How to Build Better Ads

Written by Tim Edmundson

Creating a digital ad can be an intimidating venture for a lot of people. If you’re not an artist or designer, it can be easy to say “I’m not very good at that,” or “I struggle with stick figures, how the hell am I going to design an ad?” Building ads has traditionally been a difficult thing to do, there’s no denying that. It involves engineers, storyboards, and the back and forth that comes along with that process – but thankfully it doesn’t have to be that way. With the Ad Builder included in the SteelHouse Advertising Suite, you can easily transform your ads from “stick figure-mangling novice” to “seasoned design professional.”

We tapped into the best and brightest creative minds here at SteelHouse, notably Art Director Liz Martindale, to find out what you should keep in mind when diving into the world of ad creation.


Organic Ingredients

The visual element is what is going to initially catch your audience’s attention, so make sure it’s good. “My overall advice would be to keep it simple,” says Liz. When you’re thinking about how you want to assemble your ad, the key is to not get overly complicated with the look or feel. The less you give users to look at, the easier it will be for them to digest the information you want them to.

That said, you’re still going to want your ad to pop. How can you keep it simple while also making it a sight to behold?

Embrace the Empty Space | It’s okay to have empty or “negative” space in your ad. Don’t think of it as wasted space – instead consider it another tool at your disposal to make your ad attractive and draw attention to what you want your customers to focus on.

Less Is More | Try not to be tempted to put too much into one ad. If your ad is too cluttered, your customers can’t glance at your ad and get what they need.

The Right Colors | You need your ad to stand out, and one way to do it is to use colors that draw attention. Your color choices should match your brand’s style and pair well with the product you are promoting. For example, if you’re selling chic heels, using white space with black text matches the exclusive feel of the product.

Don’t Complicate Your Visuals | Stock photography is a great, simple way to source visuals for your brand. “Simple, beautiful imagery can be captivating,” advises Liz. “It’s especially effective for prospecting, when your goal should be to get users intrigued by your brand.” The wide selection of photos available practically guarantees you’ll find something that matches the feel you are looking for, and the SteelHouse Creative Suite makes it easy to find what you’re looking for since it is fully integrated with the the Getty Images library.

Add Your Logo | This may seem like common sense, but don’t forget a logo. This is a common mistake for people new to ad building – keep in mind that your ad is living outside of your site and won’t carry the branding you’re used to unless you add it yourself.


Simple and straightforward visuals are great, but just because you want a simple look doesn’t mean you can’t get advanced with the elements you utilize. Whether it’s a simple background video with a CTA, or a multi-scene ad with timed animations, don’t shy away from getting complex with your functionality. Just don’t go overboard – don’t make it TOO complex (i.e. seven animations fading in and out in rapid succession whenever a mouse hovers over), or your users won’t want to interact with it. Great functionality paired with stunning visuals makes for a great ad that performs.

The look and feel of your ad is key, but the functionality is equally important. Adding elements to your ad can take it from a flat image to a unique user experience – and can be what is needed to get your customer to click through. There are a variety of elements you can integrate into your ad, and each suits a specific need. Whether you are trying to create a sense of urgency, or showcase a variety of products, there is guaranteed to be something you can add that will get customers interested.

countdown timerCountdown Timers | These are best used for flash or burst sales which last a specific duration. You may find that users who see too many countdown timers will start to dismiss them as a marketing tactic rather than an actual countdown to a sale expiration, but when used effectively they reliably drive users to convert by creating a sense of urgency. Format them so that you have days, hours, minutes, and even seconds – seeing the countdown timer actually counting down is key.

Product Carousel | If you’re looking to showcase a number of products at once, this is a way to do it without making your ad feel cluttered. It’s also extremely effective one when used for retargeting, which is why most retargeting creatives include one. One thing to note if you’re including the product name – it looks best when most product names are about the same length.

Multiple Scenes | If you have multiple visuals and products to showcase, don’t think you’re limited to one frame. By adding multiple scenes, you can show off your product in multiple environments, settings, situations, and so on. Multiple scenes let you get more mileage out of your ad placement.

Animation | These are useful for getting your customer to engage with your ad since they can react to a user action, like them hovering their mouse over your ad. When using animation, make sure you’re allowing enough time for them to play out in your scene. There’s nothing worse than an animation being cut halfway because the scene changes.

Video | Motion draws the eye and tells your brand story better than any other medium, so consider using video in your ad. The Creative Suite is fully integrated with YouTube, so don’t hesitate to upload video into your ads because they drive engagement. In fact, ads with video generate 9X as many post-click site visits as standard banner ads. When using video, pay mind to the dimensions of each ad unit; when sizing and positioning the video, make sure you think about what (if anything) will be cropped out.


clearerLike any tool, creative design software in general becomes easier to use the more you use it. Michelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel when he first picked up a brush, so don’t feel like you’re not capable of producing stunning ads just because you’re new to the medium. Digital ad creation can be easy with the right tools, guidance, and inspiration. We hope we’ve given you a jumping off point here to dive in.