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Summary:

Jacob Jakob Nielsen knows web users. The Nielsen/Norman Group, which he co-founded, has tested thousands of sites. It’s watched more than 3,000 users try to perform tasks online, even following their eyes to see where they look. And he has some frightening news: Nobody looks at picture […]

Jacob Jakob Nielsen knows web users. The Nielsen/Norman Group, which he co-founded, has tested thousands of sites. It’s watched more than 3,000 users try to perform tasks online, even following their eyes to see where they look. And he has some frightening news:

Nobody looks at picture advertising.

Nielsen, in a keynote address at the inaugural Web Experience Forum in Boston, Mass., said web design is doomed to failure unless we learn from end users. And one major lesson is that other than paid search, ads don’t work.

“We call this banner blindness — people won’t see ads at all,” said Nielsen. “Ads might as well not exist as far as users are concerned, except for search ads.” The number of web users that so much as glance at banner ads, he added, is too small to even quantify.

The findings are no secret to web usability professionals gathered here, who obsess over how consumers use the web. But they’re often ignored by ad buyers.

“For the longest time, the web has been in collective denial of this phenomenon,” said Nielsen. “People still have this old media thinking: They think of the web being similar to TV because it’s on the screen and visual. The main distinction is whether it’s active or passive, not whether it’s on a screen or not.”

Advertising revenues, which pay for much of the web, are having a rough year, with some analysts cutting their estimates for the entire sector.

Nielsen pointed out that paid search still works — partly because it’s relevant, and partly because users aren’t tuning ads out. “We thought we’d find [paid search] box blindness the way we did banner blindness, but that’s not the case. Users are interested in search ads and actually look at them.”

  1. This is so true. I’ve trained myself to read the story and ignore the ads. First, I scroll down so the banner at the top goes away. And if the “skyscraper” or “big box” on the right is extra-annoying (read – Flash or endlessly cycling animation) I close down the window until it, too, disappears. That means you, washingtonpost.com!

    FWIW, I started reading alertbox columns around 1996. Helped me immensely.

    The sad part: one of my big clients is in advertising services specializing in newspapers – the worst of the banner-centric publishers. Nobody in that world wants to hear this. It’s like they’re just sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “I can’t hear you.”

    Somebody once said to me, “If you mention Jacob Nielsen, you have to leave this meeting.”

    Thanks, Alistair.

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  2. Jacob –> Jakob

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  3. Well it has only indirect to do with active or passive, otherwise there would not be a difference between search and for example reading this web site.
    The brain doesn’t use incoming signals as absolutes the signals are evaluated, that’s why we fall for optical illusions.
    One learns very fast that good advertising might be a short cut to find relevant information in case of a search. One immediately learns also that the ads are irrelevant to reading an article, no additional information is provided.

    On TV one can hardly avoid starring in direction of the screen while an ad is on, there is no other info. But on the other hand one also learns to click through full page ads on the web with a continue link, if the link is not in the usual place one just searches for the the link and the ad does not register.

    Just a few hints from the R&D department. The Web is not TV and we know even why :-).

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  4. [...] According to Jakob Nielsen nobody looks at picture advertising online: [...]

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  5. [...] What If You Ran an Ad, and Nobody Saw It? [...]

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  6. This doesn’t seem like a very scientific claim.

    If this were true, banner ads would have CTRs of 0, which they don’t. While true that often less than 1% of people click on a banner ad, people certainly do click.

    Is there a link to the full-report?

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  7. Learning from Kindle – When you are reading something – you do not care about the surrounding . You just focus on text.

    Also: Advertisement industry will be clearly segmented in the future with Brand Building and Search at two opposite ends.

    When you search something – you get 5 options and then you pick up the one that has a brand. two step process.

    Brand building – will have to be done on relaxed mediums like TV , YouTube , Freeway banners , Customer service and experience and or word of mouth.

    On word of mouth – Beacon(facebook) type approaches will continue to fail and the detailed questionnaire regarding authorization on facebook will also fail. The fine line would be to have word of mouth happening as a secondary thread in one’s lifestyle without really offending the user. I can see this happen only in a second life kinda environment.

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  8. Your sponsors along the right of the page must love this post.
    ;P

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  9. [...] Gracias por decirlo alto y claro, señor Nielsen. [...]

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