5 Ways To Improve User Experience in Display Advertising

graphic illustration of a display ad showing a mountain and cabin overlayed onto a purple background

The concept of user experience (UX) has definitely become a hot topic in the last decade, and for good reason. In the digital space, it is most commonly used to describe the ease of use of a website and its landing pages. How easy is the site to navigate? Can you find the information you need quickly, or are you having trouble getting to that next step? 

These questions also apply when you are creating display ads—specifically when running HTML5 banners that include interactive features, or require a brief time commitment from your user. Although a banner ad is less complicated than an entire website, it is most often the first impression a consumer has of your brand, so you want to make sure it’s a good one.

You should not assume that a user knows that your ad is more than a static image and how to interact or engage with it. And if the intent of your ad is not clear, they will move on. So, how can you not only keep them interested and engaged but also guide them?

We have 5 tips to improve user experiences in your display ads

1. Include a Progress Bar

Show users your display ad’s runtime with a progress bar. This small asset at the bottom of your ad will serve as a remedy to a common annoyance—waiting. People tend to overestimate how long they wait by 36%, meaning their patience wears thin sooner than your ad can finish.

Rather than leaving the time estimate up to guesswork, a progress bar sets the expectation, helps reduce waiting fatigue, and keeps users engaged as they watch the bar cross from one side to the other.

In its current state, this in-banner video ad can feel much longer than it actually is. If you take out your stopwatch, you’ll find that the ad only ran for 10 seconds. Once we add a progress bar to the creative, the viewer’s uncertainty around time commitment is resolved.

2. Show Your Steps

Similar to the progress bar, numbering your steps gives users a gauge on how long they will be interacting with your ad. The numbers provide the user with a vision of a beginning and an end, makes them feel as if they’re working towards a goal and motivates them to stay engaged until the last step.

Being upfront about your steps should not be in place as an excuse to allow a multitude of clicks, further complicating the ad. Rather, showing how many steps are involved will act as proof that your brand has simplified the amount of actions the user needs to take before reaching the appropriate destination. Keep your content concise, and let the user know upfront that you won’t be taking up too much of their time.

In the following example, the user is asked to make a selection from 2 sets of prompts in order to find the product that best suits their needs.

Telling the user that there are 2 steps before they can be redirected identifies how many clicks it will take to reach the landing page. Notice how each action in the ad unit serves a purpose.

Each step should help to guide them to find the distributor that best suits their needs, which is a benefit. Even with more complexity than your usual static unit, we have made the entire process seem quick and easy to help encourage the user to click through to the end.

3. Offer a Replay Button

Put the user in control of the ad with a replay button. Rather than having your ad reload automatically, let the user decide whether they need to rewatch it to better understand the message before proceeding to the next step. This Golf Retreat ad decided to place the replay button at the end, but you can choose to have the button present throughout.

As an additional bonus, incorporating conversion and retargeting pixels within your HTML5 creative will let you track how many users pressed the replay button. You can then bucket those users into audience segments that you can retarget later on.

4. Use Icons as Indicators

Don’t assume a user knows how to interact or engage with your ad. If users are accustomed to static display banners, they might not realize that your ad has interactive features. This is where icons can play an important role as indicators in your ad.

Tell the users what to do by including simple gestures with an animated cursor, or be direct by writing out what they need to do (example: tap here to play sound).

It is important to remember that you are not your user—you are designing a banner ad that will be viewed by others. So, what may seem obvious to you may be unclear to someone else.

Design your ad as if it is always being seen by a new pair of eyes, and help guide the user to perform the action your banner ad is asking for.

At first glance, this real estate ad may look like your usual display banner with multiple click through areas.

Did you notice the ad’s unique swiping feature? Without any visual cues, the user may miss the chance to swipe across the room and see a wider view of the space. As seen in the example, the icon is unobstructive to the creative and tells users exactly what they need to do to make the most out of the creative.

5. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

The goal is for your ads to be understood as easily and quickly as possible, to create an enjoyable user experience. This means using recognizable icons, having easy-to-find action buttons, and highlighting important elements through visual hierarchy

Don’t make people relearn something to understand your ad. Although it’s fun to get creative with unique icons and designs, don’t make them so abstract that the meaning is lost. For example, we all know to press the square button to Stop, and then press the forward triangle to Play. Anything that stems too far from the norm will send an unclear message, and people will tend to avoid something that is unfamiliar. Find the right balance between creativity and usability, and your ad will be in good shape!

Creating an enjoyable user experience is not a one size fits all. By playing around with these tips, you’ll start to see your ads become more user friendly. These suggestions do not need to be used in isolation—in fact, it’s always better to consider each of these and how they work well together. For example, you can have the loading bar run from left to right, and then include a replay button for the user to rewatch your content. 

Whether you’re running display advertising with the goal of brand awareness, email sign ups, or making a purchase, you want your ad to engage users, not exasperate them. As advertisers, the main objective is to put visual cues in place to help reduce the amount of friction that may come between your ad and the consumer. By making your ad’s intentions and interactions clear, users will feel welcomed and interested to learn more.

Want to run exceptional programmatic campaigns? Request a demo to learn more about StackAdapt.

Carolynne Wong
Carolynne Wong

Creative Strategist


Carolynne has 6+ years of experience working in dynamic creative teams, bringing a creative and process-driven approach to every project. She enjoys the challenge of making something out of nothing and helping brands develop creative campaigns.