Posted August 24, 2007 4:31 pm by with 35 comments

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A newly released eyetracking study by usability guru Jakob Nielsen shows that online banner blindness is worsening. Nielsen says that banner ads (indicated by green outlines in his heat maps below) didn’t even receive light focus from skimmers, scanners and readers—and neither did non-ad content in the same areas.

eyetracking heat maps by Jakob Nielsen show complete blindness to banner ads and banner-like elements in web pages

Nielsen concludes, much to his own dismay, that the best way to get people to look at your ads is to make them look like actual content—much like advertising in magazines and newspapers masquerades as editorial content (gotta look for that tiny little ‘advertisement’ notice at the top). That doesn’t mean, however, a 300×300 AdSense block as the first thing in your blog’s text will trick people into think that it’s content and clicking on it. That’s just annoying. (via)

Another study that was released recently cautions against making advertisements annoying, obnoxious or offensive. As obvious as this sounds, remember that a lot of companies (*cough* ASK *cough*) need this reminder.

And a vivid reminder it is. In the study, commissioned by Streetblimps and conducted by Opinion Research Corp.,

Nearly nine in 10 Americans said they were less likely to buy products that had annoying or offensive ads. Seven in 10 also said they were more likely to remember the ads.

So yes, Ask’s ads may have had us all talking—but according to this survey, they also would have prevented 90% of American adults from purchasing a product associated with them. Even if you didn’t find the Ask commercials offensive, you have to admit that they’re annoying. And 70% would remember the commercial—and the bad taste it left in their mouths. A novel commercial isn’t enough to succeed. (via)

The bottom line: don’t go for the flashy and annoying ads—make them look like content. For your biggest ad purchases, work with webmasters to integrate your ads into their design—use their site’s colors and fonts, tinker with placement, etc. It just might pay off.

  • And therein lies the rub.

    This news comes in the same week as the guy who set up a site to show that he was blocking Firefox, because he is morally opposed to their support of ad-blocking technologies. Even though he was run-through with ten thousand swords, he still has a point (arguably rather poorly presented). So the blade of dissatisfaction runs very deep.

    Even if we take a very creative approach to advertising, that doesn’t help with the “pirate mentality”…the ones who “get off” on blocking ads just for the hell of it.

    That attitude, of course, sucks…as most of us who create (or creatively aggregate) valuable content can only afford to invest the time to do so when there is a legitimate promise of return on the that investment. But…pirates don’t care about that kind of thing, now do they?? (“Arrrrgggh!”)

    So we have to leave those folks aside for now and continue to mix up our advertising in an attempt to engage our mainstream (non-pirate) site visitors and combat ad blindness. But…it will set in again soon…if only because familiarity breeds contempt (or, at least, boredom). Unfortunately, this will be an everlasting battle.

    The only “desirable” ads are the ones offering a product that people want, presented in a way that’s attention-getting without being annoying. And one would suppose that that might look different now from what it will look like at this time next year.

    So…it would seem like the closest thing to a solid answer is:

    – dead-on audience targeting in selecting products and services to advertise
    – engaging, but unobtrusive presentation
    – mixing it up periodically to help combat the tune-out factor

  • I’ve been making this point for quite some time now.

    In my mind, it comes down to whether you value your visitors, or your advertisers, more. Placing ads on the far right, out of the way, makes the experience more pleasant for a visitor. But less lucrative for advertisers, in my opinion.

    Six of one, half a dozen of the other!

  • Adsense ads are sometimes unposible to recognize from content so I click by mistake on them. But than google doesnt have to like it when people click by mistake.

  • Very interesting, but not at all surprising. Content is king.

  • Why would readers want at ads. Most of the time they are just looking for information so will ignore ads.

    When they are looking to buy they will look at ads. Advertisers have always been trying to force ads on viewers.

    Advertising is also about branding so when a reader is ready to buy they come to you.

