In a few recent posts on how to get more volume on the content network  and on getting more leads from PPC , we talked about leveraging the content network to expand AdWords campaigns and attract more prospects via PPC.
Most advertisers know how to get started with Google’s search network, and even with creating specific content network campaigns, but an area that often trips up advertisers – particularly new advertisers or those who are looking to expand beyond their initial structures – is building out “display” campaigns using Google AdWords, or creating banner ads for display on the content network. Many times the stumbling block here is more around designing the creative (banner ads) than around the mechanics of creating a structure for your content network campaigns.
For that reason, we’ll walk through a relatively painless way to create an initial set of banners for use on the AdWords content network using crowdsourced banner design.
Crowdsourced Display Ad Banner Creation Using 99 Designs
This is a tactic I’ve been using a lot lately, and it’s often a great way to jump-start banner creation on a new campaign where you don’t have a lot of strong, specific ideas you want to execute against. You can leverage a crowdsourced design platform such as 99 Designs (there are other options here, but not all offer banner design) to create new banner ad designs  – the advantage here is that you’re able to get a lot of different design perspectives that you can either iterate on or test. It’s a bit like the “broad match” of banner design.
Creating a “project” is actually quite simple, but here are five tips that I’ve found useful in getting the most out of your project and your brief:
1. Have the Right Point Person - Have someone with time to dedicate to the review process who also has decision-making ability on the creative “own” the design selection process. One of the advantages to using a platform like this is that it’s relatively inexpensive (a few hundred dollars), but a great way to make the process less efficient (from both a time and cost/resources perspective) is to overcomplicate things with too many cooks in the kitchen. If you’re agency-side on a project like this, try to keep the number of people involved in picking a winner to two at the most (one stakeholder on your end, one on the client’s). You also want someone with a good chunk of time to dedicate to the project.
2. Write a Detailed Brief – This is good advice for any crowdsourced design project, but giving a lot of really specific detail about your project is great. Include things like the types of sites your ad will appear on, what your offer is, a link back to the site, and any “brand kit” types of materials you have that would be useful for a designer (your logo, your company’s standard colors, etc.). If you’ve already tried some banners that did or didn’t work for different types of projects, you could even include those and/or give a description of things you thought worked and things you thought didn’t. Also always give examples of other companies’ banners you like when you can find some good ones, as it helps designers get a feel for what you’re looking for right out of the gate.
3. Give Lots of Feedback – Again, this is sound advice for any crowdsourced design project, but offering a lot of feedback on as many of the designs as you can is really helpful. Rate the design and tell designers what you like, don’t like, and would like to see changed. This has the obvious value of getting you iterations on existing designs that will be closer to where you want to be, but an additional benefit is that designers will see your feedback on not only their designs but other designs, and get more of a sense for what you want. Additionally, while I’m not a designer myself, I’ve heard that as designers look at contests they may choose partly based on how active the project poster is with feedback (both because it helps them to provide a better design, and because it’s a sign that the poster is more likely to actually pay up in a timely fashion).
4. Pick Two Winners – 99Designs in particular has a feature where you can pick a second winner for a discounted price (I think it’s ~50% off the second design). As with any ad copy or landing page test, you need at least two variations to test different ideas, layouts, and concepts, so planning to try to get to two winners and picking two different concepts is a great way to make your efforts in creating a project even more leveraged. On 99Designs currently you can wind up with two really solid designs for a total of ~$300. Be sure to mention that you’ll likely pick two winners and want to see at least two different concepts in your brief.
5. Spend Money on Additional Designs, Not Add-Ons or Better Prizes – This may be a bit controversial amongst designers (and the folks trying to sell the add-ons), but in my experience you get more bang for your buck if you choose the lower priced options both in terms of awards and in terms of add-ons. I haven’t seen a consistently marked difference in quality in doling out larger awards for projects and/or in leveraging some of the tools such as having your listing highlighted. For that reason – and because often with ad copy and creative it’s surprising, ostensibly lower-quality variations that win – personally I find more value in generating more designs than in moving up in size of prizes or leveraging add-ons.
Crowdsourced banner design certainly isn’t the only option for having banners designed for the display network, but it can be particularly effective in instances where you don’t have a strong vision to hand off to a graphic designer to execute against, and can get you a variety of designs and concepts for relatively cheap – allowing you to quickly and effectively expand your reach on the content network.