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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Inside the Online Dating Industry > Banner Ads

Inside The Online Dating Industry
by Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine

Building Better Banner Ads for Online Dating Sites


There are many ways to market an online dating site or services and one of those ways is one many have written off - banner ads.

Banner ads are an important part of an overall marketing plan. Sure, some people have banner ad blockers and others ignore them, but they still can create a buzz if you purchase enough impressions on good services and you have a good ad.

One of my jobs as publisher of Online Dating Magazine is to oversee the functionality of our Online Dating Banner Exchange. The Online Dating Banner Exchange allows Websites to display 468X60 banners and, in return, get their banner shown on other online dating Websites.

While the concept of banner exchanges are as old as banner ads themselves, it's important not to write it off this marketing medium as a dinosaur of the Internet age. Why? Because when used with the right service and as part of a bigger marketing strategy, banner ads can bring results.

One of my first acts in overseeing Online Dating Magazine's Online Dating Banner Exchange was to change the way it operated. Most banner exchanges allow sites to place their banner code (for displaying banners on their site) anywhere they want. So Webmasters will sign up for a banner exchange, but stick the code for displaying the banners on their "Link" or "Partners" page that already has 200 banners and text exchange ads on it. Unfortunately, this is typical of most exchanges and part of what gives them a bad name. To make the Online Dating Banner Exchange more effective, we required that those participating must display their banner at the very top of every page of their Website. Sure, I knew the banner exchange would lose a lot of participants that way, but I also knew that the quality of the service would go up.

And it has.

My second act was to put all Websites that are part of the Online Dating Magazine Network into the exchange. If you look at the top of this page - and all pages of Online Dating Magazine - you'll see that we prominently display banner ads that are served from the exchange. We do this on our other Online Dating Magazine sites too like the Online Dating Newsletter and Online Dating Content.

There are two different types of members of the Online Dating Banner Exchange:

1) Those who place code on their site to display ads and receive credits for free ad displays on other Websites.

2) Those who sign up then buy ad impressions without displaying code.

Because of my Web marketing background and my access to all Online Dating Banner Exchange stats, I'm able to see what type of banners are effective and getting clicks and what aren't effective. And that's the basis of the following tips that I'm providing to you to increase the effectiveness of your banner ad campaigns.

Tips for More Effective Banners and Banner Ad Campaigns

1) Avoid Annoying.
Users hate flashing banners or the ones that say "you are the 1 millionth visitor, click here to claim your prize". Not only do those banners annoy users,,but they also form an instant negative opinion of your product or service.

2) Use Animation.
Light animation in a banner can be very effective. When Online Dating Magazine first launched, we used the following simply-created banner ad in promotions:

Then we hired a banner specialists to give our banner an overhaul. Here's what they did for us:

The result was that the click-through rate of the animated banner nearly tripled that of the stationary banner. Notice how the animated banner is light on the animation. You don't see it going overboard to grab your attention. It's too the point and effective.

By the way, feel free to grab any of the two above banners and put them on your site linking to us ( :-)

3) Give People a Reason to Click
Interestingly enough, the majority of banner ads on the Web today don't give readers a true reason to click the banner! Let's take a look at two eHarmony banners (note, you may have to refresh the page to see the animated portion of the banner):

This first banner is nice. It shows that people get married through the service. However, it doesn't provide the person seeing it with a reason to click. Actually, if you squint, you can see that under the eHarmony logo (in a light color that almost makes it invisible) that it says "click here to start now". Because it is hard to read, the call to action loses its value. In addition, the rest of the ad tells a nice little story, but doesn't give a person a reason to click the ad.

Now take a look at this second eHarmony banner (note, you may have to refresh the page to see the animated portion of the banner):

This second banner, while not as "nice" as the first one, provides actual reasons that you should click on it. First it sends a message that eHarmony is focused on finding you the one right person to date, not just getting you a lot of dates. Then it includes an easy to read call to action - "click here to see if you click". Which one do you think is more effective on the Online Dating Banner Exchange? The second one, by nearly 2 to 1. What I find interesting about the second ad is that there is a misspelling that wasn't caught before the banner ad was released. Can you find it?

4) Improve Clicks by Lessening Branding
Unless the purpose of your banner ad is to help your branding and corporate image efforts, it's generally a good idea to spend more space giving people a reason to click and less space on your logo. The exception, of course,, is if you are a or eHarmony, whose branding through TV, etc. makes showing their logo more beneficial.

Consider the following two banners (both which are effective):

The first banner (above) is from LavaLife and it spends only a small portion of space on its logo, leaving the majority of space to creating a search imitation that gets clicks.

The second (above) is from Anastasia. They don't spend any space branding the ad, yet get a lot of clicks. But beware, a lot of clicks will do you little good if you can't convert them. And if branding is important to you (some companies by ad impressions just for the branding and not the clicks), then make sure your corporate image comes through loud and clear.

5) Keep Things Fresh
As a general rule of thumb, the longer a banner runs, the fewer clicks it will receive. Once your banner has lost its novelty to a user, he she will generally "not see it" anymore even thought it is there. Thus it is a good idea to refresh your banners every 2-3 weeks.

6) Pay Attention to Research
It's always good to pay attention to any research you come across in regards to effective advertising online. In regards to banner ads, here are a few things researchers have concluded from surveys:

» The word FREE in the ad can help boost click rate.
» Distracting images can kill the message.
» The call to action must be clear.
» "Banner burnout" usually occurs after the fourth time a person has seen the ad. Your click through rate will drastically drop after this.
» Posing questions in your ad can increase click-through rate.

As a reminder, doing only banner advertising is not going to be an effective use of marketing dollars. It's important to make banner advertising just one aspect of an overall campaign that incorporates various advertising mediums. And being a part of a banner exchange isn't the only way to do banner advertising. Services like Google can get you on hundreds of sites with a variety of banner sizes (not just 468X60. You can also get online dating advertising package plans that incorporate various banner ad sizes and mixes of advertising mediums to help better promote your site/service.

In the end, the person that controls the success of how well your banners perform is you. Then again, even the best banner ads will be completely ineffective if you don't convert those clicks... but that's a story for another article.


Cheers and Jeers
Welcome to Cheers and Jeers where every month we highlight something a person, company, or service is doing in the dating world and give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. This week...

Cheers: LavaLife for Study with AXE
This month (March 2008) LavaLife put out a press release about a study it did with AXE that found the majority of women would deny a guy "action" if they found hairy soap, a dirty washcloth, or an old sponge in his shower. The survey also found women prefer a groomed look to a "hairy bad boy look".

Years ago online dating services like would regularly put out interesting press releases based on surveys of their members. But they stopped doing it and now their corporate press release sites look like a press release graveyard. With sites looking all the time for new content, these type of releases are providing interesting material with great advertising benefits. So kudos this month, LavaLife. You did well.

Last year, LavaLife got a Jeers from us. Read about it here.

Note: If you know something an online dating service is doing right, please let me know. We are going to be highlighting more of the positives of specific services, providing them with free publicity as a result of their desire to be more user friendly.

Joe Tracy is publisher of Online Dating Magazine and is often quoted by the media in relation to online dating topics. His Inside the Online Dating Industry column is published once a month.

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