Dr. Banner, the Banner Doctor and Basic Banner Assumptions

As a doctor, it’s important to get things right. That means never getting things wrong. Which is to say that you always do the right things and never the wrong things. Are we clear? Good because I’d hate to mess that up.

In the past we’ve broken down banners and I’ve tried to offer ways I think they can be improved, but I’ve always written those articles with the assumption that everyone knows the basics.

Then I realized that maybe that might not be the case. Maybe it might be good idea to break it down. Maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions because (to borrow a quote from Samuel L. Jackson in ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’) “everyone knows, when you make an assumption, you make an ass out of “u” and “umption”.”

So I won’t make that mistake again…

At least not today…

I hope.

Let’s talk basics. First we’ll start with the design elements that we typically use in the layout of a banner, then we can discuss sizes and formats. I won’t get into exhaustive detail about the last two because I don’t want anyone’s head to explode – in particularly mine. I mean I like you. You seem nice. You’ve read the last few paragraphs of what I’ve written, but at this point do we REALLY know each other well enough where I’d put your welfare over mine? Okay, maybe I should but I’ve said that I’m not going to make any more assumptions right?

Moving on, because it’s what you typically do after an awkward moment like that…

Where were we? Yes! Elements in a banner layout. Well that’s easy let’s start out easy with a simple thingamabob name to remember, something like the 3B’s. Border, body and button.


Yes you should have a border. The reason being is that you don’t want to have a ton of banners on the off-chance you start advertising on a site that uses a background similar to one or many of the colors you’re using in your banner. It creates a defining line, a barrier between your banner and the content surrounding it. The border doesn’t have to be thick, but it should be a color that contrasts the dominant colors of your banner. To recap, I highly recommend some sort of border.

Body. Yeah baby, that’s the spot. The spot where you’re going to hammer home your clear and concise message! You’re going to intrigue the viewer give them a taste of what awaits them on the other side of that click. Make sure your images and copy are legible and not misleading. There’s nothing worse than being mislead to a site that doesn’t have anything the banner promised or hinted at. Don’t think you’re being cute by using double entendres. No one will be amused by being duped into clicking and subsequently disappointed. Clear and concise. Reword your message until you can say it in 15 words or less. Less is better, but 15 should be your limit. For example, my comic is Rick the Stick and I used to say on my banners “The classic saga of an extraordinary stickman living in an ordinary cartoon world” – that’s a mouthful. Then I changed my banners to say “Critics Agree: It’s a thing”. The latter doesn’t say much about the comic, but it’s shorter, witty and intriguing.

Button. Arguably the most important part of the banner. You should invite people to click on the button, it gives them a focal point, direction on what they should do. Avoid using command terms like SUBMIT or CLICK NOW DAMMIT!

I’d definitely wouldn’t use last one. Some suggestions are ‘Find Out More’ or ‘See More’. You could also use some brief copy to support the button like ‘Watch the insanity unfold’ then on the button say “Make Me Crazy!” ‘Discover The Corners of the Universe’ then on the button “Take Me There Now!”. Hopefully you can see that these are ideas that you should customize for your own comic – and it may not be perfect to start.

Also make your buttons look like buttons. Dont’ make someone waste a precious second thinking about it – that second thought could lead them away from your banner.

I always recommend using a color for your button that stands out but isn’t obnoxious. Use a color that also makes sense and inspires the reader to click. Reds and oranges are action colors, but won’t stand out on red or orange backgrounds. Blue is a corporate and secure color. Green is an earthy tone. I would recommend staying with that color range, but gray is also a color that may fit within your banner’s palate. I almost used a ‘but’ in every sentence of this paragraph including this one!

This is not a working button...

Ahem. We could stop with the design there, (and here it comes) “but” here are some other elements that are important as well.

Title. I didn’t want to assume you knew that this would be a part of the Body so I’m laying it out here. Your comic’s title should be somewhere on the banner. Or allude to it. On another banner I tested for my site, the title screamed “#1 Comic”, then below that said “about a stickman named Rick”. You see what I did there? I included the name of my comic without exactly saying it. Therefore, I’m hoping readers aren’t disappointed when they see a comic about a stickman named Rick. Oh so simple!

Bottom Banner - Bad URL

This URL is hard to read - who would remember this? It's a waste of space!

URL. Another item you could argue about regarding importance is your web address, but we’re not here to argue – we’re here to explain the basics. Let’s say your comic is located at http://www.crazycomictown.com/users/~twotailstales/ that’s a lot to put in a banner without breaking it up on more than one line. Since people are clicking through directly to your comic, let the title do the talking. If you’re title is clear enough, it should make finding you again easy. The hard part is getting people wanting to come back!

