Best Practices for Digital Creative

Considerations for designing ads for your digital campaigns.

What constitutes ‘successful’ digital creative is ever-changing, almost by the season. While we don’t design digital creative in order to maintain our focus on placement and optimization, we do note and provide performance insights on creative to better serve our clients and their campaign results. Below are a few take-aways as of Fall 2021 to be updated periodically.

What creative direction is best?

Commonly asked questions we hear on this subject are:

  • Which performs better, text-only vs. images? 
  • Should my ads include pictures of people, places, or activities? 
  • Will video outperform a static ad? 
  • What calls-to-action typically perform best? 
  • Can I use stock imagery or do I need to hire someone to capture high quality photo and video? 

We know this can be an annoying answer–but the reality is–it just depends. We’ve set up campaigns with objectively well-designed and aesthetically appealing ads and been surprised to see little or no results, as compared to basic or simple designs that just knock it out of the park. The correlation between performance and design really all depends on the intended audience and message, timing, and platform.

As with most creative, we recommend to stay on brand and be sure the ad you’re serving clearly ties to the action you want your customer to take. For instance, if you’re trying to drive applicants to a landing page with a resume submission form, your ad should indicate that’s what they can expect to find if they click. (i.e. “Apply today!”) Outside of that, we suggest using ad variations such as identical ads with differing CTAs or images, and to keep in mind potential restrictions for specific industries and interest categories.

The take-away here is that there is no one “best” kind of ad, though there may be a good starting point depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. We recommend putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience and applying creative direction parameters based on what’s most likely to speak to your prospects. And when in doubt, test, test, and test again.

How many ads should be included per campaign?

Having multiple ad variations is incredibly useful in any campaign. Not only does this allow you to test different approaches, (i.e. comparing text vs. imagery) it protects your campaigns from creative fatigue. Especially in campaigns with tight geos and long run-times, more options makes it less likely that your audience will become overexposed to the same ad and visually tune it out. When possible, we recommend creating 3-5 ads per platform to test and measure. As your campaign runs, we’ll optimize to serve the most successful ads more frequently and turn off ads that aren’t performing. This will allow you to maximize performance in your current campaign and provide you the added benefit of collecting performance metrics for future design. Of note when testing, it’s best to only test one element at a time such as image performance in one round of tests or best performing CTAs in the following. Mixing and matching the ad elements you’re testing makes it really difficult to pinpoint what made the difference in delivery.

What sizes perform best?

The answer to this question is less infuriatingly vague! Sizes vary from platform to platform based on the dimensions, file size, and file type each will accept. Here’s a quick look at what we’ve found to perform best as of the time of this writing:

  • GDN – 728×90, 160×600, 300×600, 300×250, 320×50, and300x50, 150 kb max file size, static or responsive. As of Fall 2021 Google is trending toward all responsive ads using portrait and/or landscape photos or videos of any size. 
  • YouTube – 1080×1920 video. Ideal length is the shorter the better, predominantly :15, :30, or :60. However, YouTube will allow up to 6:00. There is no max file size, but video files must be uploaded to a legitimate YouTube account and available publicly or via an unlisted link.
  • Facebook/Instagram – 1080×1080, 1200×628, 600×600 static or video, and 800×800 for carousels. The max file size accepted is 30 mb. These ads must be accompanied by Primary Text of up to 140 characters and a Headline of up to 40 characters.
  • SnapChat – 1080×1920 static, dynamic, or video. The max file size accepted is 5 mb for images or 1 gb for video.
  • Twitter – 1200×600, 1200×800, 1200×1200, 800×418, 800×800. Max file size of 20 mb. These ads must be accompanied by text of up to 280 characters (or 257 if a link is included.)

Restrictions for specific industries and interest categories

Specific industries and interest categories have restrictions in terms of the content and targeting they may serve. (For example, see Employment, Credit, and Housing.) In addition to your industry’s restrictions, be aware that most platforms are on the lookout for content that may be considered controversial or explicit. Algorithms often flag the kind of content your Mom warned you was off limits for polite dinner discussion, like sex, drugs, religion, and politics. Other topics that are sometimes flagged are public health, mental health, or anything involving marginalized and oppressed populations. 

Sometimes innocuous ads without any of this content are mistakenly flagged. We know these restrictions may seem a bit daunting if your goal is to run a public health campaign, or serve ads about the mental health services you provide to marginalized populations. Don’t fret. In these instances, you can typically appeal and work with that platform’s support to get your ads up and running.

Do you have any best practices that have worked for you when designing ads? Or do you have any other questions we didn’t answer on this topic? Hit us up! We’d love to partner with you and add to the collection of ideas above on how to design better creative for digital campaigns.

Go forth. Go digital.