Q: A design-savvy family member recently told me that “banner blindness” was hurting a promotion on my organization’s website. What is she referring to?

A: Known fact: Staring at the sun all day long will make you blind. Lesser-known fact: Staring at the Internet for hours on end will also make you blind. Banner blind, that is.

An image showing banner blindnessBanner blindness is a web user’s reaction to the banner advertisements displayed on many web pages. The ads are trying to stand out by looking different from the rest of the content on the page. Unfortunately, this also helps viewers to instantly recognize ads as ads – and ignore them.

Blindness to elements that don’t fit in with the overall page design can be a problem for a web designer who is trying to call attention to a piece of content. Efforts to make it stand out can actually make it invisible.

A recent eye-tracking study by the Nielsen Norman Group placed participants in front of a screen showing a page on the U.S. Census Bureau website. The page had a big, bright red counter of the country’s population in the upper right hand corner. Yet, only 14% of the users could find that information when instructed to do so.

Because of the counter’s location (on the upper right side) and design (a color and font not found anywhere else on the page), 86% of users passed right over it after mistaking it for an ad.

Eye-tracking studies like the one illustrated above show where the eyes of web page viewers travel and linger. They look like heat maps, and as with print pieces, they show that readers of English enter a web page from the upper left and are more likely to linger on the left. Notably, these maps also show that barely a glance has been given to the banner ads on these web pages.

To combat banner blindness, keep important content, such as a current promotion, to the left or center of the page and well integrated into the overall design of the content. While it’s fine to call attention to a piece of content using color and font styles, be sure to stay within the site’s branded color palette and font families so that the highlighted content won’t be mistaken for an ad.

The secret weapon for calling attention to a piece of content? Pair it with a photo of a human face. Numerous studies have that shown that humans love to look at faces. No one’s ever heard of Brangelina blindness.

Need help with design for your business website, publication or marketing collateral? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].

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