5 Guidelines For Creating Effective Digital Advertising Ads

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Amanda Evans August 6, 2018

Digital ad spend is expected to contribute to 50% of all ad sales in 2018. Marketers are allocating more and more of their budget towards digital advertising for one key reason – it works.
But if you want to experience success with digital advertising, you need to know how to create effective digital advertising ads. If you don’t know how to do that, your success with digital advertising is going to be extremely limited.
Keep reading to discover 5 guidelines that will help you create effective digital ads. By the time you’re finished, you’ll know what separates the ads that make money, from the ones that don’t.
Let’s begin!

1) Gain Clarity on Your Target Audience

Your ability to define your target audience will have the biggest impact on whether you create effective digital ads or not.
There are two major reasons for this.
First, when you know who your target audience is, you can ensure relevance.
Relevance is the name of the game with digital ads.
If you can’t show your ads to the right people, then you’ve already lost – no matter how good your ads are. A great ad for cat food will not perform well if you show it to people who only care about buying dog food.
Once you know who your target audience is, it is easier to ensure relevance. You will know how to it adjust the settings of the ad platform you are using so that your ads are shown to the right people. It will also be easier to identify sites that will be worth advertising on.
The second reason is that it will be easier to create persuasive ads.
By taking the time to define your target audience, you will have a better appreciation for the pain points/goals of your chosen audience. This means you will be better equipped to craft persuasive copy that will draw attention and inspire action.  
Think about using a Buyer Persona to help you define your target audience. It will provide you with a framework that can help you develop a detailed description of your target audience.
Here is an example of a Buyer Persona:
This Buyer Persona is very detailed. If you find this overwhelming, focus on just identifying the following about your target audience, in relation to your offering:

  • Demographic data – their age, job and location
  • Their goals
  • Their paint points
  • Who influences them
  • The websites they visit

Note: It’s important to record who influences them and the websites they visit, because this makes it easier to identify websites you can place your ads on.
The more targeted your ads are, the better they will often perform. Because of this, it also helps consider something known as the Buyer’s Journey.
The Buyer’s Journey is a concept that illustrates how people go through varying stages, before they eventually become a customer. The characteristics of people in each stage of the Buyer’s Journey will be different. And so you will want to create specific personas for each stage.
If you can create ads for each stage of the Buyer’s Journey, you will be able to improve the ROI of your ads, because you will have increased the relevance of your ads.  

2) Align Your Ads With Your Landing Pages

It is important to make sure people are not left confused, once they’ve clicked on your ad. If there is any sort of dissonance between the ad and the landing page, visitors will be more likely to click the back button.
The reasons for this vary.
People might feel as though the ad took them to the ‘wrong’ page. They might also feel as though the ad misled them, and so they may leave page because they feel betrayed.
You can generally avoid these issues by aligning the messaging in the ad, with the messaging on the landing page.
Let’s review a great example from Optimizely, that helps highlight the importance of this concept. Note this example focuses on landing pages, more than the ads themselves. But it does highlight how important it is for your ads to align with the messaging on the landing pages.  
Take a look at the ‘control’ below.
All the ads have a different headline. But they all point to the same landing page and so the messaging doesn’t match as well as it should.
Now take a look at the ‘variation.’
There is now a greater level of alignment, between the ads and the landing pages. You can see that the headlines in the ads match the headlines on the landing pages. The result of this change was a 39.1% increase in conversions.
Taking this into consideration, it is clear to see that if your ad doesn’t align with the landing page, the ad it isn’t going to be as effective as it could be.
You could say this is a ‘chicken and the egg’ situation. Does the ad align with the landing page or the landing page with the ad?
To be fair, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure there is match regarding the messaging. If you create another landing page – create another ad that matches the messaging on the landing page. Avoid running a wide variety of ads (with different kinds of messaging), to the same landing page.

