How to Create Banner Awareness (Or Bypass Blindness)

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User-friendly design guru Jakob Nielsen held out a finding in one of his studies for 10 years, but finally finally to publish it in 2007. The summary of the finding? Internet users across the board have developed "banner blindness;” that is, they rarely look at banners. But there are "unethical" ways of getting them to look at your ads.

Some website owners and advertisers didn’t need to read the results of Nielsen’s study to decide to implement slightly unethical ways to make the users look at their ads (ever seen a pop up that looks like a system message? Just to name one…).

Personally, I don’t find the result a surprise. Banners are intrusive and ugly in most cases, and users are aware of the banners' presence but decide not to look at them. Another study featured in the Journal of Usability Studies confirms that users have not only developed banner blindness, but now are also deliberate ignore text advertising too; the study found that they simply skip looking at the areas of pages that are dedicated for text ads.

I can hear you saying, "but companies are making hundreds of millions of dollars out of banner ads!" True, very true. Users "miss the banners" and go on searching for the information they want; it’s only when they cannot find the information needed that they go back to the banner. Ask yourself this question: "Why does Google offer category-specific channels for ads?" If you are looking for a certain type of information, there is a good chance that you will notice the ad if you can't find what you are looking for on the page itself.

Ask yourself another question: why do CPC (cost-per-click) ads on Facebook perform better than impression-based banners? Another question, why are “sponsored stories” (A page “Like” story / page post-Like story) so efficient? Do you often stop, take a look and click? Food for thought! Or a few hints:

Google integrates ads related into what you are searching for or looking at. Most browsers will check the first page, and if they don’t find the desired results by scanning quickly, they will stop at the sponsored ads, read, and click if relevant. Simple.

On Facebook: yes, you are reading random ads sometimes, and most of the time you’re not clicking them, but you’re also not reporting them as “repetitive or irrelevant.” A good chunk of the ads are sponsored stories like “Your friend Liked this, or your friend Liked that;” these more often get you to stop and read because they are more closely related to you.

These constitute two better ways of overcoming blindness, ethically, without being too intrusive. I will leave you with a screenshot. I asked a few friends and acquaintances to read an article- nothing fancy or scientific- without telling them the purpose. After they were done I asked them one question: “Which ads do you remember?”

A few Mac users named the banner I’ve outlined here in red, the designers named the one I’ve highlighted in blue, and the rest couldn’t name a single one.

So remember, all users SEE the banners but not all of them really LOOK at them. Place your banners smartly, on related topics, and let the ads “compliment” the journey and not interrupt it. 

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