How to Create Mobile Ads That Don’t Suck

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App monetization is a hot topic among developers, especially since only 0.01% of developers will consider their apps to be a financial success by 2018, according to research from Gartner in Q1 2014. Pay-to-download apps are already scarce, with over 90% of current apps being free to download. Many free-to-download apps generate revenue with in-app purchases, but there’s another app monetization model for developers to consider: mobile advertising.

In 2013, an estimated $13.1 billion was spent on mobile ads, but Gartner predicts that number will jump to $18 billion in 2014, and potentially $41.9 billion by 2017. That number is still a fraction of what was spent on TV and print advertising — $196.5 billion and $110 billion, respectively — in 2013, according to Magna Global. But mobile advertising is set to overtake radio advertising, due to radio’s shrinking market.

Indeed, mobile advertising presents plenty of opportunity. The only problem is that mobile ads can quickly become annoying and intrusive to users, prompting them to simply delete your app and download the next. If you do go the mobile ad route, it’s important to make sure your mobile ads don’t suck.

But how?

Google “mobile ads suck” and you’ll get a lot of hits. And yes, no one likes that terrible video pop-up when you’re listening to Pandora, or that banner ad scrolling across your game of Angry Birds. But mobile ads don’t have to suck if you put time and effort into creating them. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep it short. Figure out the core message of your ad, and convey it in as few words as possible. Screens are small and ad-space is at a premium, so make effective use of the limited real estate.
  • Make them visually appealing. If you have two equally well-performing apps, users will be drawn to the app that is well-designed and nice to look at. Users appreciate apps that are visually appealing, and ads shouldn’t detract from the experience of using the app. You can use a light neutral background color like bright white, with contrasting colors for the text and images. Use neutrals when you can so the color scheme of your ad doesn’t clash with the app that is hosting it. Use fonts that are easy to read on mobile devices, such as Open Sans, Lato, or Droid Sans.
  • Target your ads. If you want to pull the user away from what they are currently doing, make sure what you offer them is interesting, compelling, and relevant to their needs to make them want to know more. Make sure you know who your audience is before you start spending money on ad creation and distribution. Don’t fling generic ads out into the ether. Figure out who uses your app, why they use your app, and what other kinds of apps they typically use, so you can reach them in the right places.
  • Keep the whole experience mobile. How many times have you clicked on a mobile banner ad and been sent to a non-mobile website? You probably just closed the browser window without a second thought. When a user clicks a link in a mobile ad, they need to be sent to other mobile content. It’s not enough to get users to click on the ad—you need them to answer your call to action as well.
  • Keep users inside the app if you can. Better than making sure your ads go to another mobile site is making sure users never have to leave the app they are currently using in the first place. Make it easy for users to claim an offer or sign up for a service right inside the app. Mobile signup ads, for instance, don’t open a new mobile browser window — a second ad screen simply pops up that allows users to input their name and email address and click “Sign Up” if they choose. When they’re done, users can go right back to using the app.

The most important thing is to continue to keep an eye on the trends in the marketplace. With so many new types of mobile devices soon to be available, like wearable tech, what works today for mobile ads may not work tomorrow. Be prepared to change your mobile ad strategy if it becomes clear your current strategy isn’t working.

*Mobile image via Shutterstock

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