Beating Banner Blindness

These internet marketing tips can help your website’s ads generate more revenue

Banner blindness is a real problem for publishers and advertisers. Banners that are not seen are not clicked, lowering the sponsor’s ROI and the publisher’s revenue. But how do we make online ads that capture more attention?

Some tips come from usability guru Jakob Nielsen through his biweekly column Alertbox. If you haven’t heard of him, Nielsen is a principal of the usability firm Nielsen Norman Group, and “the founder of the ‘discount usability engineering’ movement, which emphasizes fast and efficient methods for improving the quality of user interfaces,” according to NNG’s website.

His column suggests the following four elements to increase visitors’ fixation on advertisements:

  1. Plain text
  2. Faces
  3. Cleavage and other “private” body parts
  4. Making an ad look like content


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Nielsen clearly states that making advertisements appear to be content is unethical, even if it will increase the users’ fixation with the ad. “The distinction between editorial content and paid advertisements should always be clear,” according to the post.

Although cleavage and other body parts will also help grab attention, having naked 20-somethings prancing on your ads will turn off a wide range of audiences. The “naked tactic” is too risky for many publishers.

The other two tactics, using text and faces, seem worth trying for several reasons. The first is that they are unlikely to offend anyone. The second is that they can be used for all types of ads. And third is that it they are really easy to incorporate.

Neilsen’s Alertbox is usually loaded with tips for website usability, and the post linked above is no different. Other nuggets of information include:

  • “When you advertise through an advertising network, your ads will get fewer fixations than if you contract directly with the publisher for a specific placement and design your creative to fit that spot. As a result, you should bid less for network ads than for customized ads that you place yourself.”
  • “Banner blindness is real. Users almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement, whether or not it’s actually an ad.”
  • When users encounter text online, “scanning is more common than reading, but users will sometimes dig into an article if they really care about it.”

The post also includes links to eye tracking video clips, if you’re interested in how this type of research is conducted. Also, Alertbox‘s archive is a good resource for a free refresher on website usability.


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