How to Win With GIF Ads on Google Display Network

How to Win With GIF Ads on Google Display Network

There's strong evidence that animated ads can outperform static ads. That’s why animated GIF display ads should be part of your Google Display Network approach.

What works best in digital advertising, static or dynamic images? Scientists and marketers have been trying to figure out the answer to this question for years.

Spoiler alert: the jury is still out. But there's strong evidence that for certain campaigns animated ads can outperform static ads. That’s why animated GIF display ads should be part of your advertising mix.

The evidence in favor of animated advertising

A study published in the Journal of Interactive Advertising found that "animated banner advertising has better attention-grabbing capabilities, generates higher recall, and more favorable attitude towards the ad, and higher click-through intention than do static ads."

Similarly, a split test done by VistaCreate comparing animated GIF vs. static image Facebook ads yielded the following results: the animated ad attracted 1.5x more clicks than the static image with a 50% drop in cost per click.

But these results haven’t been consistent across all tests. In a similar test run by Adespresso, static images outperformed animated images by 38.2% in terms of cost-per-lead.

Let's dig deeper.

Animated ads may be more memorable

When it comes to remembering information a meta-analysis of 26 studies concluded that dynamic visualizations outperform static ones.

Simply put: people learn better from animations, especially when they are representational and highly realistic.

Another study found that even though learning from animation is generally more successful than learning from static pictures, static pictures tend to perform better in certain teaching situations.

Yet another study… But you’re not here for a lecture, are you?

And we’re not trying to find a winner (or put you to sleep).

But we do want to convince you to give animated advertising a chance.

Using animated ads on Google Display Network

While using animated GIFs for your Google Display Network campaigns might seem technically or creatively challenging, we’ve got your back.

We’ve gathered in this article all the information you need to get started with animated GIF ads on Google: policies, dos and don’ts, best practices, and creative ideas.

Animated Google Ads: Best Practices from the Source

Valentin Pintilescu, development manager for two of Romania's most successful YouTube channels (TraLaLa & LooLoo Kids), was once asked during a marketing conference I attended about his advice for other YouTubers.

His answer was unexpectedly simple: read YouTube's terms and policies.

While this got some laughter from the audience, he went on to explain that people tend to ignore the basic rules and then wonder why their content is not successful.

The other day, I was reading a post by a designer working with a client on a series of Google ads featuring animated GIFs.

"So far, all of our designs have been rejected," he complained, adding that it was all becoming a "huge production blocker."

Let's not let that happen to you, shall we?

Google Ads (formerly AdWords) is one of the oldest and most popular advertising platforms.

Launched in 2000, it is today the main source of revenue for Alphabet Inc, with 80% of businesses across the globe using paid Google ads for their PPC campaigns.

According to Google, display campaigns reach people globally across 35 million websites and apps. It is an immense ecosystem with strict rules and best practices, refined over years.

Here is what you must know when creating animated GIFs for use in Google Display Network advertising.

Yes to animated image ads, no to responsive ads

GIFs can be used for image ads in the Google Display Network.

However, animated images (such as GIFs) are not allowed in responsive ads, a type of ad that automatically adjusts its size, appearance, and format depending on the ad space.

Google recommends using responsive ads to enjoy more flexibility, optimization, and a wider reach. While this sounds great and works in many cases, there are also downsides to responsive ads.

The biggest challenge with responsive ads is loss of control over creative, and this can be an issue in some cases. Here is an example from Search Engine Journal of a responsive display ad that is not a good representation of the brand:

Search Engine Journal of a responsive display

The circled ad is a text ad generated by Google. However, without the image, the ad is simply not appealing. This can happen when Google combines the ad elements for you.

You shouldn’t discard responsive ads, but don’t worry if GIFs are not allowed. Image ads are still preferable in some cases and they give you more creative control.

Also, HD GIFs are no longer supported in Google Ads. HD GIFs are better in terms of image resolution, smoothness and effects, but they are also bigger in size, affecting load times. See the next section for details.

Smaller GIF file sizes are always better

The maximum allowed size for image files on Google Display Network, including GIFs, is 150KB.

Reducing GIF file size is a common challenge for digital marketers who are looking to optimize load times and catch people’s attention before they scroll away.

Animately is a free, easy-to-use tool that allows you to compress GIFs for Google Display Network quickly, without compromising on quality. Choose between different compression options - such as trimming, cropping, using compression presets, reducing colors or adjusting speed, and get a GIF that is small in size but efficient in message delivery.

