Banner Ads Vs. Text Links: To Be Or Not To Be

Banner Ads Vs. Text links
Banner Ads Vs. Text links
The decision of whether to use banner ads or text links in their websites has been troubling the minds of affiliates and marketers for many years now, and the debate still goes on, regardless many of the studies done to reveal the effectiveness of one over the other.
Most probably, the opposite camps will remain debating for long, as it is mainly a psychological matter of human perception of what catches the eye the most and what stimulates the visitor to make a purchase.
About banners and banner placements
There are many types of banner sizes, ranging from microbars (88×31) to large leader boards (728×90), as per IAB’s banners standard size guidelines.
This Wikipedia graphic gives a simple, yet very useful visualization of what the standard banner sizes are and their possible placements on your site. Not wanting to stray too much off topic here, I’d recommend a more thorough explanation of the types and sizes of banner ads here, in case you are curious.
What makes a banner ad appealing to site owners is the fact that it is a great way to illustrate a concept, whilst playing with graphics and colors. Not to mention that the saying, a ‘picture speaks a thousand words’ is still valid up to this date.
If a banner ad is complemented with some kick-ass copy which targets the relevant audience and its relevant need, then the banner ad might do better than a text link.
The opinions
Perhaps the best answer to what works best is: It depends. One might work quite well for one affiliate, and be considered as a waste of time by another. It is a question with no right answer for the most part, and here are some of the opinions on it:
Popular affiliate marketing blogger Rae Hoffman states

In my experience, sidebar ads drive the least amount of sales of any other affiliate advertising method on my blogs. Take Sugarrae for instance – less than 10% of the site’s overall affiliate earnings come from my sidebar ads (but hey, it does bring in some sales).”

Another affiliate also backs up the usage of text links in the Simple Machines Forum:

I have had many members comment over the years about how one thing they like about our forum is how we don’t have any ads on it. Yet we have tons of text ads in the form of part numbers and model number that link to our affiliates websites. We have also had a parts search box at the top of our site for years that links to one of our appliance parts affiliates website.

And here is a pro-banner ads opinion from the same forum:

“…but banners – a real good one can out sell a text link.  It basically comes down to if the person knows a thing or two or three or four about Copy writing or Advertising.   I’ve done adwords testing and so far banners with the same ad copy as my text counter part have a higher CTR for me.”

The verdict
There is no right and wrong here, and good promotion is promotion done well, no matter whether it is on a shiny billboard or on a napkin in a fancy restaurant. Jokes aside, no matter whether we are talking affiliate marketing or any other type of marketing, the most important thing to do is keep calm and consider your target audience and your message. Whether the message needs to be dressed up well to grab the attention of the online/offline ‘passers-by’, it truly depends upon your understanding of your target audience and some other factors I have discussed below.
The questions you should be asking yourself
Are you promoting a product or service?
Some visual support for a product may work well since products are made of physical matter and may trigger all of our senses, whereas services cannot be seen, smelled or touched and having someone recommend them to us might turn out to be most effective. As a woman, I would certainly be more tempted to click on a banner ad showing off a nice pair of high heels, which also happen to be on a sale (considering I am broke most of the time), rather than click on a text link, saying “Best high heels, 60% off”.
Banner Ads Vs Text links
Even if Carrie Bradshaw recommended them in an article, there is a greater chance I’d click on the nice looking banner ad. When you have a product, and especially a good-looking one, the best thing to do is show it off to the world.
When it comes to service, where you need to start believing its value, a recommendation would work best for me, and I guess for most people, especially if it comes from a person/company you trust.
How much white space do you have available?
Or in other words, is your side bar full of adorable small ads? It is important to consider the availability of white space on your side bar or wherever you plan to place your banner ads. If, say, your side bar is already cluttered with lots of other banner ads, there is a great risk your site visitors would get ‘banner blind’. The term ‘banner blindness’ refers to the “conscious or unconscious decision to ignore web spaces conventionally containing banner ads”, as explained by Infolinks. Or, more simply put, people tend to not notice banner ads when visiting a site due to the predictability of their placements. Banner blindness is of the main reason for a downward trend in CTRs in the past few years. Affiliate marketing aside, and talking only PPC, recent studies show that while banner ads may not be that successful in terms of CTR and engagement, they are a useful tool in increasing brand awareness.
As an affiliate, try not to cluster your web space with too many ads, but use a few instead since less ads can equal more. Another way to deal with this issue if you want to stick with all your sidebar banner ads is to rotate them on a regular basis and show less at a time.
banner blindness
Image credit: Smashing Magazine
Do you know the product/service well?
If you do know the product/service well, and especially if it is a service, consider writing a recommendation or an interesting article which your target audience might find useful and include your text links inside. Text links have proven to be quite effective in contextual affiliate marketing, and posting a trustworthy recommendation, which shows off the main benefits of a service will most probably lead to higher engagement and conversions than a banner would.
Are you backed up well on the creative side?
To fight the banner blindness phenomenon, many companies get creative and going about it, crafting interesting banners to attract the visitor’s eye and placing banners in extraordinary web spaces to catch them off guard. If your merchant’s banners are visually attractive and creative, there is no harm in trying them out to see how they perform.
In a nutshell, consider the above factors when deciding upon whether to use banner ads or text links, and don’t forget to experiment and mix things up to optimize the performance of your affiliate marketing.
No matter which method you choose, it all boils down to the relevancy of your audience and how it perceives your promotional message. Keep experimenting, using both promotional methods and see for yourself which one brings you more conversions.
Let me know in the comments below if you have done some testing yourself and which method worked best for you.



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