Canned Banners co-founder Chris Mears authors book on TextMate

 

 
We here at Canned Banners take our coding very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that we write whole books about software development.

Chris, co-founder and lead developer, is the proud author of “TextMate How-to,” a practical guide to the code and text editor TextMate. Chris shows readers how to configure the application, then covers navigation and editing of files, and finishes with bundles and advanced features.

Check it out at the Packt Publishing website.
 

New SWF compiler feature: better image optimization

 
We’ve added a new feature to our Ad Builder that compresses PNGs to smaller file sizes while at the same time maintaining transparency. This will give our customers a great deal more flexibility when using images in their display ads.

The post below gives a bit of detail on images compression and helps explain why this feature is so important.

The dark art of image compression

Image compression optimization might seem esoteric and unimportant, but in the world of online display ads, it’s a huge deal. Why? Because of all the different ingredients of a Flash (SWF) ad (images, text, fonts, Actionscript code, etc), images are by far the biggest contributor to file size.

And given that most Flash ads need to be 45K or less, it’s extremely important to minimize the size (in kilobytes) of all the different parts of an ad. An extra 1 or 2 KB can render an ad unacceptable, sending the designer back to the drawing board.

Why PNGs used to be the bane of our existence

Canned Banners has always been able to adjust the compression of JPEG images. However, many of our customers also use PNG images in their ads, especially for their logos. PNGs have a huge advantage over JPEGs, in that PNGs can have partially or fully transparent areas. This makes PNGs great for when a logo or a cutout photo needs to appear on top of different background colors, patterns, or photos.

The PNG image format comes with a significant cost, though: PNGs have large file sizes. See below. Even though the JPEG and the PNG look nearly identical, the PNG is double the file size (16K versus 32K):
 


JPEG, 70% quality: 16KB

24-bit PNG with transparency: 32KB

 
You might be thinking: “If the JPEG looks great and has such a small file size, why don’t you just use the JPEG?” Well, if we put these logos on top of a background image, you’ll see the downside of using JPEGs:
 


JPEG logo, no transparency.
Combined size of logo + photo: 28.4KB

24-bit PNG logo with transparency.
Combined size of logo + photo: 44.4KB

 
Above, the logo on the left (the JPEG) looks crappy because of the opaque white background, while the logo on the right (the PNG) looks much more professional because the area behind the logo is transparent, allowing the background photo to show through.

Have your transparency and eat it, too

As the above examples illustrate, there used to be an annoying trade-off that had to take place: if we wanted display ads to meet ad networks’ file size requirements (usually a measly 45K or less), we could probably get away with a small PNG logo, and that was it. This placed a great deal of limitation on the kinds of ad designs we could use.

Not any more! With our new PNG optimizer, we can reduce the file size of PNGs down to JPEG-like file sizes, all while maintaining the transparency. This means we can use multiple PNGs in a single design, or use larger PNGs (width x height).
 

Demo night for Canned Banners API

 
We did a first-ever public demo of the Canned Banners API at SF New Tech last week. This particular SF New Tech event was centered around e-commerce, and it was a pleasure sharing the stage with e-commerce innovators like Shopify (with whom we partner), Lexity (with whom we hope to partner), and Stripe (which we use to process credit card payments).

Turning XML lead into display ad gold

Watch the demo and see how we grab raw product XML (product names, images, prices, etc) using Best Buy’s BBYOpen API, and then use the Canned Banners API to turn that XML into display ads.
 

 

I don’t have an online store. Can I still use the Canned Banners API?

You bet! The Canned Banners API can work with virtually any data or content source within any industry. The demo video above just happens to focus on e-commerce using the BBYOpen API as a sample data source. Other data sources could include:

  • Real estate data (ex: property listing data)
  • Travel data (ex: real-time ticket prices & availability)
  • Local marketing data (ex: daily deals)
  • Varied content for A/B testing & optimization (ex: multiple photo options for the same ad copy)

And as far as data format is concerned, we’re flexible there, too. Take your pick:

  • XML
  • JSON
  • CSV
  • and so forth…

Want to talk about using the Canned Banners API for your own display ad campaigns? Just drop us a line.
 

