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Banner Blindness

Old and New Findings as of 2007 August

4:02 pm on Sep 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I was just doing some catching up with Jakob Nielsen's latest usability studies. I came across this one from 2007 August that rehashes an old topic; Banner Blindness.

The most prominent result from the new eyetracking studies is not actually new. We simply confirmed for the umpteenth time that banner blindness is real.

Most of our eyetracking findings on Web advertising present no ethical dilemmas. For example, we know that there are 3 design elements that are most effective at attracting eyeballs:
  • Plain text
  • Faces
  • Cleavage and other "private" body parts.

We are such "physical" beings, aren't we?

As you read through Jakob's findings, he comes to a fourth "unethical" path to ad fixations...

In addition to the three main design elements that occasionally attract fixations in online ads, we discovered a fourth approach that breaks one of publishing's main ethical principles by making the ad look like content:
  • The more an ad looks like a native site component, the more users will look at it.
  • Not only should the ad look like the site's other design elements, it should appear to be part of the specific page section in which it's displayed.

As you read further, it is clear that Jakob is referring to MFA sites. He's not happy with the trend either...

A specific ad may or may not be ethical, depending on how closely it masquerades as content. I caution against going too far, because it can backfire and mislead users. Unethical ads will get you more fixations, but ethical business practices will attract more loyal customers in the long run.

Banner Blindness: Old and New Findings

12:36 pm on Sept 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

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In traditional print media (in the UK at least), adverts have to prominently labeled as such, even when they have been designed to look and feel like editorial content. Websites that fail to also do that, rapidly lose my trust.
2:48 am on Sept 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

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That's true in the U.S., too, if an ad looks like regular copy (if it's obviously an ad, they don't have to).

I have one content-heavy site that, because of the nature of the subject, has a lot of interlinking among pages. I have a policy - stated on the site - that underlined text will always lead to another page on the site that gives more information on the related topic, not to an ad, so no one has to be afraid to click on it. The site runs on affiliate ads, and general wisdom is that the affiliate links that are "most effective" are the ones that look like part of the regular text, but I know how annoyed I get when I end up unexpectedly at an ad - and I don't want my visitors to get that feeling when they're on my site.