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Banner Ads: The Best Performing Banner Ad Sizes, Formats, Locations, and Colors

by Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns

Published October 08, 2007. Copyright © 2007-2008 Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns and WebsiteTips.com. All rights reserved.

Internet Advertising Revenues Continue To Soar, Reach Nearly $10 Billion In First Half Of '07” reports the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers October 04, 2007.[1] This growth “continues to point to the mainstream acceptance of the medium and advertisers' continuing reliance on it.”

This is fantastic, positive news for both online publishers and advertisers! So how can we best maximize on this advertising revenue growth and continuing upward trend? The online ads themselves, ad placement, ad sizes and formats, and ad colors each play important roles in CTR (click-through rate) and earnings for publishers and advertisers. To maximize earnings for these ads, publishers need to optimize ads, part of which is choosing the best ad sizes and locations for their pages, along with choosing effective colors. This article provides charts of current standard ad sizes, Google AdSense ad sizes, formats and Yahoo! Publisher Network ad sizes, formats, followed by recommendations and statistics on the best performing ad locations, best performing ad sizes, formats, and blending or contrasting your ads with your site.

Charts and Graphics of Banner Ad Sizes, Ad Formats

The charts below reflect the standard for banner ad sizes, followed by charts of Google AdSense ad sizes, formats, then Yahoo! Publisher ad sizes, formats.

IMU Standard Online Banner Ad Sizes, Formats, Graphics

The IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) Ad Sizes Working Group publishes banner ad size guidelines. “These voluntary guidelines provide a framework for advertising inventory and Web page design. The goal is to reduce and simplify the amount of work for agencies that may be faced with having to create several assets of a similar size for different publishers, e.g. 300x95, 300x100, 300x105.”

Below you'll find the current[2] recommended banner ad sizes, and this listing includes 3 categories: Rectangles and Popups Banner Ad Sizes, Banners and Buttons Banner Ad Sizes, and Skyscrapers Banner Ad Sizes. In addition you'll also find graphics to show their respective sizes - click on the links corresponding with each category to view graphics showing the actual sizes.

IMU = Interactive Marketing Unit

UAP = Part of the Universal Ad Package

Rectangles and Popups Online Banner Ad Sizes, Formats[3]
Ad Size, FormatAd Type
300 x 250 IMU, UAP Medium Rectangle
250 x 250 IMU Square Pop-up
240 x 400 IMU Vertical Rectangle
336 x 280 IMU Large Rectangle
180 x 150 IMU, UAP Rectangle
300 x 100 IMU 3:1 Rectangle
720 x 300 IMU Pop-Under

View graphics of ad sizes: Rectangles and Popups Online Banner Ad Sizes, Formats (a separate popup window will open.)

Banners and Buttons Online Banner Ad Sizes, Formats[4]
Ad Size, FormatAd Type
468 x 60 IMU Full Banner
88 x 31 IMU Micro Bar
120 x 90 IMU Button 1
120 x 60 IMU Button 2
120 x 240 IMU Vertical Banner
728 x 90 IMU, UAP Leaderboard

View graphics of ad sizes: Banners and Buttons Online Banner Ad Sizes, Ad Formats (a separate popup window will open.)

Skyscrapers Online Banner Ad Sizes, Formats[5]
Ad Size, FormatAd Type
160 x 600 IMU, UAP Wide Skyscraper
120 x 600 IMU Skyscraper
300 x 600 IMU Half Page Ad

View graphics of ad sizes: Skyscrapers Online Banner Ad Sizes, Ad Formats (a separate popup window will open.)

Google AdSense Online Banner Ad Sizes, Ad Formats

As you'll see from the chart below, Google AdSense offers quite a wide range of banner ad formats in several categories. See also Google's official information: Google AdSense Ad Formats.

Y = Yes

Google AdSense Ad Sizes, Ad Formats [6]
Ad Size, FormatAd TypeText AdsImage AdsVideo Ads
728 x 90 Leaderboard YYY
468 x 60 Banner YY
234 x 60 Half Banner Y
120 x 600 Skyscraper YYY
160 x 600 Wide Skyscraper YYY
180 x 150 Small Rectangle Y
120 x 240 Vertical Banner Y
200 x 200 Small Square YYY
250 x 250 Square YYY
300 x 250 Medium Rectangle YYY
336 x 280 Large Rectangle YYY
Google AdSense Link Unit Banner Ad Sizes, Ad Formats [7]
Ad Size, FormatDisplays up to 5 linksDisplays up to 4 links
120x90 Y
120x90_4 Y
160x90 Y
160x90_4 Y
180x90 Y
180x90_4 Y
160x90 Y
160x90_4 Y
200x90 Y
200x90_4 Y
468x15 Y
468x15_4 Y
728x15 Y
728x15_4 Y

Yahoo! Publisher Network Online Banner Ad Sizes, Ad Formats

As you'll see from the chart below, Yahoo! Publisher Network offers 10 banner ad sizes. See also Yahoo's official information: Frequently Asked Questions: What are the layout options for ads on my web page?

