Banner blindness is a phenomenon in which internet users stop noticing or paying attention to online ads. First coined in 1998, banner blindness has become a serious concern for digital marketers. Related to the similar phenomenon of ‘ad fatigue’, banner blindness is one of the reasons for the increased use of ad blockers.
What is banner blindness?
Banner blindness is a term for the psychological phenomenon in which readers no longer ‘see’ ads on a webpage. It is called banner blindness because it refers to the banner ads that typically feature at the top or sides of the page. Banner blindness happens when users are over-exposed to ads, so they tend to subconsciously ignore them so as not to disrupt their browsing experience. For advertisers, banner blindness is a big problem, as it means that much of their ad spend is simply wasted on audiences who pay no attention to their ads.
Banner blindness statistics
According to a 2013 study by Infolinks, 86% of web users experience banner blindness. A decade later, it’s safe to assume that the percentage is the same or even higher. Other studies conducted around the same time found that the average CTR (click-through rate) for banner ads was just 1%! Nowadays, banner ads have an average CTR of 0.05% across all platforms and formats.
Banner blindness tends to be more prevalent in millennials and younger generations who have spent the majority of their lives online. People who don’t spend as much time online are less likely to instinctively skip over banner ads. Banner blindness affects people on mobile and desktop websites.
What is the psychology of banner blindness?
There are a few possible reasons why so many consumers experience banner blindness. Banner blindness is a specific trait of the psychological theory known as “selective attentiveness”. According to this theory, while humans absorb lots of stimuli in their environment, they only focus on a small subset of them.
All of the factors below likely come into play to produce this phenomenon.
- Singleminded behavior: By now, many users can subconsciously identify ads and skip over them. When they notice a block of text embedded in an image, in a different font or color from the rest of the page, or that is formatted differently, their brains recognize that it’s an ad and unconsciously blind them to it so the users can find what they’re looking for.
- Clutter: Oftentimes, a single webpage can be cluttered with ads, so it’s no wonder the human brain can’t process all the information. Our brains are designed to quickly skim through what we see and retain a small percentage of it. If there are too many banner ads, consumers may skip over them because they simply can’t absorb all of a page’s information.
- Unpleasant memory: Most people have had the annoying experience of accidentally clicking on an ad at the top of a page on their phone, losing their place, and getting whisked away to a separate webpage. Once that’s happened a few times, people tend to become ad averse and instinctively ignore ads since they unconsciously try to avoid repeating unpleasant experiences.
- Website familiarity: There’s a saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” As humans become familiar with an object, it is very common to overlook or begrudge certain aspects. For example, if a customer frequently visits your website, they may not notice your banner ads because they subconsciously focus on elements that are new, unfamiliar, or different from their expectations.
- Perceived usefulness: Ads that are perceived as useful, relevant, or interesting to the viewer will naturally be more engaging. Banner ads typically suffer from lower perceived usefulness. This may be because of the ad content, or its position on the web page. For example, when a banner ad appears at the top of the page before the user has consumed the content they came for, they instantly register the banner as a distraction and, therefore, useless.
Ad fatigue and banner blindness: one and the same?
While ad fatigue and banner blindness are similar issues, they are not exactly the same. Banner blindness refers to a user’s unconscious decision to mentally skip over ads on a webpage, ignoring them in favor of the page’s target content. On the other hand, ad fatigue is when a company’s ads become so frequent that consumers become bored or even annoyed with the ads, and the click-through rate declines.
Both phenomena have similar results: users aren’t engaging with your ads. No matter how many ad spaces you pay for, your rate of return isn’t high enough to justify the campaign.
Ad fatigue can even lead to brand boycotting or resentment if users get too annoyed by ads. If this happens, companies may choose to scale back their campaigns as they rethink their advertising strategy to overcome ad fatigue.
How banner blindness affects your advertising strategy
Considering the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year on advertising, it’s no wonder that companies worry about banner blindness. Banner blindness is a big spoke in the wheel for ROAS (Return on ad spend), and that’s why brands should work to prevent banner blindness.
Some businesses overcompensate to attract attention to their ads, by blitzing online users with lots of ad impressions. While that strategy may work in the short term to draw attention, it generally leads to ad fatigue and resentment of your brand, which can do lasting damage to your public image.
The banner space at the top of a webpage isn’t just for advertisements. It could also contain critical messages about scheduled website maintenance, store hours, sales or promotions, requests for donations, etc. When consumers learn to ignore anything in the ‘banner ad’ space, they could miss out on key information, and that can hurt a business as well.
How to prevent banner blindness
Fortunately, there are several possible solutions to overcoming banner blindness and helping potential customers see your ads. It’s always recommended to test a few different options to find the right niche for your advertisements. Many marketers utilize A/B testing to check the differences between two versions of the same content. You can try making two versions of your ad and using a metric like CTR to determine which one performs better in a climate of banner blindness.
Here are several ways to prevent banner blindness. You may focus on one particular strategy or implement a few at the same time.
- Use native ads: Native ads are digital ads that share the look and feel of the webpage where they appear so they don’t seem like ads. For this reason, they are less prone to banner blindness and are more noticed than display ads. This naturally leads to a higher average CTR compared to display ads. On the downside, native ads are more expensive per click, however, the cost is offset by the fact that more people will see the ad and pay attention.
- Change the ad design: As noted above, one of the psychological factors that contribute to banner blindness is meeting expectations. When your ads look just like standard or common ads, people are more likely to skip over them. If you can change up your ad design and message, and make it unexpected and exciting, you may better catch readers’ attention.
- Change the placement: The term “banner ad” refers to a 468 x 60-pixel advertisement that sits across the top of a webpage. Moving your ad elsewhere on the page may stand a better chance of attracting attention. A study by Jakob Nielsen found that users read websites in an F pattern, thereby avoiding some of the traditional ad locations (along the top and in the bottom right corner). Be careful about where you put it, though; 64% of people already find ads intrusive, so you shouldn’t interrupt their content consumption too much.
- Target your audience: A good strategy to prevent banner blindness is to improve your audience targeting. That way, your ad will be shown to the audience who are most likely to be interested, and less prone to banner blindness.
- Try interactive ads: When users can interact with your ads, they are likely to be more receptive. By using interactive ads, your message will be more eye-catching and less susceptible to banner blindness. These can include playable, 3D, or AR ads. Even videos can help combat banner blindness; many internet users today find videos much more engaging and attractive than simple text or images.