Get Your Banners Ready: Google Goes Graphic

Blow the electronic dust off those old banners. Google wants you to test them in its AdSense program. Banner ads will be targeted based on keywords, just as AdSense ads are targeted now. You add the images to your campaign at the AdGroup level.
Some banner networks target on a channel or site-by-site basis. Others use a run-of-network (RON) method, then target banners based on where they convert best. Google, however, uses contextual keywords as its channel or targeting mode, allowing for more specific targeting.

Keywords relate to topics, concepts, areas of interest, or consumer problems. If you test the Google image ad network (or banner network, as some call it), your CPCs will be calculated under Google’s “Smart Pricing,” in which CPCs are adjusted based on computed relevance.

The Google team obviously has a soft spot for Charles Darwin. The AdWords system (including AdSense) uses natural selection across a broad environment. Only the strongest survive. This natural selection process has been hard-coded into the AdWords algorithm. The new image ads complete the picture.

Any graphic ad or banner uploaded into the system competes for visibility with the overall results for text ads (yours, and those of your competition). If an image ad gets clicks due to high relevance, a compelling message, and good design, it can trump text ads. That results in more impressions and clicks (as it must get clicks for repeated exposure). Google uses both CTR and CPC factors to determine a “strong” contender that deserves to remain in rotation.

Marketers and agencies might argue CTR is only one of many ways to measure a graphical ad’s relevance. Though true, Google will use CTR and a small feedback link under each ad to facilitate targeting and assure relevance.

What kinds of ads should you create for the AdSense banner network? I’m just starting to experiment with image ads for our own campaign. Keep the following in mind when developing banners:

* Banners can be in one of several IAB-standard sizes.

* Not all banner formats have the same likelihood of being used by AdSense network publishers. In my experience, the skyscraper (120 x 600) is most common. Others may also get high rotation. If you can develop all four, test them all. They’ll run in different areas.

* Google may resize your image. Your URL is displayed under it to improve user experience and accurately identify where users go if they click. Make sure ad creative matches your URL.

* If you don’t want your ad resized, develop creative that’s vertically a bit shorter to preserve aspect ratio. Height reduction is either 11 or 22 pixels.

* Maximum image size is 50K.

* No animated banners allowed.

* You can use one of several formats, including GIF, JPG, and PNG. The PNG format is more highly compressed than GIF, but not as well known. If you have trouble coming in under the 50K limit, try PNG.

* Banners are served based on keywords. Great copy, well-tuned creative, and pleasing presentation will win in the AdSense image network. Only compelling ads get rotation.

* Google editorial guidelines apply. Write copy that would pass muster under the text ad guidelines, even for image ads.

* Brands and known domain names may have a distinct advantage in image ads, as they do in text ads. Surfers are more likely to click on an ad containing a name or logo they know and trust.

* You’ll get branding impact, but make sure you still have a compelling message. Your ads need to beat not only the other image ads but also the best mix of text ads Google’s got.

* Look at your campaigns to determine the percentage of impressions available from the content network. Google doesn’t have the same number of publishers for every industry. There could be more or less inventory available than in pure search. The more content inventory available, the more likely publishers will test AdSense’s banner option.

* If you design new banners, take into account the additional effort required to write copy, design banners, traffic the ads, and manage them in AdWords’ interface.

* Banners aren’t served by a third party. Google serves banners when testing relevance or because the relevance algorithm determined a banner is a good fit for a given page in the network.

Ready to test? Update banners to match your desired keywords. Or, just sit back. Text still works great.

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