In my last blog post, Hidden in Plain Sight,  I explored how placement of information on a web page impacts whether a user can find that information. Jakob Nielsen’s eye-tracking study confirmed that the upper right hand corner of your ecommerce site isn’t the place to hide important information like your customer service phone number. The study also revealed an important piece of information for ecommerce sites: “Users tend to ignore heavily formatted areas because they look like advertisements.” This phenomenon is called banner blindness.

So, what is banner blindness? Wikipedia defines banner blindness as “a phenomenon in web usability where visitors on a website ignore banner-like information.” Basically, the gist is that, for the most part, online users avoid information that appears to be soliciting something. Consider the image below from Nielsen’s report on the phenomenon:

Ecommerce and Banner Blindness - Eye Scan Patterns

The caption is from Nielsen and details that the green boxes highlighting the banner ads were drawn on the images after the study was completed.

Even if you don’t use traditional advertising like banner and skyscraper ads on your ecommerce site, it’s critical to keep the concept of banner blindness in mind. Why? It’s simple.

As an ecommerce business, you are selling your goods and services online. In order to maximize your average cart size, you need to employ the merchandising techniques of up-selling, cross-selling, promotions, and personalization. Banner blindness could affect your site’s success in using these tactics if the promotion or cross-sell offer looks too much like an advertisement. To learn more about utilizing these techniques, check out our white paper on increasing average cart size.

The concept of banner blindness also affects how you allocate your advertising resources. Whether your audience is B2B or B2C, you probably participate in some form of online advertising and promotion. If you know that most online users are either consciously or subconsciously ignoring banner advertisements, you might choose to focus your advertising resources on programs like Google Adwords using your top keyword phrases or in securing your product’s placement in the editorial for industry online and print publications. You might also choose to focus on getting your products or services reviewed by industry experts.

Either way, understanding the phenomenon of banner blindness is half the battle.