3) Learn How to Create Compelling Ads

Entire books have been dedicated to the topic of creating compelling ads. Fortunately, you don’t have to read pages and pages of content, to learn what makes an ad work.
There are proven principles that can help you create a compelling digital ad. As long as you stick to these principles you should be able to achieve some positive results.
Note: It’s worth mentioning that you can use ‘data’ to help you create effective ads. This can take a lot of the guesswork out of the ad creation process. This is something we will look at later in the post, when we discuss split-testing.  
With all that being said, let’s review some concepts that can help you create ads that will draw attention and inspire action.
Firstly, you need to make sure the content of your ads, matches the stage people are in, in the Buyer’s Journey.
Here’s a great graphic that helps to illustrate how the Buyer’s Journey typically works:
Buyers Journey
It is commonly said that you need to ensure your ads are benefit-rich or that they hit on pain points. Whilst this is true, there is a nuance here.
If people are in the awareness or consideration stage, you should focus on benefits/ pain points. You need to make it obvious why someone should click on your ad. Always think – what’s in it for them?
You take this approach because people in these earlier stages are aware they have a problem. But they don’t know what the solution is. So you use your ads as a means of positioning your product, as the solution to the problems experienced by your target audience. (This is also why identifying those pain points for your target audience is important.)
Suppose you are selling a WordPress plugin designed to improve the loading speed of a website. Let’s also consider that the revenue of an e-commerce store can be improved, by improving the loading times of a page.
You are targeting e-commerce store owners who want to improve their revenue numbers, but don’t know how. So you should position the plugin as a way to solve this problem. The people you are targeting are typically in the awareness stage.
To do this, you need create ads that highlight the fact that your plugin can help solve their low revenue problems. Do this by creating benefit rich ads or ads that address pain points. In doing so you will be able to gain their attention so that you can sell to them now or at some point later down the line.
Here are some examples of benefit rich ad copy, that align with the example above:

  • Improve E-commerce Load Time at the Click of a Button
  • Increase E-commerce Revenues with a Faster Website
  • Reduce Cart Abandonment by Speeding up Your Website

Here is some ad copy that focuses on highlighting pain points:

  • Is Your E-commerce Store Losing Money Because It Loads Too Slowly?
  • Are Slow Loading Speeds Hurting Your Revenue?
  • Your Slow Website Is Turning Away Customers. Here’s How You Can Fix the Problem.

But when you are targeting people in the ‘decision’ stage of the Buyer’s Journey, you need to focus more on promoting features.
People in the decision stage know what their problem is and what needs to be done to fix it. In this case, people know speeding up their page loading times is a priority. Now they’re trying to figure out which offering is best, for this specific problem.
By using your ads to promote features to people in this stage, you can differentiate your offering. You’ll, therefore, give people a reason to choose your product instead of a competitor.
Examples of ads that promote features include:

  • Faster Website Loading Speeds Thanks to Geo-Targeted Servers
  • Use Our Custom CDN Technology to Improve Your Loading Speeds

The people seeing these ads will likely know of the benefits of these features. But they will not be sure which company offers them. By mentioning these features in your ads, you can engage people who are ready to spend money on a solution like yours.
This can seem complicated. But in short – if you want your ads to succeed, define who exactly you want your ads to be shown to. Then go about creating copy that will resonate with that specific kind of person and the goals that they have.
Another way you can make your ads compelling is by making them specific.
A good way to do this is by using figures.
If you have data on how your product has delivered results for existing customers, consider inserting this info into your ad.
Here are some examples of how you can use figures in your ads.

  • Ecommerce Owners Generate 10% More Revenue as a Result of Using Our Plugin
  • Our Plugin Makes Websites Load 25% Faster in Just 60 Seconds

If you don’t have any numbers you can use, think about spending some time developing some stats that can be used to promote your service.
You don’t always have to include the specific figures in the headline of your ad. They can also be included in the description, as shown below.
Make sure your ads include a call to action.
Always tell people what to do. Tell them they need to click on your ad to learn more. State that they can download your report now. Whatever you want them to do, make sure you tell them.
In some cases, it can help to combine your call to action with other persuasive elements. This can make your ad even more compelling.
Here are some examples of how that can be done:
It’s also essential you put some time into studying the competition.
If someone has been advertising for a longer time than you, they’ve likely spent a lot of money on optimizing the performance of their ads.
By studying these ads you can learn what does and does not work in your marketplace.
Dissect the mechanisms behind these long-running ads. How are they phrasing their headlines? What benefits are they pushing? What kind of images are they using? What numbers are they using and how are they using these numbers?
Existing competitor ads can provide you with a set of best practices. Though over time you will want to experiment. By running tests that go against existing best practices you may be able to create ads that perform exceptionally well.

4) Study the Data

Instincts and best practices can help you achieve initial traction with your ads. But for long-term success, data is king.
You can use data to narrow down the reasons as to why an ad is underperforming. Then based on what you learn, you can optimize your ads so that they perform better. You can do this by assessing the various metrics that are associated with your ads.
Now, the metrics you pay attention to are going to vary, depending on the ad platform you are using (something we’ll cover later on). For instance, AdWords has Quality Score and Facebook has Relevance Score.
Yet in spite of this, there are metrics available across all ad platforms which can provide a lot of useful insight.
One of these metrics is ‘click-through-rate’ of your ads – also known as the CTR.
The goal is to have an ad that achieves a high CTR and high landing page conversions. You’ll generally find that if you have high CTR, then conversions are going to follow. This tends to be especially true for search ads.
But if your ads are not performing, you will need to study the data to learn what can be done to make them more effective.
Problem #1: Your ads are experiencing a low CTR.
In this case, it could mean that your ad is not compelling or that you haven’t targeted your ads properly. Split-test (more on this later) a variety of different ads against the same targeting. If you find that results are still subpar, there is likely a problem with your targeting.
Think about your target audience again, tightening your targeting and ensure the ads relate strongly to the ad targets.

