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What is banner blindness?

Sheza Naveed

Banner blindness is the user behavior according to which people ignore user elements perceived as ads; this is regardless of the fact if they are perceived correctly or incorrectly.

Banner blindness is an instance of selective attention, meaning people pay attention to only a couple of things in their environment. This is due to the limited attention capacity of humans.

On an interface, different UI elements compete for the user’s attention. Elements with useful information such as navigation bars usually get the user’s attention while users ignore others.

Ads are elements that do not contain useful information relevant to the user’s tasks and thus are ignored by users. The traits of ads that might be present in other elements as well are:

  • Ad-specific placement - placed on the right rail or top of the page.
  • Ad-like visual treatment - animation, etc.
  • Proximity - promotions, etc.

1. Location

Ignoring ads is a behavior learned by users according to usual ad placement locations, e.g., most ads are placed on the top of the webpage, so users ignore that area. Users tend to read the text on the page and ignore the ads. In a study performed by the NN Group, users did not look at the first advertisement shown at the top. Each red dot represents the eye fixation of a single user and the lines show the gaze movement.

Source: NN group

2. Visual treatment

An ad doesn’t need to be placed at the top or right rail to be ignored. Certain traits of ads that distinguish them from other elements of the site are:

  • fancy format
  • text within images
  • a color background of an ad rectangle against the background of the rest of the page
Source: Daraz

3. Proximity to ads

Elements in the interface in the place where ads are generally placed may be mistaken as ads. This is a consequence of Gestalt’s law of proximity, meaning that elements placed close together are perceived to belong together.

Source: Alibaba

Guidelines

Ads are important, as they help businesses grow, and they won’t survive without ads. However, it is important to distinguish your site content from ads. A few guidelines are discussed below:

  • change the content that looks like ads such as colors, background, style, etc.

  • conduct usability testing to ensure if people are paying attention to the important content.

  • do not place your website content and ads in the same visual section.

Businesses won’t survive without ads; however, it is essential to differentiate between content and ads so that the content does not get ignored by the user.

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