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A Checklist For Effective Online Advertising

The following is part 2 of the course materials that I use in my “Communications as Capital” class that I teach in the Sonoma State Wine MBA program. Part 1 is here: Developing The Effective Online Advertisment

Numerous advertising and usability studies have shown that a relatively small number of actions can make the difference between success and failure.

Once you have determined the top needs and wants of your prospects (as discussed in Developing The Effective Online Advertisment), then you’re ready to get into the actual production.

There are a number of examples of effective advertisements at the end of this as well as a small hypothetical case history.


  • Avoid banner blindness. Text should dominate, not images and banners.While usability studies show that images attract reader attention, pretty pictures in standard advertising sizes are most frequently ignored. Indeed, anything that looks like a typical banner will be invisible. While the ad below occupies a standard advertising space, it does not look like a banner.

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  • Make an offer that they can’t refuse (free, discount, white-paper, sample, kittens…). Speak to their needs and wants. Give them a reason to care and compel them and click on the ad.
  • Issue a call to action (Click now! Download the …”). The offer and call to action MUST be consistent with their top need/want.
  • Your ad should offer production values that fit the situation and also imply quality and value.
  • Change your ad frequently. People get used to the same old, same old.
  • Consider text-only ads. People tend to look at these more frequently because they are psychologically prepared for text to offer useful information.
  • Provide useful information. It keeps people coming back. See the Wine Country Classifieds ad in this issue of News Fetch. It’s always text, changed every day and offers useful information year after year.
  • Make sure message is integrated with other media (social, PR etc) targeted at each stakeholder.
  • Populate the “alt” tag inside “img src” with extensive text and hour offer. That will display even if the ad is viewed by someone using an ad blocker.
  • Make sure all ads are clearly identified as such.
  • Consider sponsored content or links, but always make sure the reader knows clearly and advance that these are the equivalent of an advertisement.
  • Offer something that gets people to sign up for your mailing list.
  • Link to relevant blog posts that contain useful information for your stakeholders. Put that message in your ad.
  • Update your blog frequently and make sure the headline is in your advertising.
  • Use a custom landing page that integrates tightly with your offer. Just sending someone to your home web page is often too vague to convert them to a customer.
  • Use analytics. Google’s are free and very helpful in tracking traffic.
  • Pay attention to analytics. When they indicate that traffic starts to diminish, change your ad.
  • Don’t annoy. No twitching banners, large (slow loading) graphics, self-starting videos, Flash in general.
  • Don’t pay for rotating ad space. There is no way of telling when your ad might come up or whether it will come up when someone sees it. Some systems load the first ad when the page is loaded. In a case like that, unless you are the first ad, viewers may scroll down or click away before they ever see you.
  • Don’t pay for ad space on a continuation page. Readers dislike going from page to page of the same article and are likely to click away rather than continue. Most continuation pages are slick tactics by unscrupulous parties to artificially inflate the number of visits and page views so they can try to justify higher advertising rates. For more details, see: Ad Fraud Grows In Wine Country: Turns Off Readers, Misleads Advertisers



You should save examples of advertisements that attracted your attention because of message or format. Save with either a screen capture utility or by right-clicking on them. Use these for inspiration.

This collection also c0ntains several examples of all text-formats. Some of these are not ads, but the format could be effectively used as such,

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