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Online Advertising: How to increase your ROI and not get blocked

“We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience. […] Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty.”

This was the refreshingly frank statement by Scott Cunningham, general manager of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) Tech Lab, a non-profit research and development consortium that is made up of 600 media and technology companies and is responsible for selling 86% of the online ads in the United States.

So, what happened?

Well, digital advertising is still one of the most effective ways how you can increase the visibility of your business, remind customers that you exist, and generate revenues today. And as consumers migrate further onto online and mobile channels, digital marketing budgets will continue to increase across industries. In fact, an outlook by ZenithOptimedia anticipates digital media to beat TV in ad spend by 2018/19.

Ironically, at the same time as businesses invest more into digital ad formats, ad blockers are soaring in popularity. PageFair and Adobe project that the global loss of revenues due to ad blocking will be as high as $41 billion in 2016. This poses a serious threat to any business aiming to reach relevant target groups, and it’s time to sit up and take notice.

“Online publishers are paying the price for using intrusive, and “terrible” third-party software, which has given rise to a surge in ad-blocking use”, said Jonah Peretti, the chief executive of BuzzFeed.

A study on the effectiveness of ads found that consumers are oversaturated. They simply don’t notice ads anymore – and who can blame them. But there’s a silver lining. According to the IAB, 48% of users say that if ads didn’t interrupt their browsing, they would be less inclined to install ad blockers.

Sellers and advertisers have to pull up their socks and up their game to make their ads deliver value, not noise. Gartner’s Jake Sorofman stresses that the perspective has to shift to the consumers’ needs and to connecting with them during the micro-moments that matter most in the buyer’s journey.

Time to look at 4 ad formats that are most promising to help you reach and engage users with relevant, personalized ads and increase your advertising ROI.

A) Banner Advertising

Banner ads have been around for nearly two decades now. They are still the top choice for most advertisers and the most widespread form of digital advertising as well as a fundamental source of revenue for businesses.

However, banner ads have a bad rep as people tend to ignore them (banner blindness) and click through rates (CTRs) have plummeted to about 0.6% across all platforms – an abysmally low level compared to an average of 3% in the 90s.

These figures clearly point to a few cracks in the wall for banner advertising. Here are some tips how you can make you ad banners work:

1) Make the 3-C’s matter. The best banner ads are eye-catching, timely and personalized. There are 3 C-principles you should observe and consider when creating banner ads:

  • Compelling: Do you really have a message that is interesting enough to risk a click?
  • Concise: Can the key offering be grasped in a blink of an eye (1-2 seconds)?
  • Clear: Is the call-to-action clear?


2) Make them relevant. A study by infolinks and found that a meagre 2.8% people find banner ads on websites relevant (Infographic).

You need to make sure to contextualize and strategically place banner ads on websites with related content. If you promote your chandeliers store, place your ads e.g. on home improvement websites where they are bound to get a higher CTR than on an automobile website.

3) Make them trustworthy. Bannersnack goes on to show that 54% users don’t click on banner ads because they don’t trust them. Your banner ad must provide a genuine, trustworthy message and not some cryptic story that could lead to surprises.

Use simple, commoner-friendly language, devoid of all jargon and high speech. Connect emotionally with the consumer. Directly address a problem your target group could be facing, and provide a solution, in a straight forward manner.

4) Make them interactive. With 86% people intentionally ignoring any banner ad on a webpage, using interactive banner ads is a new and successful means to getting a viewer to not only notice your ad, but to actively engage with it. And, this ad type is becoming increasingly popular amongst online advertisers.

SMARTASSISTANT Interactive advisor banners (#shamelessplug) are minified, digital product advisors that display only the first question of an advisor quiz. They directly address the users with a personal question e.g. “How do you want to use the kayak?” or “How do you want to use your laptop”. It incites the curiosity of users and upon interaction, takes them to the full version of the quiz. There, they’re able to answer additional questions and receive immediate individual product recommendations based on their implicit and explicit needs.

Interactive banners are an engaging approach to help create an emotive experience for consumers, build brand awareness, and increase click-through rates through relevant content. Studies have shown that consumers are 2.5 times more likely to interact with these type of ads than with regular ad options due to dwell time.

