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What Is a Banner Ad and How Does It Work?

10 minutes read

Banner ads design is not rocket science, and we’re here to prove that. 

It is our mission to support people like you in learning about banner design and provide you with high-quality resources and inspiration so you can create successful banner ads that drive results. 

This article will help you understand how banner ads work and will equip you with the knowledge you need to craft effective banners starting today. 

A. What Is a Banner Ad?

A banner ad, or a web banner, is an advertisement displayed on a web page that aims to drive traffic to the advertiser’s website. The ad is linked to the advertiser’s website, where the user is expected to perform an action, like purchasing a product, creating an account to try out the product, downloading a case study, or signing up for an event. 

If you’re looking for a definition of what is a banner that is a bit more formal, here’s what Wikipedia says:

A web banner or banner ad is a form of advertising on the World Wide Web delivered by an ad server. This form of online advertising entails embedding an advertisement into a web page. It is intended to attract traffic to a website by linking to the website of the advertiser. In many cases, banners are delivered by a central ad server.

Investopedia also gives us a comprehensive definition of banner ads

Banner ads are image-based rather than text-based and are a popular form of website advertising. The purpose of banner advertising is to promote a brand and/or to get visitors from the host website to go to the advertiser’s website

create banner ads using templates

What are the types of banner ads? 

Banner ads can take multiple forms:

Banners are some of the most basic forms of online advertising, yet they make a huge difference in a brand’s overall marketing efforts. They contribute greatly to raising a brand’s awareness, and they can also be used to drive conversions. 

A little bit of history

Instead of jumping straight to ways of using banners for your digital marketing strategy, we’re gonna take a stroll down memory lane and go back to the basics.

Some of you might know already about the first banner ad ever created, but if you don’t, here’s your chance to travel back to simpler times.

Image source

In October 1994, the first online banner ad was launched. It was published on (currently as part of a campaign by AT&T. 

The ad simply said: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE?” And an arrow pointing to the answer “You will.”

It was as simple as that. No image, no product, no brand logo, no call to action. It was rudimentary, but it surpassed everyone’s imagination. After four months, 44% of the people who viewed the ad clicked on it. That’s a click-through rate that most advertisers could only dream of today. And this is all due to today’s fierce competition among brands and ad fatigue. 

We will discuss this in a chapter below, including how to stand out with creative banner ads. 

B. How Do Banner Ads Work?

Businesses use online banner ads to build brand awareness and to also convert them. Once users click the ad, they land on the advertiser’s website, where they are invited to perform an action like buying a product, subscribing to a newsletter, signing up for an event, or downloading an asset. 

The process of showing the ads on a publisher’s website is done via display networks, such as Google Display Network. Display networks are a collection of websites and apps that enable advertisers to set up targeted display campaigns and show ads to a specific audience based on the campaign’s demographic, geographic, behavioral, and interest settings. 

For example, a travel agency can use a banner advertising strategy to promote its summer vacation packages to different destinations. 

First, they will need to design a set of banners that illustrate these destinations and communicate the price. Then, the agency will choose the type of websites they want to display their ads on, according to their strategy. 

C. Setting an Objective for Your Banner Ads Campaign 

Before you start creating a banner, you need to set your goal clearly. By identifying your marketing objective, you will be able to design your ads better and make the right campaign settings. 

For example, if your goal is to increase sales, you can create an offer and promote it with the help of banner ads. Thus, your ads will communicate the discount through text, image, and call to action. 

When setting your goal in Google Ads, for example, depending on the goal you select, you will be directed to specific features, bidding options, and network placements. 

There are several goal types you can choose for your display campaign: 

1. Drive traffic

One of the goals you can set for your banner ads campaign is to drive traffic to your website. Once a user clicks on your ad, they will land on the page you set in the campaign.

You can use Google Analytics to see how many people are coming to your website from the campaign. Or, if you serve your ads from Creatopy, you can track the performance of your campaigns right on our platform and see the clicks, impressions, or CTRs.  

A great example of how banners are used to increase traffic is provided by Target. They planned their ad strategy around certain time periods.

Here is how Target uses ads related to baby products and baby registries.

2. Drive sales

Banner ads can be used to promote products or services. Whether it’s by showcasing different features, new releases, or discounts for seasonal campaigns (like Valentine’s Day, Easter, or Black Friday), using banners can lead to increased sales and revenue. 

Typically, when marketers choose the sales goal, they will target potential customers who are ready to act, meaning:

  • People who previously interacted with the brand (they already know the brand, and/or they have been evaluating the products). Remarketing (or retargeting) helps advertisers show ads to previous visitors in order to make them convert;
  • People who are actively searching for that specific product type (or have searched for it recently);
  • People who have similar interests to what the brand offers.

Here is an ad promoting a discount winter campaign for Abercrombie & Fitch. 

3. Increase brand awareness

Capturing someone’s attention can be very challenging nowadays, especially in the digital environment, where it’s all about being creative. We will dive into how you can design more creative banners in the chapter below. 

But from capturing the attention of a target audience to increasing brand awareness is a long way. And this is where banner ads can help advertisers build a strong brand presence online. 

For brand awareness campaigns, it’s important to: 

  • Use elements that build brand recognition, like the company logo, brand color palette, a recognizable slogan/call to action, and relatable branded music.
  • Diversify your banners to avoid banner blindness, and provide fresh content that will reinforce your brand’s presence and memorability. 

