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Understanding Banner Blindness: Strategies for Effective Online Advertising

Banner blindness makes your ads invisible. Use this guide to learn why this phenomenon happens and how to put the spotlight on your banner ads.

Learning about banner blindness and how to avoid it are the first steps toward creating truly effective online advertising strategies.

Banner ads are everywhere you go online. Each page has countless ads at the top and bottom, sandwiched between the content, and completely filling out the sidebar. And yet, when’s the last time an ad really caught your attention, much less got you to click?

For most of today’s internet users, the answer is pretty much never because banner ads have become ingrained in the internet landscape. They are as unobtrusive as the trees you pass by on a road trip due to a phenomenon called banner blindness.

As an advertiser, that’s the opposite of what you want to happen, so you’ll need to overcome banner blindness if you want to be successful. Ready to make that happen? Let’s take a look at what banner blindness is, why it occurs, and how to create attention-grabbing ads that get clicks.

What is banner blindness?

Banner blindness happens when website visitors consciously or unconsciously ignore anything that looks like an advertisement. Also known as ad blindness and ad clutter, this phenomenon got its name and definition in 1998, but it rings true today more than ever.

In the original study, researchers found that web users tend to miss even the most striking banner ads in favor of plain text while looking for specific information online. The Nielsen Norman Group validated the results of that study using eye-tracking tests, revealing that users ignore anything that either looks like an ad or shows up in an area usually reserved for advertisements.

Why website visitors ignore banner advertisements

At its core, banner blindness happens due to selective attention, where people only notice things related to their goals. This helps website visitors stay focused and avoid feeling overwhelmed by the endless stream of content on every page.

It only takes a few trips through the World Wide Web to discover that many traditional banner ads don’t directly correlate to what you might be looking for online. So, people have learned to unconsciously identify and ignore them. Here are a few things that trigger that response.

The design follows the typical ad format

There’s no one right way to create a banner ad. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at most advertising banners. Rectangular shape? Check. Colorful background? Check. Flashy embedded text? Also, check.

Despite being the go-to design, anything that remotely follows this formula gets tuned out instantly. Attempts to make the banner ad stand out from the content can backfire, making it even easier to immediately identify the ad as promotional. And that gives people license to ignore ads without worrying about missing critical information on the page.

Display banner ads focus on the wrong audience

If it’s not relevant, it gets ignored. That’s the rule of banner blindness. So, as you can imagine, boring banner ads that don’t align with the visitor’s interests, preferences, or goals are doomed to fail.

Effective ads directly relate to the reason people visit that page, especially if they show promise in helping them achieve their goals. Barring that, the ad must be a worthy distraction, or it’ll stay out of sight, out of mind.

Poor online ad placement on web pages

“Location, location, location” is not just a mantra for the real estate world. It applies to online ads as well. When banner ads show up in the obvious locations—like the top of the page or the right rail—ad blindness kicks in, and they’re not likely to even get a glance in their direction.

That’s because people have learned where to expect these ads and naturally direct their gaze elsewhere on the page to avoid wasting time on irrelevant content. Driven by availability bias—or by generalizing based on past experiences—this mental shortcut makes finding information online more efficient and less fatiguing.

Benefits of reducing banner blindness

Your display advertising success largely depends on the performance of your paid advertisements. If your ads don’t drive clicks, you’re just throwing money into the wind.

So, it’s undoubtedly in your best interest to avoid banner blindness at every turn. If you can keep ad blindness at bay, you just might get to enjoy the following benefits.

Boost ad impressions and click-through rates

The average click-through rate for digital display ads hovers around 0.05%. That leaves little room for banner blindness to derail your marketing campaigns, but there is a way forward.

With precision in creating, placing, and targeting your ads, you can keep your ads from getting overlooked. Your efforts will ensure people not only see your ads but click on them, too. Your click-through rate could meet or surpass the average, helping ensure the success of all your campaigns.

Maximize digital advertising return on ad spend

Although getting clicks is the goal, it’s not enough to ensure an excellent digital advertising return on ad spend. You also need visitors to complete their purchases. Otherwise, your ad spend will be for nothing.

Using effective targeting strategies to overcome banner blindness can prevent this from happening by putting your ads in front of the right people at the right time. Post-click conversion rates will likely improve to provide a high return on investment from each campaign.

Improve your brand reputation and engagement

Online ads currently have a reputation for being annoying, intrusive, and downright unhelpful. Those negative perceptions often cast the associated brands in an unfavorable light and impact customer loyalty and profits.

Making your ads relevant, interesting, and rewarding to click on can prevent that hit to your brand reputation. Your target audience will likely have a better user experience while viewing and interacting with your ads.

Encounters with your helpful, well-designed ads may result in them seeing your company as a partner in finding what they’re looking for online. Eventually, they may automatically make a beeline to your website whenever they have challenges you could help them solve.

