me want to click, are ad’s that I tend to click on. Making them blend and pop out are one of the few things that we can’t really control. Each advertiser has their own set of “banner” setup and we can change it to make it bend with “our” site. Also I have seen that having ad’s that are similar to your site content helps people get curious and tend to click on ad.

    Cristhian Bedon’s last blog post..Want To Build Your Own Multitouch Surface Computer?


  2. Sander Jansma Author Editor

    Personally I just don’t understand us webusers click on web-ads in the first place. They are disruptive on the flow of experience and usually take you to a dark and gruesome “back-alley” where people otherwise hardly ever go. If I HAD to choose an ad-type, it would be the kind you have stated above…small and visually appealing. And ofcourse I would be avoiding google ads…jeez those bird’s are ugly!

    Sander Jansma’s last blog post..Scrat’s return!


  3. Callum Chapman Author Editor

    I’d have to click on an ad too if there was no text, just to find out what it was about.. never noticed that before!

    Callum Chapman’s last blog post..Vintage Poster Inspiration


  4. Fredrik Søgaard Author Editor

    Thanks for the interesting post.
    I find it funny though, that this very blog uses the same ads you want to avoid in the post …


  5. Joël Cox Author Editor

    So true. Advertisements should ‘go with the flow’ instead of annoy or put of context.

    Joël Cox’s last blog post..Waarom T-Mobile thetering voor iPhone OS 3 moet toestaan


  6. Zach Dunn Author Editor


    Good point, however my argument here is NOT that publishers should boycott subpar ads. It is simply that advertisers should not expect such high returns on them.

    Like I said, the responsibility should not be put on the publisher to run an effective campaign for them. We’re just the real estate.


  7. Niki Brown | The Design O’Blog Author Editor

    I tend to click on ads from design blogs. Usually the ads on these sites are relevant to me as a designer. I think ads are a necessary evil for blog owners.

    Niki Brown | The Design O’Blog’s last blog post..22 Beautiful Vintage Italian Posters


  8. Mike Author Editor

    Do people actually look at ads? I’ve pretty much trained myself to not even see them anymore.


  9. Zach Dunn Author Editor


    That’s exactly the problem with bad advertising. It can ruin opportunities for the good ones. I’d recommend reading “Poisoning the Well” by Seth Godin for more on this.


  10. IM Niche Formula Author Editor

    I agree, its a well known fact that adverts that don’t look too out of place on a site get more attention from visitors. I’ve seen this myself on my own sites


  11. Josh L Author Editor

    I’m like Nikki – a sucker for design ads. I figure if there is a design service out there that I’ve never heard of, I better at least know what it is! :P

    About the College Humor approach – it is certainly nothing new. That I know of, CNET and IMDB have both been taking this approach for almost a decade.


  12. fsdev Author Editor

    I agree with Sander’s comments: why would anyone click an ad? If my TV had a FF-Ad button I would never of seen a single commercial in my life. When I want something I research it, even if the add compels me, I would never click it… if a site tries to block me from viewing info without interacting with some kind of ad I simply close the window / page.


  13. Colorburned Author Editor

    This is a great article!


  14. Montana Flynn Author Editor

    I agree with everything in this post. I do run ad’s on my blog just to see how well they perform, and I tried to keep them from popping out of the design. I also disable the google ad’s for my subscriber’s since I am a new blog and only have 20 or so.

    Pandora has been doing ad’s in the way college-humor does and I think that is the most effective way if you run a popular service.

    Montana Flynn’s last blog post..Variety leads to consumer happiness.


  15. Nikki Romero Author Editor

    I’m like Mike … if I see that it’s ad (or suspiciously looks like one), I’ll ignore it. Users have become banner-blind and it’s more challenging now to advertise online. Are banner ads still effective marketing tools? Are they worth paying for?


  16. ShanK Author Editor

    How can I have better control our kind of ads I want in my adsense. I am trying the same on Infopint.I saw you have high paying attorney ad which is not at all relevant to the subject. I did you manage to get google display the attorney ad.
    .-= ShanK´s last blog ..ZyXEL NBG318S 200 Mbps Powerline Router &PLA401 200 Mbps Powerline Wall-plug Adapter =-.


  17. Webtoolfeed Author Editor

    I think it depends on the person. I personally like to discover new businesses, services, and blogs. If the ad is appealing to the eye, or looks interesting i will definitely click on it.


  18. by_maffay Author Editor

    nice, thanks…


  19. Alex Author Editor

    Zach’s idea sounds good but what are some affiliate sites that allow you to do what we are talking about here. I know Facebook some how manages this successfully. Many sites do not allow (i.e. Google Adsense) custom images with text or only customize ads(because images tends to misrepresents the text).


  20. Bonnie Author Editor

    Marriage is a lottery with more blanks than prizes.


  21. Jenine Linkhart Author Editor

    “I am very pleased to get that your locate is upgrading from the simplest to faster and matched form.”


  22. peut-锚tre mental Author Editor

    I discovered your blog site on google and check a few of your early posts. Continue to keep up the very good operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading more from you later on!…


  23. warren Author Editor

    thanks for this great post, appreciate the advertising campaign strategies and tips ;)



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