Yahoo! Publisher Network Banner Ad Sizes, Ad Formats[8]
Ad Size, FormatAd Type
728 x90 Leaderboard
120 x 600 Skyscraper
160 x 600 Wide skyscraper
180 x 150 Small rectangle
300 x 250 Medium rectangle
336 x 280 Large rectangle
120 x 240 Vertical banner
234 x 60 Half-banner
468 x 60 Banner
250 x 250 Square

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Best Results for Banner Ad Placement and Ad Sizes, Ad Formats

Knowing banner ad sizes, as shown above, is one thing. But which ad sizes give the best results, the highest CTR, the most earnings, and where should they be placed for optimal results? While there's no single answer that fits every single Web page or even pages within the same Web site, there are general guidelines and studies that show tendencies that can be used as a starting point for consideration. Google AdSense Help Center suggests asking yourself the following questions:[9]

Answering each of these questions can be a great starting place to help determine where to place your ads and which sizes to use for each page. Be sure to consider each page of your site with your evaluations. Take notes for each page, and keep a log of as much detail as possible about your ad placements, sizes, and decisions. Keep the log going as you fine tune your ad placements, noting why you revised your placements or sizes.

For those using Google AdSense, using Google AdSense channels can help tremendously with tracking your ads. AdSense channels can help you see exactly what's working and what isn't and where. I use a combination of URL channels and custom channels to track my various ad placements and their URLs - it's a fabulous tool and easy to set up. Using channels can make a huge positive difference with optimizing your site for AdSense.

Best Performing Ad Locations

Recreation of Google Adsense heatmap - by Shirley Kaiser, SKDesigns for Websitetips.com While each site is unique and needs to be considered with that in mind, certain locations do tend to be more successful. Google's AdSense ad locations heatmap shows these locations, with darker orange giving the strongest performance and fading to light yellow with the weakest performance.

As you can see in Google's AdSense ad locations heatmap:

It's most important to consider your users, though, and their behavior at your specific site and with each specific page at your site.

Most Successful Ad Placements (Yahoo! Publishers) [10]
AnswerResponse (%)
Leaderboard 27.32%
Right rail 9.28%
Left rail 7.88%
Embedded in content 44.66%
Below the fold 1.93%
Rotating positions 4.73%
Total 100%

Margaret Holland, a senior account manager at Yahoo! Publisher Network, finds that “from a click-through standpoint, most publishers get the best results when they place a 'leaderboard' above the fold between the top nav and their rich content.”[11] She finds the next most effective for click-throughs is the right-hand column or margin, especially with skyscrapers and vertical banners when placed next to the content in the main body. In addition, she finds that contextual square and rectangle banner ads within the center of the body content also do well.

The results of a poll by Yahoo! Publisher Blog via Your Ad Display Preferences dated January 26, 2007, asked where their publishers find the most successful ad placement, as shown in the chart to the left.

Best Performing Ad Sizes, Ad Formats

Phoebe Ho of Google AdSense's Optimization team reports in a Google AdSense Optimization Webinar, that the best performing ad size is the large rectangle, 336x280. She also stresses the importance of using the best format for your own site, though:

So the wider formats do best, so specifically, the top three formats are the 336x280 that you see on the page; the 300x250 medium rectangle; and then the 160x600 wide skyscraper.

As I had mentioned before, because there's a lot of variety with different sites, you want to make sure that you're using the best format for your site. Don't try to squeeze in a format that doesn't fit your site just because we said so here today. I want to make sure that you fit in the right format that would fit into your site. But just to let you know that wider formats do tend to perform better.

Google is not alone in this observation, either. For example, in Best Practices for Optimizing Web Advertising Effectiveness (PDF), based on a multitude of statistical studies that “show a strong correlation between the size of ads and their click-through performance”, the authors recommend larger ad sizes, especially the 336x280 size, format: “measuring click-through rate (CTR) and purchase intent respectively, the “large rectangle”(336x280 pixels) was particularly noteworthy in its effectiveness compared to other standard on-page display ad units.” The publication also mentions that the 728x90 leaderboard format is gaining in use, too, as being a desirable ad size.

Banner Ad Colors: Blend in or Contrast with Your Site?

In addition to optimizing your ad placements, should your ads contrast with your Web site or blend in? Both Yahoo! Publisher Network and Google AdSense report that best performance of their ad placements tend to be from ads that blend in with the content.

