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How to Prevent Ad Blindness


Published: June 8th 2006

By Stas Bekman.

Somewhere around 1996, the Internet stopped being developer-only playground. Business crowd joined in and the Internet saw an ever growing proliferation of ads. I remember at the very beginning of that era, one could create a big red banner saying "Click me", and people clicked and clicked and clicked, the click through ratio went through the roof. Within a short time however users realised that more often than not ads weren't improving their browsing experience and stopped clicking on ads. The advertisers got more creative using animated gifs, flash and other techniques to catch visitor's attention. Visitor's response was - banner blindness. We have learned how to recognize ads and ignore them. When we browse the net nowadays we don't even need to use AdBlock and equivalents, we just know in a split of a second where not to look, our eyes narrow down to the text we are after and ignore the rest.

The main reason ads were ignored is because most of the time they weren't relevant. Nowadays with the deployment of the contextual ad placement, things have changed a lot. Contextual ads are not a distracting element, as they can enhance user's experience by providing very relevant pointers. Think of those as "Related Material" sections that I tend to manually add to my articles. But the problem of ad-blindness remains for most sites.

To solve the ad blindness problem, one needs to publish ads in such a way so they won't look like ads, visitors are so used to. Here are some suggestions that should help dealing with that problem.

Ad Placement

From my experiments I've seen that ads placed on the very top of the page fare much better than anywhere else if I use images to attract visitors attention.

ad placement heat map Google AdSense published a "heat map".

It's suggested that areas painted in darker color on that map perform much better than area colored with light colors.

However this suggested placement depends on the kind of content the page delivers. For example if I observe my own approach, I always ignore any ads appearing in the middle of long articles. I don't want to get distracted and ignore any obstacles. Therefore I think that placing ads at the very beginning of the long article or at the very end of it is a much better strategy.

However if either articles are short or some other content is delivered, this map than works really well.

It's interesting that that map suggests that there is no point placing ads at the very bottom of the page. On the contrary - I get quite a few hits from ads placed at the bottom of my pages. I suppose this is because here I too use images to attract visitor's eye to those ads. Of course this will only work if your visitors will actually read, skim or scroll the whole page to get the bottom. So this probably works much better on shorter pages.

Font Type and Size

Ads need to blend with text used by the surrounding it components. If they don't, users will ignore them.

That means that you need to choose the same font type and size as of the text adjacent to the ad. Make sure to test how your site looks in various browsers on various platforms. Sometimes the ads on your favorite browser look very well blended, but other visitors see them as standing out.

Unfortunately there are cases where this is not under your control. For example if you use Google AdSense text ads like leaderboard or another box that normally contains more than one ad, different font sizes will be used depending on how many ads Google decides to serve. The less ads are served the bigger the font size. Obviously you can't adjust your content's font size for every page view, so normally you'd try to adjust it to the font size used most commonly by Google AdSense. The fonts don't have to be exact, but the closer they are the better.

As of this writing for 768x60 ad units Google AdSense normally uses:

  title: style="line-height:12px; font-size:11px; 
  text : style="line-height:12px; font-size:10px;
  url  : style="line-height:12px; font-size:10px; 

For 300x250 ad units it is:

  title: style="line-height:14px; font-size:11px; 
  text : style="line-height:14px; font-size:11px;
  url  : style="line-height:14px; font-size:10px; 

which is only correct if 4 ad units are served. If less ads are used the font will be bigger.

However don't forget that using "px" is not a good idea - since if your readers try to make the font bigger or smaller they won't be able to do so. So as of this writing I use the following:

  p, dl, ul, ol, li, td  {
    font-family: Verdana, sans-serif;
    font-size: 80%;

Text, Link and Background Colors

The color of ad's text, link and background need to match the surrounding elements of the page. If this is not the case, the ad will stand out, making it obvious that it's an ad and be ignored.  You choose the ad attributes  when you download the ad code from the AdSense setup page. Once chosen the code that you paste into your pages will include the following attributes:

  google_color_bg     = "FFFFFF";
  google_color_link   = "0000FF";
  google_color_text   = "000000";
  google_color_url    = "000000";

as you can see this particular choice uses black color for text and url, blue for links and white for background.

Ad Frame

Normally you don't want to have a frame around AdSense ads, since just like a distinct background color it helps to promote visitor's ad-blindness. In order to accomplish that, chooses the border color to be the same as of the background:

  google_color_border = "FFFFFF";
  google_color_bg     = "FFFFFF";

Here both the background and the border color are white.

Sometimes you may want to frame your ads, but do that only if it helps the ad blend into your site. They may work if your site is made of multiple box frames.

Using Images

Placing photos or images next to the ads helps attract visitors' attention. For example on my travel pages, I use photos that I've taken while travelling:

blending with images

You can use this approach for vertical ad units as well.

As you can see, I've used four images here since AdSense usually serves four ads for this ad unit. However sometimes it serves 3, 2 or even 1 ad. In which case those images don't work as well.

Related Articles


How to resurrect your AdSense account
or "How to Bring Google AdSense Down" Or "You are Guilty but We will not Tell You Why"

Andrew Fox's Dominating Adsense Review
Things you aren't being told about at "Dominating Adsense" marketing page

Highest Paying AdSense Keywords Hoax
Be aware of keywords hoaxes

Patrick Hillenbrand's Adsense Decoded Review
Patrick delivers a set of well presented videos that teach you how to get the most out of AdSense and related monetizing techniques

AdSense Alternatives
In case you are looking for AdSense alternative programs, this article provides that information in a tabular format

12 Things NOT to Do to Improve Your Site's Google Page Rank
this article covers 12 techniques that must NOT be used if you want your site's Google page rank to be high (and not to get banned)

New Micropayment System
How to make content publishers, ad publishers and readers all happy at the same time.

Michael Cheney's AdSense Videos Review
A good set of videos teaching you how to significantly improve your revenue with AdSense



Related Material

Ads Are Here To Stay: Planning For Ad Placement (http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/ads_are_here_to_stay_planning_for_ad_placement)
What must be developed... is not a way to make ads go away, but rather a better way to incorporate ads and ad content into our sites.

fire-engine-photos.com (http://www.fire-engine-photos.com/list.asp?field=year&crit=2005)
- a great example of ads blending.

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