Problem #2: If you are achieving a high CTR but low landing page conversions, your ad is likely compelling, but your landing page is not persuasive enough.
You might also be making promises in your ads, that your landing page fails to deliver on.
Make sure there is symmetry between your ads and the landing page. Also think about split-testing your landing page. If you don’t consider yourself to be a skilled copywriter, think about hiring someone to help you.
Another metric you will want to pay attention to is conversions.
But, before you do this, you need to clarify what you count as a conversion.
For some, you might consider a conversion as someone opting-in to your list. For other campaigns, you might count a conversion as someone actually becoming a customer, as a result of clicking on your ad.
You need to define what your preferred outcome is, and the price you are willing to pay to achieve that outcome. You then need to measure your results, to see if you’re on track.
If you are paying too much to achieve this result, your ad isn’t effective and you will need to go back to the drawing board.

As mentioned earlier, you can use a data-driven approach to help you create an effective ad.
You do this by creating multiple variations of the same ad. This is often known as split testing.
You then wait and see which one performs best. Depending on your results you remove the others and put money behind the winning ad. You then repeat the process again and again.

5) Choose the Right Ad Format

There are countless combinations of ad platforms & ad formats available to marketers. To create truly effective ads, it helps to have a deep understanding of the ad platform and ad formats that resonate best with your target audience.

Here is an example of the different ad products Facebook alone has on offer – 
Different ad products have different use cases.  
You want to pick the one that is best suited to your needs. You can only do this if you are aware of your needs ahead of time. It, therefore, helps to define the goal you have for your campaign. Once you’re aware of your goal, it becomes a lot easier to pick the correct ad product.
You should be willing to experiment with different ad products. Especially since ad platforms provide more than one ad product, in relation to a specific kind of campaign/outcome.
For instance, suppose you want to run a remarketing campaign on AdWords. You might benefit more by running a remarketing list for search ads (RLSA)  campaign– rather than a typical banner ad campaign.
But you can only make this decision when you are aware of your end goal, the ad products on offer (in relation to a specific goal) and how to use these ad products.

It is important you experiment with new ad products as you do not know how they will compare to typical ad products that are used to achieve a certain goal. For instance, Tirendo experienced a 161% improvement in conversions, thanks to RLSA ads.
It’s entirely possible that they might have been able to improve conversions by simply optimizing their existing ads or by running standard remarketing banner ads. But their decision to try an entirely new ad product helped produce this incredible increase in conversions.
If you have an understanding of the ad product, you’re also better able to create ads, that make full use of the features provided to you by the platform in question.
Imagine you’re running an AdWords search ad designed to promote a sale.
You could do this by creating a typical, standard search ad. But, you could also customize your ad to make it perform at a higher level. For example, you could run a search ad that contains a countdown timer related to the sale.
This timer can be used to help drive action – thereby potentially improving the response your ad generates. But again, you can only do this once you’re aware that such features exist.
Spend some time reading the documentation provided by the ad platform in question. The information on offer will tell you about the ad products and features available.  Here is an example of some documentation, that does just that.

As you can see it’s not all that difficult to understand. But implementing this information can produce incredible results.
That’s because you may be able to uncover ad opportunities, that your competitors are completely unaware of. If you are using a location modifier in your ad, it can draw more attention than a competitor ad that does not make use of this feature.
When you understand the ad platform, is also becomes easier to track key data points that will help you create better ads in the future.
You’ll have a better appreciation for where a conversion pixel needs to be installed and how it to properly install one. You’ll also know how to use the data from the conversion pixels to create ads that generate a better return on investment.
This information can be used to help you drill down further on what separates an effective ad from one that’s burning a hole in your pocket. You can then use that information to inform the creation of future ads.


In this post, we’ve taken a look at some guidelines you can use to help you create effective digital advertising ads.
You’ve learned the importance of knowing your audience as well as the significance of creating compelling ads. We also touched on a number of other factors that can determine the effectiveness of your ads, such as understanding the ad platform you’re using.
If you’re new to digital advertising, this can seem a little bit overwhelming at the moment. But that’s okay. Just take the first step.
Set up a small campaign, keeping in mind what we’ve covered here. If results are poor and something goes wrong, refer back to this post. You should be able to find out what’s causing the problem and correct course appropriately.
Best of luck!