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Ad Placement: You're Getting Warmer

Advertisement drives the revenue of the Internet industry. Learning about the science associated with successful ad campaigns can only benefit you and your site. With this in mind, a study performed by Eyetrack III attempted to determine which sections of a webpage the human eyes focus. Eyetrack accomplished this by creating mock pages containing text and advertisements. Test subjects then reviewed the documents while Eyetrack monitored where their eyes focused.

What parts of a web page receive the most visual focus? Discuss at WebProWorld.

To relay their findings concerning eye focus, Eyetrack created “heatmaps,” a thermal representation page that indicated the focus areas. Eyetrack describes heatmaps as, “[an] aggregate representation of the eye fixations of all the participants who looked at this pageā€¦ Red-orange means most people set their gaze in that spot; blue-to-gray means fewer did.” Armed with this knowledge, Eyetrack makes observations concerning the ocular behavior of site visitors. They also provide placement pointers in order to give your ad a better shot at exposure.

Click to see an Eyetrack Heatmap.

One of the first conclusions the Eyetrack study revealed was that the “invisibility effect” does exist and it does affect whether or not your ad is viewed. According to Eyetrack, “We found among our test subjects that there were often instances when they did not look directly at ads, even for a fraction of a second.” The invisibility effect definitely should be considered when placing an ad. If your ad is positioned in a place where the visitor’s eyes don’t naturally tend to go, you run the risk of not being noticed.

Eyetrack indicated the ad viewing percentage for their test subjects ranged between 14% and 68%. Because of this, Eyetrack believes that even if ads aren’t being clicked, they can perform well for branding purposes. If up to 68% of a site’s visitors are looking at an ad, recognition of a logo or product brand can definitely occur. I spoke to Rich Ord, CEO of eBusiness publisher iEntry, “Most web publishers (such as WebProNews) will agree that branding is an obvious benefit for marketers. Hopefully, this study will finally convince advertisers of the value of internet advertising beyond the clicks”.

Through heatmap technology, Eyetrack could determine what areas of the page received the most focus, and therefore, what positions ads would be more effectively placed. Through their data, Eyetrack concluded, “advertising placed on top and in the left column of the page was viewed most [as in WebProNews]. Ads placed at the bottom of the page were viewed least.” On their first mock-up page, 68% saw/focused on ads that were positioned in the top left of the page; conversely, ads appearing at the bottom of the page were only viewed by 14% of the test subjects.

Throughout their study, Eyetrack also analyzed what style of ads attracted the most focus. These observations, coupled with placement data could potentially benefit an ailing campaign. If an ad is getting an appropriate amount of clicks, consider the design as well as the location on the page. Moving an ad from left to right, or imbedding it within the text can affect the amount of time visitors focus on the ad copy; possibly increasing the chances of a click-through.

An observation that caught my attention was the effectiveness of ads that blend into the web environment. According to Eyetrack, “researchers found that ads that blended into surrounding editorial content on a news homepage attracted people’s eyes more often than ads that featured contrasting colors or designs.” Other types of ads that received higher focus were SERP-style text ad, which is good news for you Overture/AdSense members out there. Eyetrack indicated that text ads have the highest amount of ocular focus, by far, over the other ad styles. To test the text ads, Eyetrack introduced another set of “homepages” that had different layouts from their predecessors. Their study indicated that text ads receive an 82% viewing rate, as well as the “longest duration of viewing.” Test subjects spent an average of 6.9 seconds reading or looking at text ads.

For the purposes of this article, I’m not going to rehash the entire study. Please visit Eyetrack for complete results and their analysis. These thorough results include a downloadable PDF and overview of the study. One last thing that I will mention is the effectiveness of ads placed within article text. According to their analysis (which used another set of homepages), “On visits to article pages with the ad inset into the text, 56 percent of our test participants looked at the ad — giving it an average of 4.6 eye fixations while they were viewing these pages. No other size ad on article pages got looked at by more than half of our test pool.” A simple adjustment of placing an ad within the text can make a difference. Once the ad receives more focus, it can be in a position to receive more clicks.

However, having visual placement is not all there is to a successful ad campaign. The essential question is “does your ad offer something to your target audience?” Proper placement does not guarantee clicks. On the SitePoint forums, M. Johansson offered these similar thoughts:

“I think this is an excellent opportunity to draw out the old AIDA formula. Any ad should follow the 4 steps of AIDA:


This article deals with the first two; where % viewed [equals] attention, and # of eye fixations deals with Interest. The other two, which are much more complicated to accomplish, are not dealt with in the study.”

Discuss this at WebProWorld.

Chris Richardson + The WebProNews Team

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