Advertising blindness refers to the tendency of people to ignore the phenomenon that they are (correctly or wrongly) regarded as advertising content on the page. This is also a well-known user behavior habit. Although the styles and forms of advertisements have changed, our recent research shows that advertising blindness is still widespread.

People only focus their attention on stimulating part of the environment, which is selective attention. People usually choose to focus on those goals related stimuli. Advertising blindness is an example of selective attention. This is the inevitable result of our limited attention. If we want to notice the massive sounds and forms around us, we will be overwhelmed by them, which will lead to inefficient actions.

On the Internet, UI elements and all kinds of fragmented content are competing for users’ attention. In order to accomplish the task effectively, people have learned to pay attention to those elements that usually seem to be useful (such as navigation bars, search bars, headlines) and ignore information that is usually meaningless. Advertising may be the most typical representative of the latter. Therefore, the phenomenon of advertising blindness appears.

Even those meaningful contents, as long as some features like advertisements are ignored. The content of the following features may be advertising:

Appear in specific locations belonging to advertisements, such as columns at the top of the page and on the right side.

It contains visual designs like advertising, such as animation.

The position is close to the real advertisement or promotion position.

1. position

Ignoring advertising is the habit of growing up, like a lot of other Internet habits (classic examples include looking for a company logo at the top left corner of the page, or looking for global navigation at the top of the page). In our latest eye movement study, some subjects have learned to ignore the ads at the top of the Google search results page, even though they have been far away from the traditional banner ads in visual design.

The gaze on the Google search results page (SERP) shows that the user does not see the search results as the first place in the advertisement. (each red point represents a user’s gaze point; the line between the red dots represents a fast eye movement, or a saccade, and the user can’t see anything during eye movement and saccade).

Because advertisements on computers usually appear on the top of the page or on the right column, users sometimes ignore the content that appears there directly. In our recent study of eye movement, 26 subjects needed to complete a task. The task needed to find the best way to move the label from the bottle on the same access site. The page contains a small amount of text, some pictures, and advertisements on both the top and the right. The text of the page was tried out, but as shown below, they hardly read advertisements.

This thermal chart summarizes the page view of 26 subjects using the www.apartmenttherapy.com website. Words are seen more, but advertisements on the top and the right are hardly noticed. (red represents the most frequently seen area; yellow represents a moderate amount of fixation; blue represents the least amount of attention. The area with no color cover is not seen.

From the point of view of the www.thekitchn.com website, the subjects did not see advertisements on the top and the right when they studied how to plan their own kitchen.

2. visual design

Advertisements are ignored even if they do not appear on the top or right side of the page. Nowadays, advertisements can appear anywhere in the web page, and users will know about it. Therefore, they are more careful not to waste time in advertisements, even if advertisements appear in content areas, they will be overlooked.

On computers, advertisements are relatively easy to ignore, because they are significantly different from those of the surrounding pages. For example, in our recent research, 26 participants who tried to learn Mikhail Baryshnikov dance training ignored the promotional information that appeared in the text. What’s the main reason why they do it? Because the promotional information and the text and the picture of the website look different.

It is especially pointed out that advertisements will be highlighted by the following characteristics:

A small rectangle that appears in the text;

A fancy style;

Compared with white pages, there are backgrounds such as color (such as blue).

Insert text in the picture.

Any feature above is warning users that rectangle elements are promotional information, so they can safely ignore them.

The user completely ignores the blue rectangle promotion advertisement appearing on the bacnyc.org page after the text area.

3. position is close to advertising: advertising brings around the content.:

If the fixed position of the page is often placed in advertisements, the ordinary content placed in these locations will be considered as advertising and ignored. This is the natural result of the design principles that are deeply rooted in the hearts of the people.

The proximity principle of Gestalt Theory: objects close to each other are considered to be a group and therefore functionally relevant.

In the process of browsing the local area of the screen, a mental model of the content that you can focus on is formed, and the content is based on the information smell that you want to achieve. Therefore, if the content seems completely unrelated to the target, they often assume that the whole area is not related to its own goal, and will also stop scanning the other content in the area.

A participant who studied how to remove the label on the open bottle looked at the right side once, and speculated that there was only advertising on the right side. The right content does contain ads for sponsors, but there are some useful and interesting videos that demonstrate how to make handmade products, such as weaving carpets or making a magnetic frame. The subjects were inconsistent with advertisements appearing in the same area of the page, and did not look carefully at the contents on the right side.

When the user sees the sponsorship advertisement on the right side of the www.apartmenttherapy.com page, she assumes that the area is full of advertisements and never looks at it again.

Hot potato phenomenon

As can be seen from the above examples, advertisements will make users move away from one area and never move back into sight again. This experience not only affects the behavior of a particular page, but also affects the overall network behavior: they may not look at other pages or even the same area of the site. This is an example of hot potato phenomenon. I described it with Jakob Nielsen in the book “improving usability of websites by eye tracking.” The metaphor of hot potatoes comes from a game I played in primary school: in the game, the little friends sit in one circle, and when the teacher plays the music, it throws the ball to another person. The teacher will suddenly stop the music. At the moment when the music stops, whoever is in the ball will be eliminated. Therefore, whoever gets the ball wants to pass the ball as soon as possible, hoping to never get the ball again.

Definition: when you look at a web page, when the user looks at the uninterested content, it opens the hot potato scan mode, removes the line of sight, and avoids the same area of the page again, and sometimes the other pages of the site, or even the same area of the web site, will not look again.

