What Makes an Effective Affiliate Banner – Affiliate Viewpoint

Note from Geno Prussakov: Last week an interesting discussion on affiliate banners got started. After seeing his insightful comment, I couldn’t help but reach out to Martin Osborn (whom I’ve been following for some time) asking him if he may be interested in contributing a guest post on the topic. Today I’m thrilled to officially welcome Martin aboard as our newest guest blogger! Enjoy his first AM Navigator post below.

Like many publishers, I pay little attention to ready-made banners when I join a new affiliate program. It’s not because I don’t appreciate the gesture. It’s because they rarely make me money.

There is a simple law that distinguishes effective banners: Catch the eye, don’t satisfy it.

When designing your banners, it’s easy to opt for the sleek and beautiful. From a branding perspective, it makes sense. You cherish your logo, your colour scheme and customer promises. When you give us banners to work with, you hope that we’ll cherish them too.

The difference is we have very little interest in your brand. Beautiful aesthetics that add to your brand but do nothing for our bottom line are a wedge in our relationship.

Banners that are sleek, beautiful and artistically inspired may win awards. But in direct response, such qualities are often a hindrance.

To put it simply, we love banners that jump from the page and slap the user. The harder the better.

We want banners that magnetise eyeballs, that draw endless clicks. We crave banners that snap the user out of his browsing mindset and force a reaction today, not tomorrow.

In our world, ‘tomorrow’ means somebody else’s commission.

How can you produce banners that catch the eye? Here are some tips:

1. Don’t be afraid to go ‘amateur’

The best converting banners I’ve ever laid eyes on were what you might consider ‘amateur’ in design. I’m talking the love child of MS Paint and Comic Sans. Pure ugly.

Companies are understandably cautious to ‘dumb down’ their graphics. They don’t want to create an illusion of incompetence. And I would suggest that, on many occasions, they are right. I would be apprehensive about hiring the plastic surgeon who advertised his knife to me in Comic Sans.

However, not all industries are bound to this law of courting prestige. And not all amateur design has to be repulsive to be effective.

In 2012, consumers are banner blind by default. Amateur graphics work because they are unexpected. They are eye-jerking. They stand out from the page like a sore thumb. Many affiliate programs will flat out refuse to provide banners in this mould, and it baffles me.

Do you want to make money or win design awards?

If you wince at the idea of ugly banners pointing directly at your site, there’s a simple solution. Request that a landing page be used by the affiliate, and disclosure given.

2. Don’t waste the headline

Be direct, be outrageous or be doomed.

There are three types of banner headlines that affiliates love to use. They are renowned click baiters.

The News headline

Wisconsin Mom, 44, Discovers Miracle Weight-Loss Trick

This type of headline may rankle with you. Probably because you’ve seen it exploited for such notorious causes (e.g weight loss pills, skin cures, home business kits).

I would fall to the floor and swoon with delight if more affiliate programs would catch on to the fact that the method itself is golden.

Whatever your banner is selling, it will appear infinitely more intriguing when packaged in a news headline.

The ‘How To’ headline

Take note from one of the most successful attention-grabbers of all time: “How To Win Friends And Influence People

People are always ready to be told how.

What problem does your product solve? Pinpoint the source of the demand and turn your banner in to a helpful sign post.

An auto insurance lead seller might run with, “How to Save $265/month on Your Car Insurance in 5 Minutes“. The How to blunts sales blindness and increases intrigue.

The Question headline

I am an affiliate in the dating industry. If you ever wanted to see how effective a question in a headline can be, just check out the average dating ad on sites like Plentyoffish.

Many go like this: “Are you a Divorced 36 Year Old Blonde in New York City?

These ads take to the extreme a tactic that has been popular with affiliates for years. Ads that ask questions where the answer is an obvious and irresistible “Yes!” tend to score lots of clicks and conversions.

Provide banners that address the user personally, and provide lots of them to cover different needs. That leads on nicely to my next tip…

3. Use only one angle per banner

The ‘jack of all trades’ banner is an affiliate’s worst nightmare.

I’ve seen banners for web hosting companies that in the space of 300 by 250 pixels claim they are:

  • The best host for guaranteed uptime.
  • The best host for bandwidth.
  • The best host for 24/7 support.
  • The best host for ‘getting your site online in minutes’.

Well, which is it?