Streamlined sign-up

 

 
On top of the weeks and hours that the Canned Banners ad builder already saves you when creating ads, we’ve just shaved several more seconds off the process!

We streamlined our sign-up and login forms and got rid of usernames. From now on, you can just log in with your email address and password. No more having to remember whether your username is ChunkyLover53, ChunkyLov3r53, or Chunky_Lover53.

Try it out »
 

New display ad builder demo

 
Our old demo was getting to be quite a relic, so here’s a long-overdue update. In under 5 minutes, learn how to:

  • Create a display ad
  • Save an unfinished banner
  • Check out and download finished banner ad files

Watch the demo to learn the basics, then make your own display ad »
 

 

3 useful ways to get better display ad results with WhatRunsWhere

 

 
WhatRunsWhere tracks the ads that your competitors are running. Earlier this year, we highlighted MixRank, a similar service.

WhatRunsWhere and its ilk are interesting tools to us because they’re tailor-made for display advertisers who care about measurable performance, whether that be in the form of clicks, conversions, search lift, etc. That kind of data-driven ad strategy implies constant evolution in an advertiser’s display ad creative, which dovetails nicely with Canned Banners headache-free ad creation tools. O, what beautiful synergy!

Before we dive in, use the coupon code CannedBanners to double the length of their $1 trial period. The trial period is normally 7 days, but with the code you’ll get 14 days of access to WhatRunsWhere for $1.

Here are 3 things that WhatRunsWhere can help with:

  1. Taking the guesswork out of placing your ads
  2. Benchmarking how your ads perform versus your competitors
  3. Finding the un-plucked fruit

1. Taking the guesswork out of placing your ads

Your competitors are smart and they’ve done their homework. With WhatRunsWhere, you can turn your competitors into your own personal media research team.
 

 
So instead of buying ad placements that are stabs in the dark, use WhatRunsWhere to find the placement locations that are already performing well for your competitors, and then use that intelligence as a factor in your overall media strategy.

Figure out the exact ad spots that perform well (the leaderboard at the top? the 300×250 on the right?), understand which specific sites or types of sites are better than others, learn about new sites you haven’t tried before, or figure out which ad networks are producing the best results.

2. Benchmarking your ad creative

Here’s another handy feature of WhatRunsWhere: they track and collect your competitors’ ads. When competitors’ ads are running a lot, you can assume they’re performing well. When competitors stop running other ads, it might be because those ads weren’t performing well. When competitors start running new ads, you’ll know. In short: you’ll be able to spot trends in your competitors’ ad creative which you can use to spot ways that your own ad creative can be made to perform better.
 

 

3. Finding the un-plucked fruit (or something less creepy-sounding)

Call it the “Law of Inverse Media Buying.” If WhatRunsWhere can track where your competitors are advertising, it can also track where your competitors are not advertising. This allows you to find un-exploited opportunities. You can find new sites that are similar to the ones your competitors advertise on. By testing a few of these new sites, you may be able to find new traffic sources that haven’t already been grabbed by your competitors.
 

 
If you want to put any of these ideas to the test (cheaply), WhatRunsWhere offers a 7-day trial for $1 has created a special coupon code CannedBanners to get 14 days access for just $1. Check them out at WhatRunsWhere.com.

New customer Simpli.fi, plus a few details on “element-level targeting”

 

 
How excited were we when Simpli.fi made some ads with our ad builder? Answer: very!


Us. Excited.

 
Here are two of the ads they made (the 728×90 has been scaled down to fit our blog…sorry if the images appear a little distorted):


 

 
We were curious as to exactly what “element-level display advertising” meant, and Simpli.fi was kind enough to give us a quick run-down. We thought the concept was worth sharing.
 