Hot potato phenomenon is a defense mechanism that avoids wasting time watching unrelated contents. It is an example of usability bias. Usability bias refers to the fact that a user thinks that the same type of content will always appear in the same location of other pages based on only one or a few examples. However, this assumption is not always correct. For example, although the early web page is on the right side of the ad, the function of the area has changed, and some related links will be placed. Right now, the right side can be used to place any type of content.

When content looks like advertising and appears on the right side, users tend to ignore them. In the following example, users find information suitable for hiking in the Andes. This information appears in all locations on the website including the right side. She looked at the right side once, because the content seemed to be an advertisement, and she never saw the right side again.

The gaze map shows that the user has seen the right side of www.cascada.travel/en once, and then has never seen the right side.

It can be seen from the enlargement of the right side that there are not only promotional advertisements, but also things related to what the users are studying.

Let’s take a look at the content area of the page excluding top advertising models. Of the 148 gaze points of the page, 132 appeared in the content area, and only 1 of the other stare points appeared on the right side: the right occupied the 25% area of the content area, but only the user’s 0.8% attention was obtained. The two percentage contrasts indicate the negative effects of hot potato phenomenon: the number of right side gaze points is 33 times lower than the expected results.

4. ads on mobile phones

Like computer users, mobile phone users try their best to avoid advertising. Although there are some more standard advertising positions on the mobile phone (such as the top of the article, the bottom of the screen), many web pages are still embedded in the content. There are many reasons why text ads on mobile phones are difficult to avoid.

You can see less information at a time, so it’s even harder to distinguish elements that are different from the main content.

The proportion of mobile phone ads in the screen is so large that users can’t see advertisements without sliding the screen. Therefore, this kind of advertisement will naturally let users watch, even if people know it is advertising, do not want to pay special attention to it.

Video address: https://media.nngroup.com/media/editor/2018/04/13/mobileet 150 p65 nhien 000023000123 skip ads 720p.mp4

In a playback video, a participant looked for signs of infection when he caught a cold on the www.medicenet.com website. He quickly crossed 2 Nordstrom ads. His eyes passed through these two advertisements, but he did not pay attention to the contents of advertisements.

Video address:

https://media.nngroup.com/media/editor/2018/04/13/mobileet_018_p8_mitzi_2pmapril192017_000726 000900 scanned ad 720p.mp4

In this playback video, a mobile phone user looks for information on the external hard disk drive at www.pcmag.com. She has been reading the text to browse the pictures of hard drives. When Samsung Galaxy’s big advertisement appeared, she looked at the advertisement several times. The advertisement was so unexpected that it was hard to avoid it.

5. fake advertising: on mobile phones, some visual elements are easily mistaken for advertisements.

Because the screen is so small, the design of visual elements is very important when people judge whether the content of the page is an advertisement. Any content that is highlighted from the background will be regarded as an advertisement, even if its presentation may be related to elements that have not yet appeared in the page.

Therefore, people sometimes mistakenly believe that large pictures, graphics or other striking elements are all advertisements. (this is the case on a computer, but we first noticed this phenomenon on the mobile phone for the first time in our research) for example, experienced mobile users see the top of the map assuming that it is an advertisement and quickly cross the content before looking at the content of the picture.

Video address: https://media.nngroup.com/media/editor/2018/04/13/mobileet_055_p34_nicholas_001847 002345 not ad 720p.mp4

A man who was looking for a portable generator at www.generac.com ignored an area that looked like an advertisement. Because this area is very different from the white background and other positions on the screen. They were skim through the content without seeing them, even though they contained the installation information that he might be interested in.

6. how to avoid the normal content of advertising

In 1997, we first discussed the phenomenon of Internet users’ blindness through traditional usability testing. Then, in 2007, when we conducted an eye tracking experiment, we continued to supplement our findings. We have completed some new eye movement studies and found that advertising blindness is still a common behavior, which has been discussed in the article. Advertising blindness has existed for 300 years, and it is a phenomenon of persistent stability. Like advertising, it will not disappear at any time.
Advertising is a way of surviving in the network: if there is no advertising sponsorship or advertising, many businesses can not survive. Sometimes advertising can also benefit users. So, it’s not my suggestion to abandon the advertisement. But designers need to be more resourceful when they present their content. In particular, we need to comply with the following guiding principles:
Don’t make the content look like an advertisement. We should carefully choose the overall style of color, format, background and content. You may think that looking different from other contents of the site will make it more prominent, but it will be contrary to wishes.
Usability tests ensure that users really see important content placed on the top or right side.
Do not mix ordinary content with advertisements in the same visual area.

In actual work, advertisements are often seen in the page, but the conversion rate is still very low. I can’t figure out whether the user was interested in the content or did not see it at all. Through several eye movements videos in the article, it can be confirmed that most of the time users are “blind to the advertisement position” on the phone. We are so distressed by our visual designers that so many exquisite details have not been seen by users.

In order to improve the transformation of a certain fixed function also tried to design a new form of display, the initial effect is really good, and then gradually used as a “advertising space”, and then look at the conversion rate is getting lower and lower, pain yourself.

I myself do not oppose advertising, but the information and form of the display should be very restrained, and the user’s good feeling and patience on app can’t stand the consumption of advertising. It is good to use as little content as possible to show the information the user may be interested in, and then wait for the user to find out the advertisement and make it all right.

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