While many of the conclusions in the recent research released by the Poynter Institute where they analyzed how people view Web pages based on tracking eye movement are so painfully obvious that it’s embarrassing to read the article, the overall set of tips are well worth considering nonetheless.
Before we get to the tips, though, take a step back and think about the English language. It’s a left-to-right, top-to-bottom language, so after a lifetime of learning how to read and process information, it should be no surprise to you that Web pages are assimilated top left to bottom right, and that people only view the page until they ascertain the gist of the content and/or the information they were hoping to glean from the page. Therefore, it should be obvious that the top left corner of a page is viewed the most, while the bottom right corner is, you guessed it, viewed the least.
Further, when it comes to advertising, larger is better than smaller (as long as you hopefully try to find a balance between advertising and actual content) and ads that seem to be integrated into the content are better than those that stand out by virtue of color, design, placement, etc.
Those are some of the conclusions of the Eyetrack III research project, so you can see why I’m not too impressed: research done without regard (or commentary on) the milieu and context of the research project is questionable and typically obvious.
But, as I said earlier, the tips offered in the article are nonetheless worth considering, so I’m reproducing them here. I encourage you to go and read the entire research report to get the full context if you’re so inclined.
Simple Designs Work Best
“If you are responsible for creating the ad content for your advertiser clients, think about making sure that your design can deliver its message in a single glance, because that might be all you’ll get. If you want to insert more text on an ad unit than can be consumed in a single (less-than-a-second) glance, then assume that the unit will have one glance to hook the reader’s attention. Once hooked, you have the opportunity to draw the reader in closer, but only if that initial hook is effective.”
Contextualize Your Advertising
“Consider designing news homepages so that ads are not set apart from editorial content too much with horizontal or vertical rules and excessive white space, which can act as barriers to viewing ads.”
Integrate Your Advertising Into Your Content Design
“The researchers’ observations suggests that you’ll get better viewing for banner ads that do not contrast too severely with surrounding editorial content. An ad that broadcasts “I’m an ad!” by using bright, contrasting colors sometimes has the opposite of the intended effect. (Of course, the content of a contrasting ad can be compelling enough to counter this tendency; as is so often the case, the quality of the content can override other factors.) We are NOT recommending that ads be presented as camouflaged editorial content. While that may attract more visual traffic, this practice would diminish your credibility.”
Size Versus Placement: Consider the Tradeoffs
“Size isn’t always the dominant factor in Web ad performance. To get the most people to actually look at an ad (for them to fixate on it for at least a fraction of a second) on an article page, insetting it into the text flow seems to work better than any other placement. But in-text placement may not give you the most intense user engagement with an ad; sheer size appears to perform better in this regard.”
“Expandable” Ads Work, But People Won’t Know They’re Active
“You might consider using expandable banner ads if you want better performance than static ads offer. If you do, you might want to let viewers know the banner will expand. It’s not always a great idea to surprise users with this sort of behavior. If you’re going to use a mouseover-expand ad, we suggest positioning it in a normal path of user mouse movement as a way to get the expanding part of an ad seen by a lot of people. (Note: We only tested a mouseover-action ad, but many sites now use ads that automatically appear on top of editorial content and must be closed by the user. This would make for an interesting future eyetracking test. We can make an educated guess based on these findings that such an ad would be seen by most if not all users. The trade-off is that such ads annoy some users.)”
Pop-Up Advertising Doesn’t Work Very Well
“Should you choose to use pop-up ads on your homepage, be aware of their poor performance relative to other ads.”
Please note that the section heads are mine, just the descriptive paragraphs are quoted from the Poynter Report, and that you can read that report in its entirety here.