Jakob Nielsen offers another eye-tracking analysis (via Don Day at Lost Remote) that confirms what most people have long assumed: web users gravitate toward content, not ads. Thus, to make your ads more effective, make them look more like content, etc.
Such findings are usually cast as bad news for the online advertising industry–proof, finally, that it’s just a sham, that the Internet is a terrible medium for advertising, that advertisers will soon come to their senses and rush back to…well, that’s just it, where will they rush back to, exactly? What is less often mentioned in “web ads are ineffective” reports are the results of comparable eye-tracking studies for, say, newspapers.
You’ve never heard of such studies? Well, neither have we. Maybe that’s because “eye-tracking studies” for newspapers would be putting the cart miles ahead of the horse. After all, what’s the use of an “eye-tracking study” if a user’s eye never settles on the section in question, let alone the page or area of the page? What’s the use of studying what ads readers pay attention to when 90% of the paper ends up un-glanced-at on the rear stoop?
We spend a lot of time talking about the impending death of the print newspaper industry, but what is far more startling is that advertisers still spend $50-plus billion a year on a medium in which only a fraction of the ads are ever seen, let alone paid attention to.
UPDATE: We had never heard of newspaper eye-tracking studies but that was evidently because we were web-provincial morons. As Kim Gregson points out in the comments, they’ve been around for at least 15 years. Here’s a Poynter Institute story on the latest one. And here’s Poynter’s summary of them.
We will add this, though: When trying to assess whether your message has been delivered, the web can at least tell you whether a page has been viewed. A newspaper (or TV set) can’t. And eye-tracking research doesn’t make a bit of difference if papers are left on front steps or tossed in the recycling bin.