Nine ways to minimize banner blindness

Every little bit counts when working toward reducing banner blindness. Each change may not seem like much at first, but when you take a step back, you’ll see how the minor adjustments make a big impact. Use the following tactics to gradually transform simple ads into captivating attention-grabbers.

>Minimize banner noise for internet users

The more ads there are on the page, the more likely they will get ignored. To avoid having too many ads in one place, minimize banner noise for internet users by being very picky about where to display your ads. Instead of opting for programmatic advertising that automatically places your ads, switch to a platform that allows you to take a manual approach.

Research each website to check its ad density before inputting the URL into the targeting system. Don’t place your ads on sites that have an overwhelming number of ads on the page. It’s particularly important to avoid pages with numerous banner ads around the top of the page because that primes visitors to ignore all ads.

Deliver the ad content your target audience wants

People only respond to ads that are relevant. If they’re shopping for car parts, it does them no good in that moment to see ads for irrelevant products like jewelry or travel packages. But you may catch their interest with animated banner ads for automotive tools and car electronics.

Aim to deliver the ad content your target audience wants to see at that moment, and you might be well rewarded with clicks from highly interested customers. Helping your target audience overcome challenges and reach their goals is your path to success with all your digital ad campaigns.

Choose innovative ad formats and styles

Predictable ad formats and styles are practically guaranteed to be ignored these days. Despite that, many display ad companies still go for the 320x250 rectangles in hopes of getting different results, even though they’re doing the same exact thing as always.

So, you can easily stand out by switching things up with unexpected ad formats, like the skyscraper, billboard, or small square. You could even try going beyond traditional banner ad sizes with the interstitial format. This type of full-page ad naturally works into the browsing experience by popping up between pages or when users attempt to exit the site.

As for the ad style, try:

  • Using white space to draw attention to your ad
  • Adding powerful imagery to enhance the emotional impact
  • Replacing regular photos with fun illustrations
  • Choosing unique fonts that are interesting to look at
  • Incorporating in-season or trendy colors

Every audience is different in what they want from their favorite brands. Switch things up as you see fit to find what speaks to your audience the most.

Reduce banner blindness with video ads

Even if your visitors are actively trying to ignore banner ads, video ads tend to draw their attention anyway. Movement catches the eye like nothing else. And the video format allows you to tell a story instead of simply hoping a few words of copy will do the trick.

There’s an art to creating well-received in-banner video ads, however. Ideally, you should create short, high-quality video ads that don’t automatically expand. Also, try to focus on using 3 stages when you invest in a video ad: Capture their attention, speak to their interests, and roll out the call to action. Make sure to work through those stages quickly because you only have about 6 seconds to share your message before viewers scroll away.

Skip standard ad placements linked to banner blindness

No matter how unique you make your banner ad, it won’t get any views or clicks if it’s in the wrong place. Availability bias has long since taught adept web users where advertisements appear on the page, like at the top and along the right sidebar.

Nonstandard ad units are a great way to get around that, but they’re often more expensive than traditional ad placements. Moreover, some formats are just far too irritating to even consider.

Two placements you might get some traction with are interscroller ads and in-image ads. Interscroller ads appear as a standard banner and expand as the user scrolls down the page. If the visitor is not interested, it’s easy to cancel, which keeps frustration to a minimum. In-image ads show up inside the frame of an image to at least get eyes on the banner for a few seconds.

Incorporate bold CTAs in banner ads

Getting ad impressions is only half the job. You also need people to click, which requires a strong call to action (CTA). To effectively motivate people to act, the CTA needs to make it 100% clear what you’re offering and what the viewer needs to do to get it.

If the CTA just says, “Click Here,” it’s not likely to inspire any action at all. The CTA must be descriptive above all else and show the user you’re giving them what they want. For example, “Shop Now for Exclusive Deals,” “Unlock Your Savings,” and “Explore Our Collection” are all much more powerful when it comes to influencing user behaviors.

Work native ads into the web page design

Integrating your ads into the web content makes them much more likely to be seen and drive clicks. Known as native advertising, these unobtrusive banners go against the grain by matching the look and feel of the web page. They’re interwoven into the page layout and appear in the article feed just like the rest of the content.

Since native ads don’t stand out, people don’t unconsciously tag them as promotional advertisements and move on. Users don’t feel as annoyed or antagonized either, as they so often do upon noticing ultra-bright, flashy ads. Instead, the ad fits organically into the user experience and often feels like valuable content.

When using native ads, you do have to be careful to avoid making people feel like they’ve been tricked. It’s also a legal requirement. The FTC requires that we clearly label all native advertising to ensure transparency. Use the labels “sponsored” or “advertisement” to prevent your visitors from thinking the text ads are organic and unbiased.

