At Last the Blind Can See Again

It was called banner blindness way back in the day. An aversion that people had to banner ads on Web pages that made them switch off. There were many studies I read back then about why people ignored banner ads. And the audience has suffered this blindness for a very long time. Even by 2007 noted usability expert Jakob Nielsen was still presenting studies showing that users rarely looked at display advertising on Web sites.

Generally speaking, Nielsen’s eye tracking research typically showed that there are no fixations within advertisements. And users don’t fixate with design elements that resemble ads. In the early years of display advertising on Web pages, people ignored ads because they were usually totally irrelevant. Not only that, most banner ads were as creative as you’d get from a box of crayons and a drawing pad. (Even worse when the animated gif arrived and everything had to flash off and on just because you could).

The industry was quite crude in the formative years; the Web itself was pretty much a static place and it was all about hits and eyeballs. However, Web advertising’s natural evolution combined with advanced tracking and analytics solutions makes display advertising no longer the red-headed step child. In fact, with ad exchanges and a much closer integration of search and display, all of a sudden people are beginning to see the once dreaded banner ad. And in a much more timely and relevant fashion.

What’s of great interest to me is that, in the early days Google had no real idea on how to monetize its search engine. Of course, there was always that lovely, pristine white home page that seemed to be just begging for a banner ad. Yet, they refused to go the “doubleclick” route as they called it back when they started.

Having managed to resist the banner urge, Google latched on to the Goto.com model. And Google then went on to become the multibillion search advertising machine we’ve all come to know and love with its AdWords and AdSense products. For a while, PPC text ads were largely the domain of Google, and display advertising was very much the Yahoo domain. Yet, Google’s purchase of its once resisted suitor DoubleClick and the opening of its ad exchange late last year clearly demonstrate the power of search and display together.

When considering the growth of Google and more so the future of search, it’s vital to be aware of Google’s commitment to growing its display advertising product. In fact, analysts and Google CEO Eric Schmidt are in agreement that this is the next major cash cow for them, estimating that display will account for more than $1 billion in 2010.

Recently, I’ve been involved in panel sessions at conferences and a number of Webcasts covering search and display, as well as attribution management. Development of much more granular and sophisticated technology for targeting (and retargeting), as well as the end user expecting a much richer experience online, is providing much more precise brand marketing opportunities.

In fact, a comScore study found that people on the Web in Europe are 72 percent more likely to visit an advertiser’s site having previously been exposed to display ads.

Search marketers are so much more informed about user intent (the meaning behind an end user query) and being able to deliver up exactly the right content in real time. And there has definitely been a gap between search and display. But if you have been suffering banner blindness as a search marketer, now may be the time to adapt your existing skills and try another look.

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