Display advertising best practices 2018
6 min read

Display advertising best practices 2018

We’ve updated our article on display advertising best practices. Read the ultimate guide instead!

Every year we update and review our best practices guide for display advertising. With constant development in the world of online display, keeping track of changes is a must.

Banner best practices has changed much since the very first banner ad appeared online in the 1990s. From humble beginnings, display advertising has evolved from static images to one of the biggest branches of online marketing. It now incorporates a whole spectrum of technology from video to dynamic rich media ads.

When producing display advertising campaigns it’s common to cooperate with a variety of external services. This to make sure when creating and publishing display ads there are no issues. When working with external factors, it is necessary to put in place display advertising best practices. Also, many advertising networks have implemented their own best practices and guidelines. Ad creatives when using a chosen network must follow these rules.

But what are the latest display advertising best practices? And how can you achieve approval by ad networks, and be engaging for viewers?

Mobile first            

Ok, stop everything! You’ve been making banners all wrong. Yes, really. The truth is your beautiful display ad – made desktop first – is more likely to be viewed on mobile in 2018. According to eMarketer research mobile display ads are now outpacing desktop by quite some measure. 70.3% of all display ads in the US are mobile, compared to 29.7% for desktop. Something needs to change.

Now is the time to design everything mobile first. Throw out the old thinking of designing a campaign desktop first and then scaling down. Scale up from mobile! Advertising has long gone mobile and now banner designers must think as such.

General best practices

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), companies, and ad networks have developed a range of display ad best practices.  In particular, the IAB has released a new ad portfolio on how to produce banners across devices. Some of the below are guidelines but ad networks and other publishing platforms follow them. Before building a display campaign, it is always worth checking the exact requirements needed. The networks and publishers you use will always need you to follow their exact requirements. This will make sure that approval for your campaigns is quick and without hassle.

Border requirements

In its display ad guidelines, the IAB states that display ads should be “distinguishable from normal webpage content”. It also stresses that the “ad unit must have clear defined borders and not confused with normal web content”. This best practice is often applied by ad networks too. It’s important to follow this rule so as to get swift ad approval.

The easiest way to fulfil this best practice is to make sure your display ad has a border. In addition, make sure your ad creative doesn’t blend into the background. Both this, and the use of a border, should be part of your banner design from the beginning.

Avoid fraudulent simulations

This goes without saying, but do not include fake computer simulations that could knowingly (or unknowingly) confuse viewers. This includes fake sounds too – anything that makes your banner feel like a computer notification. This is important as it not only stops malicious advertisers, and potential ad fraud, but it protects your brand’s reputation. Brand safety and transparency are crucial after all! Creating display ads that mimic computer actions is unprofessional and dishonest. And such “scareware” is often associated with rogue advertisers. Avoid at all costs.

Genuine interactivity

Interactive display ads are now used more and more by online advertisers. But if you want to include such advanced features in your display ad, make sure the interactivity is genuine. Don’t make your display ad look interactive in a bid to increase your click-through rate. Take the time (and effort) to code, or use widgets, which give the viewer interactivity.

Animated banners

Some networks have a max loop length for animated banner ads. Always check the networks and publishers you are using to make sure your ad complies with their regulations. The IAB recommends that animation length must not exceed 15 seconds. They also recommend to avoid flashing, high contrast, fast moving and bright coloured animations. Again, while this may gain a viewer’s attention, it is poor design, and reflects poorly on the brand advertising.

Fallback images

Many networks need you to provide fallback images. These are static or .gif versions of your display advertisements. The reason for this is in case your display ad finds itself on certain (usually older) devices. Fallback images are especially important for heavy creatives such as video and rich media, when load speed can be an issue. Take the time to pay attention to the fallback image – it might be the first thing a viewer sees in some cases.

Creating fallback images is an automatic feature in some creative management platforms, like Bannerflow. It’s one less thing to think about when creating awesome display ads.