To understand just how much load times impact engagement look at this Deloitte study "Milliseconds make Millions." According to the 2020 research, a mere 0.1s improvement in site speed resulted in better metrics across the board: 8% increase in page views, up to 6% decreases in bounce rates, and 10% more money spent on average.

Short and unskippable

The maximum allowed animation length for Google ads is 30 seconds. Images can be played in a loop, as long as they don’t surpass that limit.

However, when you look at user behaviors, 30 seconds is a long time. For example, Facebook found that people spend, on average, 1.7 seconds with a piece of content on mobile and 2.5 seconds on desktop.

To be on the safe side, your message should appear within the first few seconds of the animated Google ad.

Here are a few size variations of the same banner ad that delivers the message in a loop. The benefits are clear and roll quickly, while the call to action is always visible and animated to draw attention to it.

Different size variations of the same banner ad that delivers the message in a loop

MD Mizanur Rahman Sajeeb

Using your logo

Should you also include a logo in your Google Display Network advertising? It depends on your marketing objective.

According to The YouTube Insights Team, ads with the brand in the first five seconds have higher ad recall and brand awareness. However, people are also more likely to skip these ads.

If you do want to show the logo, the best way is to simply place it on the product, and not floating around somewhere else in the ad, like in the Starbucks ad below.

Startbucks logo on product gif example

Not too fast or flashy

Animated GIF ads for Google Display Network must be slower than 5 frames per second. Strobing, flashing backgrounds, or other distracting elements are not allowed, as per Google’s policies.

So keep it creative, but don’t go crazy with the visual effects in an attempt to grab attention. Two examples of this, below.

To improve the chances of conversion, include a call to action as the last stage of the animation, so that people know what the next step is.

Relevant, quality GIFs only

You are a serious marketer, so you don’t need to read this. But let’s go over it anyway. It’s against Google policies to create ads that are:

  • Irrelevant or misleading. Using a funny GIF just to attract attention and lead people to a website that is about something different is a no-no. Also, animations resembling computer notifications or site warnings are forbidden. The same goes for adding buttons which promise non-existent functionality like “play”, “download” or “close”.
  • Sexual, not family friendly or depicting animal cruelty.
  • Blurry, unclear, sideways, upside down, color-inverted, or excessively filtered. Images should be clear and take up the entire space of the chosen image size.
  • Illegible or not in line with Google’s editorial policy. All text should be clear, spelled correctly, with an accurate use of capitalization and symbols.

Borders for GIFs with black or white backgrounds

Google requests that all GIFs for use with Google Display Network that have partially black or white backgrounds must include a visible border of a contrasting color to the majority background color of the ad. This allows people to properly identify images as ads, like in this example below.

Example of borders for GIFs with black or white backgrounds

Collages not recommended

While not forbidden, Google recommends using simple images and avoiding photo collages when designing GIFs for Google Display Network, as illustrated in the following image.

Google Display Network dos and donts for images

Policy wrap up

If you keep all the above in mind when creating and submitting your animated ad to use on Google Display Network, you should not have any problems with its publication. In fact, you’ll probably have a pretty good ad already. But let’s go more in depth into the creative side and look at some examples to make sure your GIF ad is not just good but great.

Creative Best Practices for Google GIF Ads

Creating effective online ads is a science and an art, involving both testing to understand what works, and a creative spark to produce beautiful, attention-grabbing animations. Here are some best practices and examples to get you started.

Keep the product in focus

Google recommends that when you’re working on your GIF ad for Google Display Network, you should put the product front and center and minimize blank space. Here is the example that Google uses:

Example of product centered for google ads display

The Mazda ad shared earlier is a good example of using this principle.

Here is another GIF ad that does a good job of focusing on the product to grab people’s attention. It’s a simple animation that quickly delivers the message and showcases what’s being sold.

Vita Designer product animation gif example

Vita Designer

Also simple and effective is the following animated banner. Simply playing around with the colors of the socks catches people’s eyes before they scroll away.

Bomba socks product gif example


The product is in focus and so is the value proposition. Which takes us to the next tip.

Include a clear benefit in the ad

People tend to avoid online ads, which is proven by the constant rise in popularity of ad-blockers. Almost half of the internet uses an ad-blocker, citing ad frequency, lack or relevance and being too intrusive as the main reasons for choosing to block ads.

Is the solution to stop making ads? No, it’s creating ads that are relevant and provide a clear benefit to the people who see it.

"People don't like to be sold, but they love to buy," said Jeffrey Gitomer, an American author, professional speaker, and sales trainer.

In other words, it’s not that people don’t want to buy your products - the rise in retail e-commerce sales worldwide speaks for people’s willingness to shop, it’s that you have to give them a reason why.

