This is a guest post by writer Petra Whitaker.
In January 2012, Facebook’s timeline layout became a mandatory feature, and its sprawling photo banner became the norm. By April of 2012, Google Plus followed suit, and now we see a banner atop most major social media pages. But do we really see these banners? And what about those sidebar advertisements? Is anyone even looking at them?
What is banner blindness?
According to researchers, we’re doing a lot of looking, but not a lot of seeing, and even less clicking. A decade ago researchers Benway and Lane coined the term banner blindness to describe this phenomenon. In the mid-nineties the click-through rates for banner ads were roughly 9 percent. Compare that with today’s meager rate of 0.2 percent. It appears Benway and Lane were correct. As banners saturate the web, we tend to ignore them more and more.
Not only do we ignore the ubiquitous banner, we also ignore sidebar ads—especially content on the right side of the page. In the late-nineties Jacob Nielson used eye-tracking software to document this effect. He concluded that people rarely notice advertisements on the web. In a recent interview, he stated that this phenomenon still exists today.
So what does banner blindness mean in terms of webpage layout and design?
When creating your webpage, consider layouts that set your site apart from typical Facebook or Google banner designs. If you’re using a template that includes a banner, avoid the standard photo. Instead, use artwork. A recent study shows that banners with unique artwork are better remembered and recognized than those containing texts or links. Frank Largeault, who studied banner blindness, suggests that one reason artwork may be more effective is specifically due to a banner’s peripheral location. We may not be conscious of the content, but artwork may aid subconscious absorption.
Place important information in the F-zone.
Consider the F-shaped pattern—a well researched phenomenon. Users tend to scan down the page and then across in an F-shape. This means the top left side of the page is the most viewed. Likewise, columns on the left side are viewed more frequently. Information in the F-zone is more likely to be looked at, which in turn means it’s more likely to be remembered.
Because readers tend to scan, the best way to reach readers is to repeat important information. For example, a logo placed in a single banner may be completely ignored. Since the eye tends to jump around, a logo placed in multiple locations has a better chance of being seen. The same is true for other important brand information such as contact numbers and email addresses.
It’s been only a year since Facebook and Google introduced their banner formats, creating even more banner fatigue than ever. It won’t be long before these major social media platforms switch things up again. And when that happens, it will be time to reevaluate your layout. The important thing to remember is to keep it unique—be aware of what the major networking sites are doing, and create something different.
(Note from Betsy. On March 7th, 2013 Facebook announced a major change in the look and feel of its Newsfeed. As of now, all evidence points to banners continuing to remain as a significant feature.)
Petra Whitaker writes from Southern California where she graduated from UC Riverside’s Palm Desert MFA program. Former editor of Family Times Magazine, and former poetry editor of UCR’s Mosaic, she currently serves as managing editor of Red Box Kite.