Video banners

Video banners are more and more popular. According to eMarketer research, the most popular types of rich media ad is out-stream video —that is, ads that play outside of other video content, such as between paragraphs of text—and in-feed premium video ads on social platforms. As well as making awesome backgrounds, using them within display advertising is increasing due to greater user engagement. There are of course best practises when using video – load time being an issue. According to the IAB, for auto play video banners – like animated banners – the max duration should be 15 seconds. While the recommended max file size should be 1.1mb and 24fps – for lower bandwidths 18fps is allowable.

For videos that are user initiated the duration of the video is less of an issue, but the rules for fps remain the same. Remember, even when auto-playing, the default setting for any sound should be mute. Likewise, the video ad must not expand, unless initiated by the user. Remember, you want to engage with viewers, not annoy them!

Monitor script size

It is well worth monitoring where, on the way to being published, a banner’s “weight” is added. Not all kb’s come from where you think (images, fonts, and animation, etc.). Sometimes the heaviest part of the total weight of a banner, is added by tracking scripts. Occasionally these alone can weigh more than 100 kb! These scripts normally come from your adserver. If you regularly have problems with your banners being too heavy, then don´t forget to check the scripts!

Best practices to increase CTR and conversions

Once you have applied the requirements set by your advertising network, you can move on to the next stage of your campaign best practices. This means applying practices to help you produce and run better display advertising campaigns.

Relevant advertising

Marketers and advertisers are able to customise all parts of their buyer’s journey, making offers personalised. This is possible with display advertising too.

You may wish to consider using the majority of your budget for networks or exchanges that have high-quality inventory and allow you to target your ideal customers. Studies have shown that relevant advertising is far more effective than general advertising. For example, users are more likely to click on your ads if they think they are useful. It is always better to show a relevant ad in the most relevant space.


Retargeting campaigns are effective and proven types of display advertising campaigns. But what is retargeting? It means directly targeting display ads to those customers who have already been to your website but have not converted. Retargeted display ads often have a higher click-through rate too. This because they are targeting those who have already expressed an interest in your brand.

Yet a word of caution for 2018. GDPR is coming into force in May 2018 and rules around cookies are about to change. It is well worth finding out what your preferred advertising networks, media buyer, or ad tech provider is doing in regards to retargeting. This is because the time a tracking cookie can remain active (and retargeting is effective) is about to vary widely.

The truth of the matter is that you need to treat the user with respect. Retargeting is great but use it responsibly. For example, once your viewer has converted make sure you don’t continue to retarget them!

Dynamic content and feeded ads

Take personalisation and relevancy to the next level with dynamic content display ads. Dynamic ads use web feeds to supply updating data into already published display ads. These updates are fast and regular, and can be performed every 15 seconds. These ads are particularly good for sports odds, and e-commerce stores but potential applications are endless.

By using this technique, you can always make sure that your display ads are relevant and up-to-date. If you have a product inventory, sell holidays, or currency exchange you should be using dynamic content. It will increase both your relevance and your click-through rate.

Test copy and call to actions (CTAs)

It’s worth taking the time to get the fundamentals of your ad right. Short, catchy copy, and a solid call to action are solid foundations for even the most basic of ads. Read what industry experts recommend, and focus on how display advertising design uses copy, and CTAs. You need to excite interest and offer something to viewers that makes them want to click-through. One tip: the CTA should always be strong and eye-catching. The best way to achieve this is by using a button. Making sure it is eye-catching, is one way of encouraging a viewer to click-through.

One sure fire way of finding the best creative is by testing different variations. If you can use analytics to optimise your ads it’s easy to a/b test and produce copy and CTA’s that convert. Better yet, use a platform, which allows you to update already published banners and you can apply these improvements in real-time.

Final thoughts

Planning and executing a display campaign is easier than it has ever been. Follow the best practices we have described and you’ll be in a better position to produce remarkable banners.

Want to know more about you can improve your display ad campaigns?  Read some more of our blog posts, get in touch, or  request a demo of the Bannerflow platform.

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