Try it out yourself:

[auto-iframe link= tag=printus width=903 height=260 autosize=no]


B) In-App Advertising

With more users switching to mobile and 89% of consumer media time spent in smartphone and tablet applications, in-app advertising is the wave of the future. At the minute, there is still a gap between the amount of time people spend on mobile and the revenues generated through in-app ads. However, in-app advertising is set to reach 16.9 billion by 2018 according to Jupiter Research.

As businesses learn how to use technologies such as geo tracking and location data, they will manage to create highly targeted, relevant and specific ads, making in-app ads one of the best ways to increase digital advertising ROI.

Already today, in-app advertising performs 11.4 times better than standard banner advertising and receives much higher click-through than ads on the mobile Web (0.58% vs. 0.23%).

Device Research published a study showing that “70% of users consider mobile ads on smart phones as a personal invitation rather than an intrusion.” In addition, the study showed that users want these ads to help them explore products they’re interested in and subsequently enable them to make a purchase decision then and there.”

The clue is to set up your ads in a way that they enhance the experience, highly focused and relevant to the needs of your targeted audience, and do not come across as irritating or overly distracting.

Think carefully about where, when and how to place your ads to put your message in front of users that already tend to be more receptive to in-app advertising, and make your ad a part of the user experience.

Threadflip example
Threadflip could increase its revenue per user by 40% by retargeting users using in-app advertising.

C) Social Media Ads

Social networks are indispensable to digital advertising. Click-through rates for newsfeeds on Facebook and Twitter are 8.1 and 9.1 times higher, respectively, when compared to general web retargeting. And it’s no surprise either, considering social networks are among the most conducive platforms for audience engagement.

In 2015, Facebook’s US digital display ad revenues reached $6.82 billion and Twitter could increase its digital display ad revenues to $1.34 billion. By 2017, Facebook’s portion of digital display ad revenues will continue to increase, reaching 26.9%, and Twitter will take 6.8%. (eMarketer)

Every business must therefore leverage the power of social media ads by carefully analysing consumer engagement data and marketing to the right groups. When done and marketed well, social media ads, newsfeed ads and sponsored posts, have the potential to be one of the most powerful advertising formats.

Here are a few things you can do to make your social media ads pack more punch:

1) Experiment with social media platforms to find out what is resonating with your target audience. Publish multiple ad types on various platforms and see what drives most engagement from users, to help determine exactly where you’d like to put your money at.

2) Change and rotate your ads often. Customers get wary and begin to ignore repetitive ads, causing a drop in click through rates. That is when Facebook begins to charge you a higher cost per click as well. Avoid all of that by rotating your ads and coming up with new ones regularly.

3) Design mobile friendly ads. Mobile has become the prime way people use internet and social media today and an ad that isn’t compatible with mobile will cost you over 50% potential CTR.

4) Evolve with your medium. Customize your ads to suit the audience of every social network.  With Facebook, it is newsfeed and sidebar banners. With Twitter, sponsored posts work. And, Instagram revolutionized storytelling in advertising with their concept of carousel ads.

Social Media posts


D) Video Ads

Platforms change and formats evolve. Video however, remains a key way to connect with audience, build an emotional connect and drive sales. Video ads therefore are and will be a growing trend. You need to expand your knowledge and experiment continually to make the most of this format. Here’s how you can make your video ads more effective:

1) Pay attention to time. Studies indicated that 15 seconds is a good time for video ads. 5 second ads cannot convey the message effectively and your audience is less likely to sit through 30 second ads.

2) Forcing the video will not work. Non-skippable and auto-play videos put off everyone and are seldom a good idea. Draw your audience in with engaging content from the start. Pushing your ad will certainly result in blocking.

3) Be creative. Video is an extremely versatile medium. From attractive animation to emotionally moving stories, the right music, good graphics, all go into making a visually appealing and trust inspiring ad.


At the end of the day, stats and numbers will only help you determine your budget, strategy and plans. However, stick to the basics and keep the user experience in mind if your ad campaign is to truly succeed.

Determine what your target audience wants. Figure out the problems they face and effectively show how you can solve them.

No matter what format or medium, it’s the message in your ad and how well you convey it that will make all the difference and get you that ROI.


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Myra Yadav is a content writer and storyteller with a passion for e-commerce, retail and consumer psychology. She writes and advises brands on how they can become more personal and customer-centric.