What Is Banner Blindness & How Do You Combat It?

Neil Henry / Content Marketing, UX Leave a Comment

Reaching the people who really matter to your business via the web is the goal of every digital marketing strategy. But in an increasingly crowded online world – where the biggest brands routinely hog the top spots in the SERPs – it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out from the crowd.

Add to this the growing banner blindness paradox – and the fact that an increasing number of web users are proactively blocking ads with bespoke software – and it’s easy to see why SEO is still such a solid investment.

However, while banner blindness is very real, there are, fortunately, a number of things you can do to reduce its impact on your advertising campaigns.

A (Very) Brief History Of Banner Ads

The first ever Internet banner ad was displayed on a website called HotWire.com way back in October 1994. The client of the banner ad was telecommunications giant AT&T.

The ad itself was very basic and didn’t pertain to the fact it was linking to a landing page that contained a series of AT&T ads narrated by Tom Selleck.

The first ever Internet banner ad

AT&T’s “You will” ads predicted an Internet-enabled future where we would be reading books, getting directions, sending faxes, paying tolls, buying stuff, watching movies, and attending meetings – all online. Pretty visionary when you consider we can do all of those things and much, much more today.

However, the most startling aspect of AT&T’s banner ad was the attention it garnered. It boasted a click-through rate (CTR) of 44%. So, for every 100 Internet users who saw it, 44 clicked on it. That’s a CTR that marketers today can only dream of!

The banner ad seed had been sewn and online ads quickly became a regular feature online.

What Is Banner Blindness?

Whether you refer to it as banner blindness, ad blindness, ad awareness, or banner noise, the reality is the same: Internet users – whether we like it or not – have become more conscious about the ads they are served when browsing and ignore them on an increasingly regular basis.

This is an extremely big deal if a significant proportion of your web marketing budget is dedicated to PPC and other types of online advertising.

Can you imagine if Internet users were greeted with AT&T’s pioneering banner ad today? Most people would immediately assume it linked to some malware or a rather unsavory part of the Internet, simply because of the way it looks.

Fortunately, online ads have evolved massively over the years and today they are much slicker as a result. But even this advertising evolution hasn’t led to anywhere near the kinds of CTR AT&T got back in 1994.

How Big A Problem Is Banner Blindness?

The main reason for the decline in banner ad effectiveness is due to the fact Internet users are more trained than ever to recognize that many website elements – particularly large images in certain places – are more than likely adverts. And, crucially, that breaks their flow as to why they are on a certain page in the first place. At a time when user experience is everything, such tactics are a killer.

Furthermore, people increasingly ignore these elements and even the typical areas in which they are displayed if they are searching online for something in particular. This is highlighted by the fact that individuals who surf the web and are not looking for anything in particular are more likely to click on ads.

It will come as no surprise to you then, that a whopping 86% of consumers suffer from banner blindness.

Remember I said that AT&T’s banner ad had a CTR of 44%? Today, overall display ad CTR is just 0.05%. In other words, only five people per 10,000 impressions click an ad. Wow!

But this is the average across all formats. It’s worth pointing out that Google Adwords and Facebook ads often have a CTR that exceeds 1%. Whoopee!

As if the stats didn’t make for grim enough reading already, an increasing number of Internet users have ad blockers installed. They’ve become so conscious of ads that they’ve gone out of their way to proactively block them.

PageFair’s 2017 Global Adblock Report shows that the number of desktop and mobile devices blocking ads grew by 142 million year-on-year in 2016, reaching 615 million devices (11% of the global Internet population).

Moreover, 74% of American Adblock users say they leave sites with Adblock walls – mechanisms that prevent content from being displayed until a user either disables their adblocker or pays a subscription fee.

Nevertheless, Online Advertising Is Still An Enormous Business

Rather bizarrely, even though CTRs are through the floor and ad blockers are becoming more common, the global ad industry is, quite frankly, booming.

According to eMarketer, digital ad spend in the U.S. will grow 15.9% this year and hit $83 billion in revenue.

Drilling down, we can see that Facebook’s ad revenue is projected to increase 32.1% this year, while Google’s will increase by 14.8%.

Overall, Google controls 40.7% of the U.S. digital ad market, followed by Facebook with 19.7%.Click To Tweet

Next year, Google’s revenue from ads displayed in search results is expected to account for $32.40 billion of the $40.49 billion industry.

Between them, Google and Facebook will account for 57% of mobile ad spend this year.

What Can You Do To Combat Banner Blindness?

Boost your SEO game.

First and foremost, you can reduce the impact of banner blindness on your digital marketing efforts by reducing your own reliance on ads. The best way to do this is by getting your SEO game in order.

Despite the numerous misconceptions surrounding SEO, it is still the most effective way, by far, to stand your business in the best possible position to attract organic traffic.

However, you need to appreciate that SEO certainly isn’t a quick win strategy. In fact, it requires a long-term investment and commitment to reap rewards – especially if you want to secure that highly-coveted position 0 spot.

Experiment with different ad sizes and placement.

A lot of banner blindness occurs because Internet users have trained their brains to ignore certain areas of the page and images they typically associate with advertising.

Therefore, you can attempt to get around this by experimenting with non-traditional image sizes and placements.

The classic combination is a banner ad (leaderboard) at the top of a website and a smaller square-shaped ad in the right sidebar.

Interestingly, Infolinks found that 75% of respondents liked the unconventional placement of ads at the bottom of screens, just above the fold.

Create ads that are visually stunning & engaging.

An ad like AT&T’s isn’t going to cut the mustard today. However, one with a beautiful design that attracts the attention of a visitor and screams “click me” might just garner some interest.

The same goes for video ads. Internet users love video, so it stands to reason that ads which incorporate video would attract more clicks.

This is particularly true on mobile devices.

A report by Millennial Media found that mobile video ads were 5X more engaging than standard banners.

With faster home and business Internet connections than ever before, you can be really creative with your video ads, and not worry about them stuttering or buffering.

Consider utilizing native ads.

Native ads are a type of paid media advertising that are frequently leveraged by content marketers today. They can be anything from promoted tweets on Twitter, to suggested posts on Facebook, and/or entire sponsored articles that have been written by a company external to the website the content is published on.

Such content doesn’t feel like it’s an ad, and that leads to better engagement and less banner blindness impact. The “recommended for you” links you often see in the middle or at the bottom of content are classic examples of native ads.

Launch remarketing campaigns.

In a nutshell, remarketing campaigns follow users around the Internet. Let’s say someone was on your website and in the process of completing an order, but then they left suddenly. Who knows, maybe they got pulled away because of an emergency? The bottom line is they didn’t complete their order and you lost a sale.

With remarketing campaigns, you can serve up a laser-targeted ad to that individual Internet user in several of the places they hang out online.

For example, they might see an ad for your product/service on Google, on Facebook or even on a media outlet. It could just be enough to trigger their memory and lead them back to that order they were in the process of completing.