The jewelry ad above clearly shows a big discount as a motivation to buy. The Bombas socks ad above speaks of “the most comfortable socks in the history of feet” - you can almost feel it, can’t you?

Here is another example from Hulu that uses animated text to put the spotlight on the variety it offers users, solving the “I can’t find anything to watch” problem.

Hulu animated text to spotlight options gif example


What is something people always complain about? Time. You can ever have enough of it. So it’s a great benefit to get some extra time, isn’t it?

Panda doc gif example

Lesha Rugain

The animation around the value proposition subtly draws your attention to it, without being too flashy. Notice how the logo is included in the image in a natural way, so that you see it and connect it to the story the ad tells.

Use white space and colors in your favor

Bold colors can help you stand out on a page, as long as they are coherent with your brand and message.

The bright red background and animated text in the ad below add to the attention-grabbing effect of the GIF, while the main benefit, “40% off”, is written in a large and clear font.

Sale off example gif

White space can also work well in Google Display Network advertising depending on your message.

For the Los Angeles Times ad below, the white space and the font emulate the experience of reading a newspaper, while the animation makes it easier to consume and allows the advertiser to include more information at once. Imagine the same ad, but static. It would be bland and crowded with text.

Los angegels times pulse nation gif example


Use realistic images

When possible, opt for realistic images of your products and services instead of unrealistic ones, such as drawings and illustrations.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Advertising found that unrealistic images suppress consumers’ mental simulation of consuming or using those products and increase uncertainty in the judgment of these products’ characteristics.

Realistic images help viewers better imagine themselves using your products, which can help with the buying decision. Remember that you have very little time to make an impression with your ads, so you should use all the tools at your disposal to persuade.

Here is a good example of using realistic images to promote a dance studio. Any of those images individually would have worked, but the GIF tells a better story because dance means movement.

Dance like a pro gif example

Tamara Abou Ghazaleh

Little text, big fonts

Imagine you are sitting in a chair or in front of your computer and a presenter has your full attention.

The presentation starts, but the slides are packed with text that is difficult to read. What happens? Your mind naturally drifts away… Put that phone down!

Back to ads. You don’t have people’s attention from the get-go. In fact, you have to fight for it. The last thing you want to do is show ads with boring text.

There is no clear guideline from Google on how much text to include in ads for Google Display Network, except for responsive ones where text must not go over 20% of the entire image.

This is similar to Facebook’s recommendation regarding text on ads: “We've found that images with less than 20% text perform better. With this in mind, we recommend keeping your text short, clear and concise in order to get your message across effectively.”

In the ad examples I shared already, text covers more or less the entire image, but it’s always readable, with a focus on the benefit.

Animate the text to entice people to read it, like in the Los Angeles Times and Hulu examples above, or add a little holiday spark to it, like in the banner below.

Holiday trim sale gif example


Does GIF image size matter?

The GIF file size does matter, as explained in a previous section. In terms of image size, some formats are more efficient than others when it comes to Google Display Network. According to Google, here are the top three performing ad sizes:

  • 300x250, known as a "medium rectangle". It works well when embedded within text content or at the end of articles.
300x250 "medium rectangle" gif placement example
  • 336x280, known as a "large rectangle", same as above.
336x280 "large rectangle" gif placement example
  • 728x90, known as a "leaderboard". It works well when placed above the fold, and on forum sites.
728x90 "leaderboard" gif placement example

These are good to keep in mind to help you focus your ad creation efforts and resources. Many other ad sizes are available. The best way to find out what works is to test different formats, as well as animated ads vs. static ones.

Good results will most likely come from a combination of ads, not a single one, given that people need to see your message at least 7 times before they remember it.

You can also use Animately to change the size of your GIF, for free.

GIF vs. HTML5 banner ads

You can create animated Google Display Network ads using different technologies. While Flash is considered outdated, GIF and HTML5 are still widely used. Which one is for you?

HTML5 banner ads have some clear advantages: they tend to have better image quality at smaller sizes and can be highly responsive, meaning they work well on a variety of devices. That being said, they are more difficult to produce, requiring some advanced coding skills.

GIFs are easier and cheaper to create, they also work well on most devices, and can be as attention-grabbing as any other animated banner.

At the end of the day, it depends on your skills and access to resources but both will work well for the Google Display Network if you follow the rules we already explained.

If you opt to use GIFs, remember that Animately is by your side to help you compress and edit your images for the best results. Let us know if you enjoy using it and if you have any feedback for us.

Further Reading