  • It’s pretty obvious that ad blindness is worsening with time, but I also notice that those photos feature a pretty “vanilla” placement of ads! They would probably get more attention if they were more blended within the content and put in non-standard places

    I particularly dislike the way google ads force you to use the same formats over and over (i.e. no gradient background, javascript ads etc), it’s much easier to blend ads with PPC providers

  • 300×300 block is very big…

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  • Content is certainly still the most important aspect, image and contextual ADs can still be effective depending on the placement. This new study makes complete sense for most websites…

  • Internet Marketing

    Content always provides a better consumer experience. Although content with loads of products squeezed in aka James Bond does risk having the editorial credibility evaporate. Maybe we need marketers and business to listen to consumers and respond with products that meet the customers needs rather than the business needs. Achieving this would lead to good consumer generated content about your product or service, thus drawing more consumers in…

  • This post made me look to the right of the screen to see what ads are displayed on this site. And truthfully, I had never noticed the earlier. My eyes always just moved in the column that covers the posts.

  • By “purchasing a product associated with them”, do you mean a sword or a chick? I chuckled the other day when I realized that I had actually set a painting of a chick with a sword as my wallpaper. Remembered of all the fuss you did regarding’s ads. Enough is enough… please.

  • People learn fast. They always can tell content from ads on the page. It’s better to have people search via integrated SE tool and click on ads in search results.

  • It’s all about proper placement of ads. The more the ad becomes like a part of the blog the higher the changes of it getting clicked.

  • Yes, content is key but the fact is that the more annoying the ad the easier it is for our subconscious mind to pick it up. Let’s face it, people remember the annoying ads whether they want to or not and of course, that is the point-brand recognition, is it not?

  • Doesn’t surprise me. If you look at trends from years ago – 2000 to 2003 or thereabout, you’d find the same held true for image banner “types,” like the 468 x 60 size that was overused back then.

    I think the same holds true for placement as well as “type” of ad. Webmasters need to mix ads in the content more, disclose it (if they really want to), and overall mix it up a bit more if they’re basing growth on ad click revenue.

  • Web spammers could learn a thing or two about how to design their pages based on that report. I do find that internal banner advertising still gets reasonable click-throughs but I’m in the process of phasing out traditional large banners. My visitors have always been more interested in the content.

  • Great comments.

    We try to encourage advertisers to change up their ad and message, so that the ads don’t become invisible. Likewise, we provide RSS advertising – which is text base – and also give our advertisers a shout-out once a month in a blog post.

    Let me know if you have any other ideas for ad formats. Thanks!

  • Heh, it’s been a while I’ve been saying that people should use text instead of graphics on their websites (including advertisers).

  • Great post, and some great comments. I’d have to agree with the ones that talk about how images have a greater impact that text. If you look at your ads in the top right hand corner, Andy’s photo is one that sticks out most. Not because of the space invaders in the background, but because the simplicity of the image draws the eye away from the text.

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  • funny, according to this study, side ad at marketingpilgrim also doesn’t work anymore. 🙂 it’s it ironic?

  • This news isn’t surprising. Long ago I quit clicking on ads and I recently removed AdSense from my flagship blog as the annoyance didn’t justify the few bucks that I made.

    Content is king and bloggers/web site owners need to find different ways to monetize their sites. Personally, I am tired of some of the more spammy looking site out there — too many widgets, chicklets, and ads to to get through in order to read the content.

  • Roland

    So they’re slowly catching up why Googles ads are so successful: because they aren’t annoying or obstrusive, they not only look like content (text), they ARE content and provide real information to the user… and provide it quick. No need to wait a few seconds for those “great animations” until the banner ad finally comes to the point.

    And Google adwords are always on-topic, related to the article in some way and thus really deserve to get some attention. Nothing is more annoying than someone or something that tries to invade your thoughts forcefully, may it be the newspaper salesman on the street or a flashy ad on a webpage…

  • Brian

    I have to weigh in here. I work for a guy that pays a decent sum of money to Google everyday to have the top spot for what he sells in the sponsored ad section. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I never look at those ads because they don’t mean that he is the best choice for his product. It just means that he has that much money to throw away right now. Targeted ads do very little to me because I choose to ignore a lot of what I see. I want to be able to make up my own mind in choosing a product, not have some money-making executive that makes far more than I do decide for me. I’m not naive enough to ignore that I probably have help deciding from magazines based around those products that I buy, but at least there I can decide how objective they are and if it’s something that I want to buy.

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