From my experience, crowbarring every last benefit in to a banner is rarely as effective as choosing one and making the user believe it. More importantly, it gives your affiliates a focus. Something to grit our teeth in and sell for you.

We love angles. If you don’t give us a USP, we’ll create one for you. And as I’m sure you are aware, this is where our relationship often breaks down.

We would rather hear one reason why you are the best company in town, than a list of seven.

Make our lives easy! Give us banners that state one clear benefit. It should be worked in to the headline.

4. Wrap your Call to Action in instant gratification

If I look at your company’s banners and see Calls to Action with text marked:

‘Click Here Now’
‘Find Out More’

I will refuse to use them.

Your CTA should lead the user directly in to the sales funnel with an incentive and a desired action. There are two steps to remember:

Step 1: Provide instant gratification.
Step 2: Provide it now.

Instant gratification is the secret sauce behind all successful direct response campaigns.

If you are in the business of mortgage quotes, “Search For Quotes” looks weak next to “Get a Free Quote in 3 Minutes

As affiliate marketers, we know this. I’m not saying it makes us better marketers. It’s just that we are served reminders on a daily basis, in the form of negative ROI, that weak CTRs hurt our margins.

Offer something tangible in your CTA, and offer it now. The next action should be clear to the user.

5. Add time constraint

You may hate the idea of using time constraint against your audience, especially if you plan to be offering the same service for many decades. Why the rush? However, we affiliates love a good stampede. And there’s a simple reason why.

Deadlines demand action.

Brainstorming time. Is there any way you can offer an incentive for users to act immediately? Perhaps a special offer that closes on Sunday? An exclusive discount that is only valid for the rest of the month?

If you have these promotions, splash your banners in them.

You may doubt that affiliates will take the time to update banners on a weekly basis, but with the sweet whiff of dollar bills up our nostrils, I would beg to differ. We always follow the money.

There are three words that I love to use in my affiliate campaigns. They are, “Offer ends on…” Usually followed by a date that – let’s just say – is a little more impending than March 2024.

It doesn’t matter if your offer ends on October 3rd and opens again on October 4th. The mere presence of a time constraint is likely to produce an increase in banner clicks for the affiliate.

6. Don’t force our traffic to the front door.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the ideal affiliate banner is nothing without a suitable landing page.

Time and time again you will find me preaching the importance of a fluid sales funnel.

Our duty as affiliates is to sell your products and services in such a way that the consumer finds them with his interest perked and his credit card closer to hand. We can’t do this if we’re priming the traffic for a homepage that ‘resets’ the conversion.

Whatever angle you have chosen for the banner, we should be able to deep-link it to a landing page that jumps on that angle.

If you have produced a banner that attracts thousands of consumers under the pretences of ‘the best hosting support in the world’, the landing page should not be talking about your disk space and bandwidth. Common sense, right?

And of course, if your banner is about a specific product or service, we need to be able to link to it directly.

In conclusion…

If you want to provide great banners for affiliates, the first challenge is to think like an affiliate marketer. Ask, “Are my banners fit for direct response?

That wraps up my suggestions. Let me know if you agree or disagree.

13 thoughts on “What Makes an Effective Affiliate Banner – Affiliate Viewpoint”

  1. Martin, thank you for a great post! You presented very interesting and useful tactics. I still would disagree on using “pure ugly” banners, but maybe it’s just my personal preference. As a consumer, I never click on such graphics – they simply do not seem trustworthy.

    1. I think it depends on the target market. The best CTRs I’ve ever had were from amateur graphics, but let’s just say – I was not targeting rocket scientists. I was advertising to a very suggestible market.

      I try to leave my own personal preferences as a consumer at the door.

      Marketers think about marketing in ways that the average consumer doesn’t. One of the best tips I received when I was getting started as an affiliate was to assume nothing. The ideas I perceive to be the best often turn out to be the worst. The ads I think will work, don’t. The ads I don’t give a snowball’s chance in Hell to…end up putting dinner on my table.

      The same applies to things like trust. I think we often over-estimate the effect of an ugly banner on the consumer, because we spend all of our days thinking about it. In my opinion, if it gets somebody to click, then we have a chance to sell. The aesthetics will soon be forgotten.

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  5. Stephanie Robbins

    Thanks for the post. I know it is an older one but still very relevant. Sending to a client of mine who wants to get the affiliate perspective.

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