One of the things that I really like about AdWords is that there are a limited number of ads and they aren’t annoying. No loud noises, no pop-over that takes over your screen just as the page finally loads, just nice clean ads. I realize they’re about as exciting as unflavored yogurt, but there’s something to be said for simplicity, especially when you compare it to things like this:
This is bad, and the web owner should feel bad. The best thing you can say about that is that it’s terrible – and I run into similar examples of this every day. Let’s ignore the fact that the website feels like a visual assault – if your advertising shows up on this website, it’s not going to be seen, it’s going to be lost in the press.
When you have so many ads showing up, it turns into background noise. One video ad or display ad in a sea of text might catch someone’s attention because the human eye is drawn to differences, but when an article or listicle is basically bordered by ads, it all smears together. In fact, there’s a term for this: Banner Blindness. A study done by Infolinks found that:
After being asked to recall the last display ad they saw, only 14% could name the company, the brand or the product…
This phenomenon has actually gotten me in trouble before. A few years ago, I was showing a friend how to download an emulator for a video game system, and the website I was on had a lot of adult advertising. Thanks to banner blindness, I didn’t notice them, while my friend, who had her small children in the house, nearly had a heart attack.
This is likely related to the phenomenon of attention blindness, which is where people who are focused on one thing will completely ignore other things going on around them, even if they are directly in their line of sight. Smithsonian Magazine has a run-down of the well-known (at least among cognitive scientists) gorilla test. People were asked to count how many times a basketball was passed off between individuals. A person in a gorilla suit walked through the scene, and only half of those who watched the video even noticed the gorilla.
If people are reading an article or deeply engaged in a set photos of cats dressed up as Donald Trump, what are the chances they’re going to see a particular ad in a flood of them?
I’ve seen a few solutions to this, one of which is to have a video load in the middle of an article between paragraphs as you scroll down the page, but if someone is on a website with a ton of ads, yours is pretty much unvisible.1
Part of the reason that websites drown people in ads is that the payout for impressions is so low; generally around $2 per 1,000 impressions. Clicks can deliver significantly more, but ad impressions always deliver so long as you can funnel people to a site. Furthermore, many webmasters may assume that more ads increases the chances that someone will click.
What you end up with is a slew of websites that are showing pop-up ads, banner ads and video ads, often in multiples2, making prospective viewers and clickers blind and deaf to all of them.
The solutions aren’t likely to make either advertisers or websites that display ads happy. The only even vaguely workable solution I could come up with would be for ad networks to limit the number of ads that a website could display per page, but if that were to occur, websites would probably require even more money for clicks and impressions.
That makes the status quo attractive, but it does nothing to negate the fact that advertisers are paying money for people to completely fail to notice their ads.