In case you’ve forgotten why targeting is important…

Canned Banners handles display ad creative, but targeting is extremely important as well. Even with the best ads ever made, a poorly-targeted campaign will fall flat, and good targeting can help inform the creative process so that successive iterations of display ads do a better and better job of connecting with prospects.

Consider a few basic questions and how the answers might affect the design of your ads: is a given viewer young or old? Rich or poor? Male or female? Between those 6 ultra-basic attributes, there are already 8 separate “archetypes” you need to think about when creating and testing ads. Now imagine that you’re a company like Procter & Gamble, with thousands of products and tens (hundreds?) of millions of customers. How do you stay on top of the targeting challenge?
 

Element-level targeting

Simpli.fi specializes in “element-level” targeting, which basically treats every member of your audience as a unique prospect with unique attributes. This might seem like an obvious approach, but it’s not the way most ad campaigns are run.

Consider a hypothetical search retargeting campaign for a major retailer. The retailer might easily target 100,000+ keywords across various product categories and brands. To manage this much data, advertisers often create audience segments like this one for Prada handbags:
 

 
Obviously this approach has value. The campaign manager will have insight into the behavior of Prada handbag buyers as a group, as well as the ability to fine-tune the performance of the Prada handbag segment against other segments such as “prada shoes,” or “skinny jeans.”

Simpli.fi, however, takes this a step further with element-level targeting. In this case, an “element” would be a keyword. And when you gain insight into specific keyword performance, you get a clearer picture of what’s really going on in the audience segment:
 

 
In this case, you could further optimize the campaign by targeting the three higher-performing keywords more aggressively, while dialing back the investment in the under-performing keywords.

You can read more about Simpli.fi’s pitch on their website. They offer element-level targeting across several different marketing channels, not just search retargeting. And of course, when you need 100,000 ads to target 100,000 “elements,” you’ll know who to come to.
 

10 Mistakes to Avoid When Designing Banner Ads

 
Today we did a little webcast with B2B daily deals site GroupPrice.com. Lots of fun making crappy ads just so we can tear them apart.

Watch the video. And dig the hip “low fi” audio!
 

 

New banner ad template designed by Chix Creative

 

 
We’ve launched a new kind of partnership! The team at Chix Creative designed a new banner ad template for us.
 


Awwww….

 
Given that Canned Banners is still an all-male team, all our ad templates look like something that guys would design. This has definitely narrowed the variation in our template gallery: nothing but sharp corners and bold colors as far as the eye can see (we often find ourselves wanting to add spikes, flames, and gun turrets to the banners, but we’ve somehow maintained the self-control to avoid this).
 


Instead of a baby, we were thinking
Flame Dragon with Spikey Chain accents.

 
But now the tyranny of our in-house template designs is over! The ladies at Chix Creative designed a very nice new template for us, and best of all, it looks nothing like anything we’ve created ourselves. So the old saying goes: “variety is the spice of online display advertising”…or something like that.

Feast your eyes, and then customize these banners for your own campaign.
 

    

 

Buy credits and make banner ads for as little as $10 each

 

 
We’ve added new pricing options to our Basic Ad Builder. You can now buy credits (1 credit = 1 banner) at a discount from our standard price of $25 per banner:

1 credit = 1 banner

Pay-as-you-go $25  
6 credits $90 $15.00 per banner
12 credits $150 $12.50 per banner
24 credits $240 $10.00 per banner

 

Why the new pricing options?

Buying banners at a discount makes it easier for our customers to make more banner ads. This, in turn, helps our customers’ campaigns be more successful because they can create more versions of their ads to see what works and what doesn’t. It also allows our customers to more easily create different ads for different campaign segments (e.g., one ad targeted at men and one at women). We’re also hoping that our new pricing makes it easier for search and performance marketers to do A/B testing of many different ad versions.