Do Your Ads Feel the Heat (Map)?

One of the golden rules of marketing is to capture people where they already are. And these days, “where they already are” is online.

Digital advertising is critical to raising awareness for your community organization, strengthening your branding and, ultimately, driving new memberships. But as you know, not all digital initiatives are created equal.

What Makes an Ad “Work”?

Some ads immediately grab your attention and compel you to click. Others? Well, let’s just say they fall a bit flat.

What’s that “special something” that grabs the audience’s attention and drives them to engage with your digital content? We decided to find out.

Using Heat Map Technology To Understand User Behavior

In order to better understand the secret behind high performing digital content, we analyzed 40,000 ad impressions over the course of nearly a year (from July 2016 to May 2017).

Thanks to advanced heat map technology, we were able to see exactly how users interacted with digital ads, what they were attracted to, and what elements were most likely to drive clicks.

The findings were surprising:

If You Want Clicks, Be Wary Of Images

On every other platform, we’ve all been taught that more images = more engagement, but it turns out that’s not always the case.

In our heat map study, we tested three versions of the same ad: one with no image, one with a people-centric image, and one with a product-centric image.

We found that levels of engagement and conversion varied based on image choice:

  • Users were most “engaged” with the ad that featured the product image, spending 6 minutes more touching it than the people-centric image ad.
  • The product-centric ad converted at 1.3x the conversion rate of the people-focused ad.
  • Ultimately, the ad with no image at all seemed to get less “engagement” but actually generated 1.2x more clicks than the image ads.

Moral of the story: you might be tempted to add a photo of your members enjoying your community center to your ads. While real photos generally perform better than stock imagery on many platforms, they may not drive the most clicks on ads, specifically.

Choose a more product-centric image (like a pool and kickboard to advertise an upcoming swim class) or no image at all to potentially generate more engagement. The advantage of no image means that your message gets noticed, which is what clicks are all about.

What About Animal Imagery?

Who can resist a puppy or a kitten? Apparently not many ad viewers. People were 2.5x more likely to click on an ad that included an animal and spent close to 1-1/2 minutes longer on such an ad.

Animals trigger an instant and universal emotional and empathetic connection to the ad.2 So it shouldn’t be surprising that either consciously or subconsciously, viewers are attracted to ads with animals.

This doesn’t necessarily translate to conversions, but it does demonstrate the lure of cute animals for capturing attention. If they see only the pet and not the ad offering, it ultimately may not work in your favor unless you’re actually advertising an event that includes animals.

Choose The Right Background

If you want people to click on your ads, it’s not just about what’s in the forefront of your ad. Your background is just as important for driving engagement.

If you want clicks, you need to keep your background as simple as possible. Remember: your ad is going to be competing against multiple other elements on the web page, so you need to frame it in a way that allows it to stand out.

A solid background can help your ad messaging stand out and grab the attention of website visitors – and, in the process, drive clicks — to the tune of 22% more, across the ads we studied.

Ad Size Matters

There are virtually an unlimited number of options when it comes to ad size, but we found that although the most popular size is 300×250 (nearly square), the most effective size to drive clicks is 300×50. This ad size drives the most conversions, thanks to its compatibility with mobile browsers.

Testing Elements in Your Market

When it comes to advertising, trying to guess what will appeal to your audience is risky business. As you collect your own data about the most effective ads for your community organization, remember that heat maps are interesting and informative, but they don’t form the sum total of all factors that determine an ad’s success – and the data we pulled may not hold true in your market.

It’s important when testing ads to change only one factor in your comparison. All other components, such as message, colors, page elements, and ad placement and timing, must be identical to conclude that the one aspect you’re testing is more effective one way than another.

Adding it All Up

Understanding the secret behind ads that “work” and ones that don’t is the key to success in the digital space. Knowing what drives people to click will allow you to create ad campaigns that connect with your target audience – and drive new memberships for your community organization.



2The Ad Effect: Animals in Ads = Smart Advertising