You can create a set of 3-4 banner ads and rotate them throughout a campaign. Use various images, headlines, and calls to action, but keep everything consistent and within your brand’s guidelines.

The brand awareness goal for a banner campaign is perfect when you want to introduce a new product or let people know that your brand is expanding into a new area. 

This is an example of a brand awareness campaign for Starbucks, introducing its new Cinnamon Dolce coffee. 

4. Get more leads

Advertisers also use banner ads to promote events and get people to sign up, or promote downloadable assets. 

While these things may seem rather unimportant when compared to driving sales, they are simply a different means of generating new leads.

By collecting contact information from people who attended an event, or downloaded an asset, advertisers can then build a database of potential customers, who can be further nurtured through ads and other marketing efforts (even direct calls and demos), and converted into customers.

The banner ad below promotes Advertising Week Europe. The moment you clicked the ad, you were taken to the event’s website and asked to fill in your contact information in order to register for the event. You’d also receive a 15% discount. For the ad, they used one of the most famous speakers of the conference, Simon Cowell, the renowned creator of the most successful talent shows in TV history. 

Image source

D. Why Do Banner Ads (Still) Work?

Banners are a big part of the advertising world. They work because people react better to visual content or a message that is accompanied by an image. 

Our brains are wired to process images much faster than text. Actually, if we dive deep into history, we find that widespread understanding of the written word is only 560 years old, with Gutenberg’s invention of the press happening in 1455. So we can say that decoding images is as old as the human race. 

Now coming back to banners, I’d say the number one reason banners do work, and always will, is because it’s a type of visual content that can easily lure the eye. 

Moreover, thanks to the amazing targeting capabilities available today, users will mostly see personalized banner ads that are created based on their online behavior. 

Plus, retargeting makes tracking online users possible and nurturing them (by constantly showing them ads) through all the stages of the sales funnel until they convert. 

For example, I searched for a vacuum cleaner on Google one morning. By the time I was sipping my coffee and scrolling my Facebook feed, I was already served ads for various vacuum cleaners from Amazon, eBay, and other online appliance stores. Throughout the day, I was served ads for vacuum cleaners from various sellers in my mail, messenger, and favorite news website. I clicked some of the banner ads and visited the online shops. Then, the next day, I got even more ads for vacuum cleaners. Eventually, I had to make a decision: am I going to buy one or not yet? So, I bought one. 

E. Best Practices for Creating Banner Ads

If you’ve already decided to include banners in your online marketing mix, you already know that the online environment is a crowded place. Companies of all shapes and sizes are trying to compete for their audience’s attention. That’s why you need to focus on being creative when it comes to designing your ads. 

The ad creation process is fundamental. So, we’ve put together a list of creative tips & tricks so you can craft banner ads more effectively.

1. Come up with a unique creative idea

Illustrate your product’s benefits in a unique way so it makes people curious to learn more about it. Find a creative idea that will surprise people and allow them to remember your ad and brand. 

2. Keep your banner within your brand’s guidelines 

Follow the brand guidelines when you create banner ads. Use colors from your brand’s color palette and images that are suited and relevant to your brand. Don’t forget to incorporate colors or elements that are representative of the company. 

3. Use eye-catching images 

High-quality, eye-catching images can help your banner ad stand out and appeal to your target audience. You can use vivid colors to lure the eye, people in different scenarios or using your product, or even a beautiful setting (outdoor or indoor).

4. Place your product center stage

Your product should always be in the spotlight. When crafting a banner ad, organize your elements so that they complement your product. 

Sometimes, the best strategy is minimalism. That means making the product the main character of your ad and using a simple background. Just like this: 

5. Animate to break through banner blindness

Increase your chances of getting your ads noticed by creating animated banner ads. Because people are so used to seeing online ads, it’s easy to ignore them, so you need to find strategies that will make them stand out on a page.

Here’s an example:

6. Use the message to entice & connect 

Your message should be clear and highlight the unique value of your product/service. With online banners, the ad copy should be short and clear. 

Split your message into:

  • An engaging headline that will pique people’s interest;
  • A short one or two-line copy that offers more details on your product/service;
  • A call to action that encourages people to take action. 

7. Offer a discount/download

People will be more interested in your ad if you’re offering a discount or if you’re giving something for free. Increase your CTR and conversion rate with a compelling promotion. 

F. What Are the Most Popular Banner Formats and Sizes?

To run ad campaigns on different ad networks, it’s important to know that each one has certain banner formats and size specifications. If your banners don’t meet their requirements, you risk having them rejected. 

Google Ads, for example, has different ad formats and sizes available for you to upload depending on the campaign type and goal you choose

1. Most popular banner formats and sizes for mobile

The most common banner formats and sizes for mobile are: 300 x 200 pixels; 300 x 50 pixels; 300 x 100 pixels;  250 x 250 pixels; 200 x 200 pixels.

2. Most popular banner formats and sizes for desktop 

The most used banner formats and sizes for desktop are:  250 x 250 pixels; 200 x 200 pixels; 300 x 250 pixels; 336 x 280 pixels; 300 x 600 pixels; 160 x 600 pixels; 468 x 60 pixels; 970 x 90 pixels. 


Banner ads, although often overlooked, hold immense potential for driving traffic to your website and reaching a wider audience.

As you can see, it’s not rocket science.

With the right advertising plan, killer ad designs, and catchy copy, you’ll be well on your way to boosting your KPIs and getting some serious ROI through online advertising.

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