Use contextual targeting for ad content

Contextual targeting is a fantastic method of getting your banner ads in front of people interested in your products. Using this targeting method also improves your chances of ensuring your ads are in the right place at the right time.

Displaying relevant graphic ads takes a little work behind the scenes to get it right, and it all starts with customer research. This includes understanding what your customers want from your brand and where they spend time online. After that, it’s time to do some keyword research to see what terms and phrases your customers use to find products like yours.

With that information, you can place your ads on web pages that cover the same topics and keywords as your advertisement. This helps ensure relevance without making people feel like they’re being watched, as is common with behavioral targeting.

Optimize banner advertising for all platforms

Gone are the days when people only access the internet from their home desktop computers. Now, it’s all about laptops, tablets, and smartphones that are accessible and usable on the go. If you’re not creating responsive ads for all the most popular devices, you’re missing out on many opportunities to reach people with your ads.

Creating responsive display ads can be costly on your own, but Google offers a shortcut. When using their Ads program, you can upload your assets into the system, and it’ll automatically adjust the ad to fit the target device. Just note that using this platform does limit your control over how your ads get displayed and where.

If you want to retain complete control, you’ll need to adjust the size and appearance of each banner advertisement manually. You may need to hire an outside designer if that’s not in your wheelhouse, which can make it even more expensive to implement.

How to measure banner ad interactions

Availability bias not only affects people’s reaction to banner ads but also makes it virtually impossible to accurately assess how well ads might perform. Even if you feel smitten with a design, that doesn’t mean your target audience will notice the ad, click on it, and complete the desired action.

You need objective data to lead the way to the right ad design and placement decisions every time. To get it, use any or all of the following methods.

Perform A/B testing for banner ads

Every detail matters in creating the most engaging banner ads. One small change could make a big difference in the visibility and click-worthiness of each design. But how are you supposed to tell what changes had the biggest impact on your results?

A/B testing allows you to compare both banner ad designs to determine which one will perform best. The ads run simultaneously for a set amount of time, so you can collect performance metrics about each one. At the end, you can compare the results to find the winner.

Your initial tests can focus on dialing in your overall format, style, and messaging. After that, you might want to run more tests to fine-tune the ads for even better click-through rates and post-click conversions.

Taking good notes is the best way to ensure the test results effectively guide your static and video ad creation process. Record your results in a spreadsheet to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Use those notes to identify poorly designed ads, create new designs, and set up additional tests to avoid repeating what you’ve already done.

Run eye-tracking usability tests to identify ad blindness

Eye-tracking tests are the gold standard in assessing the performance of online ads. Each test session provides a wealth of data about where people focus their attention and how they interact with such ads. You can use that data to create genuinely compelling ad designs and find the perfect placement for them on the page.

Eye-tracking usability tests are a bit more involved than A/B testing. You’ll directly oversee setting up the eye-tracking software, designing the testing environment, and recruiting participants. But that’s not all. You’ll also have to conduct the tests and analyze the data to get actionable insights. Depending on the software you use, it may create a heat map or gaze plot for your review.

You can hire a professional research agency to conduct eye-tracking tests for you if it’s in your budget. Many low-cost eye-tracking software options are available today if you want to save money. Some are priced as low as $25 per month, while others charge for each session or have a flat fee.

Measure KPIs to gauge your success in avoiding banner blindness

Measuring and tracking banner advertisement key performance indicators (KPIs) just makes good business sense. The data shows your progression from budding marketer to display ad expert and reveals which static and video advertisements generate the best results.

You’ll find most KPIs in your advertising platforms, like Facebook or Google Ads. If you want to track post-click conversions, you’ll need to work with your clients to set up tracking on their website, too.

If you’re new to tracking, just pick a few KPIs to watch at first, like impressions and click-through rates. Otherwise, you can add many more to your list to see the whole picture, such as:

  • Quality score: The overall relevance of your ads to the target keywords and landing page
  • Average position: The location on the page in relation to the other online ads
  • Number of conversions: The total number of times website users click on your online ad and complete the desired action
  • Cost per click: The amount you pay each time someone clicks on your banner advertisements
  • Return on ad spend: The amount of money you earn versus the total ad spend for each campaign

Check the data on a set date each month and record the numbers in a spreadsheet with a clear identifier for each ad you assess. Depending on your platform, you can export the data to a spreadsheet with a couple of clicks. Either way, analyze the data regularly to determine what works and where you need to make changes.

Avoid banner blindness and get your ads noticed

With the right tactics, you can cut through banner noise and create ads that get noticed. Your efforts may even win you more than a few clicks along the way. Banner blindness is likely to happen again, however. So, remember to run tests and change up your strategy as needed to maintain effectiveness in your advertisements. Keeping up with the ever-evolving digital landscape is challenging, but your willingness to adapt and innovate will ensure continued success.

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