Another poll by Yahoo! Publisher Network via Your Ad Display Preferences asked, “Do you find it more successful to select ad colors that blend in with your site or contrast?” The chart below shows the results, also dated January 26, 2007:

Most Successful Ad Colors Blend In Vs. Contrast (Yahoo! Publishers) [12]
AnswerResponse (%)
Blend in 85.71%
Contrast 10.46%
Other 3.82%
Total 100%

Google AdSense staff continue to write about blending your ad colors with your site's colors, such as their AdSense Help Center article, What color palettes are the most successful? and their blog posts, Color your ads beautiful and Unobtrusive ads can boost revenue. Google's AdSense Help Center makes the following recommendations based on your site's background colors:

Most Successful Ad Colors Blend In Vs. Contrast (Google AdSense) [13]
Background Color Behind AdsAds within ContentAds Adjacent to Content
Light background Blend Blend or complement
Dark background Blend, complement, or contrast Contrast or complement

In addition, for sites with mainly repeat visitors Google AdSense recommends rotating color palettes or occasionally switching the ad locations to help avoid banner blindness. If your site has lots of ads and busy content, Google AdSense recommends to “use more visually arresting colors” for your ads.

Marketing Experiments Journal also reports better ad conversions with blended ads in their case study article, Online Ads Tested, dated 27 March, 2007. “Advertising that blended in and looked like a 'native' site content performed significantly better than ads that stood out from the rest of the page.”

To receive higher clickthrough rates for your contextual ads, you should test making the text in your ad match the size and colors of the host site's native content. Company logos and offer elements should be small enough not to shout “advertisement” so loudly as to be blocked by the subconscious “ad filters” of content site visitors.

In order to discover what type of ad is most effective for your particular content seekers, we suggest you test multiple variations of ads that appear “native” to the page against those that stand out.

Google AdSense, Yahoo! Publisher Network, and Marketing Experiments Journal all stress the importance of considering your own site and visitors. Whether using your own ads or contextual ads, such as those through Google AdSense and Yahoo! Publisher, you may need to experiment a bit with your own site's ad locations, ad sizes, formats and ad colors to achieve the best performance from your ads.

Borders Around Ads

Consider removing borders around your ads as part of helping them blend in better. This seemingly minor detail could help improve your CTR and become a better paying ad.

Conclusion

I tossed out a lot of stats about banner ads along with quotes from official sources about banner ads, including information about the best ad locations, best ad sizes or ad formats, and best ad colors. Generally speaking, ads toward the center of the page, above the fold, and blend in with the page tend to perform the best right now. The larger ad sizes or formats, especially the large rectangle (336x280) and the leaderboard (728x90) also tend to perform the best at this point. In other words, these tend to be the best paying ad sizes, formats, locations, and colors.

While all the stats do indeed show trends, and it's helpful and important to research all this before implementing ads at your own site, it's so important to evaluate your own site's specific needs to determine the best ad sizes, formats, placements, and colors. These general trends might or might not be the best performers for your own site and visitors. In addition, it can often take a bit of experimenting, and you might need to make changes from time to time to avoid banner blindness, to help improve CTR and to see which combination is the best paying ad, or for further optimization.

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_____________
Footnotes:

[1]Internet Advertising Revenues Continue To Soar, Reach Nearly $10 Billion In First Half Of '07, Press Release October 04, 2007, IAB.

[2] As of 06 October 2007.

[3] Ad sizes, formats from IAB - Interactive Advertising Bureau

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ad sizes, formats from Google AdSense Ad Formats, Google AdSense Help Center

[7] Ibid.

[8]What are the layout options for ads on my web page?, Yahoo! Publisher Network FAQs

[9]Where should I place Google ads on my pages?, Google AdSense Help Center

[10]Your Ad Display Preferences, Yahoo! Publisher Network Blog, 01/26/2007

[11]Location, location, location . . ., Yahoo! Publisher Network Blog, 05/10/2006

[12]Your Ad Display Preferences, Yahoo! Publisher Network Blog, 01/26/2007

[13]What color palettes are the most successful?, Google AdSense Help Center

About the Author

 Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists, by Shirley Kaiser. SitePoint (07-2006).  Shirley Kaiser owns SKDesigns, a Web site design and development business she started in 1996. She specializes in accessibility-friendly, user-centered Web site design and graphics, Web standards, information architecture, and collaborative team projects. Shirley writes weekly columns and has authored dozens of tutorials and articles related to graphics, Web site design, and the Internet. Shirley is also the editor and owner of WebsiteTips.com, a popular and valuable educational resource devoted to website owners, designers, and educators. In addition, Shirley is also the author of Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists, published by SitePoint Pty. Ltd., July 2006.

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