Comic. You probably could include a little art from your comic if you think it will help sell the click. Then again, if you do a good job with the copy and style of the banner, you could do better without it – especially depending on the size of the banner. Remember all those times you heard size doesn’t matter? Lies. All lies.

Those are the basics and if you can work your way around those, you should be fine – although I have a general disclaimer that I’ll post at the end of this very entertaining article.
Next up, we’ll touch on two other things that are important to consider outside of the design.

Size. As I mentioned, size matters. You’re not going to cram all of your information inside a button add. You also don’t want to leave out anything important in larger ads (see the above article). I always recommend just using banners that are popular on the sites you’re planning on advertising on. It makes no sense to design an ad at 300×250 pixels when no one is using them. Save your time, work on your comic. Popular banners are button sized (they vary from site to site depending on whether someone uses Project Wonderful or not), standard half banners of 234×60 pixels, standard banners of 468×60, leaderboards 728×90 and skyscrapers of 160×600 pixels.

Smaller buttons may not work if your trying to get a complex message across, but then I always suggest making your message easier to communicate!

Format. This is important because some people spend a lot of time creating animated banners. I don’t recommend them. The reason being is that you usually only have a split second to get someone’s attention on a lot of sites that have a lot going on. That means that split second would have to portray the exact message you wanted to communicate.

Good luck with that.

The reason I say that is that we all pretty much suffer from banner blindness. We all know they are there, but we rarely concentrate on them. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your message is clear and concise because no one is studying your banner. There’s another drawback to animated banners. Sites can opt to not feature them. If they’re not done correctly they can add to the download times and that’s one thing you don’t want is a bunch of banners slowing down your site. So stick with jpgs and pngs and try and get your file sizes down as much as possible while sacrificing as little quality as you can.

Whew! I managed to get at least 14 “buts” – errr, now 15 – into this article. That’s got to be a record for me! That’s also 1470 words of pure genius – or 147 if you round down. Either way, I hope you learned a little something and managed to be entertained along the way. If you like this article feel free to comment. If you have a question, ask away. Did I miss something? Everything is fair game and you can say or ask your piece right below in the comment section. It’s handy and economical!

Now for the disclaimer: Please note that any and all advice given by the doctor is subject to application and only recommendations. The Doctor, Webcomic Alliance, it’s members, relatives, subsidiaries both nationally and internationally make no promise of wild to moderate success. Tax, tag, title and dealer fees are not included and may not be available in your area. The doctor is not a medical doctor and you should not read this article with any other articles you’re currently reading.

I’m always looking for volunteers to let me help them improve their ads and together we’ll ask readers for their feedback. If you’d like to volunteer your comic’s banners, send an email to rtswebmail [at] gmail [dot] com – make sure you put ‘Dr. Banner – the Banner Doctor’ as the subject. Not all banners will be reviewed, but I will try to get to everyone.

Ken Drab sporting the thin faced lookKen Drab (pictured) is not a real doctor but features a small brain and a savant-like interest in branding, marketing and design. He better, that’s what he gets paid to do at his day job. In make believe – he’s a comic artist for the #1 Comic about a stickman named Rick.

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  1. Nice! Very good start-up for anyone who can think straight (like me) when doing a banner! As a matter of fact, I can never think straight, period..

    quick comment regarding using a Borders: When advertising on other sites, we know we can either use a campaign or target very specific websites. In that last case (targeting websites), I would recommend to use a border to matches the website’ palette.

  2. Great advice, Doc!

    Does this count as an office visit? I don’t see where my HMO lists what the co-pay is…

    I’ll get this prescription for 10px of Bordercillin to my pharmacist right away!

  3. My question is only tangentially related, but this seemed the best place to ask:

    Once we’ve followed these guidelines, made our ad, and taken the plunge on advertising, how do we know if the returns are good? What is a GOOD response to an ad selling space on other webcomic sites?

    I’d love to run a comparison of numbers (data data data!) for PW ad results. For my initial tests, I chose four webcomics with a range of readerships, styles, and fantasy-related content (epic-fantasy to urban-mythology). The results have been, thus far, as follows:

    #….CTR….Retention (# new visitors going through archives vs total visitors)

    So are these good? Bad? What do the rest of you typically see?

  4. Thanks Doc Drab!
    I’ve got a lot to learn on banners. Thanks for putting this together. I can’t believe I never even thought of making something that looked like a “button” on my ads. I’m just making nice windows but not a door to my site.

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