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What is Ad Blindness and How Can We Stop It?

As we spend more of our time on the internet, we’ve adapted to get the most out of sites as possible. Being exposed to constant ads is an accepted fact that comes with ingesting free content, but instead of getting annoyed by ads, we’ve adopted a different strategy: we ignore them. This phenomenon, called ad blindness, is responsible for poor ad performance on many websites.

People have become accustomed to seeing ads along the top banner of sites and along the sides. We know where the ads are likely to be placed, so we don’t spend any of our time looking there for information. We’ve trained ourselves to ignore these sections regardless of what we are looking for on the site. 

So how does this happen? How does ad blindness work, and what can advertisers do to stop it?

What is Ad Blindness?

Ad blindness, also known as banner blindness, is shown as a form of selective attention where the visitors of a website ignore the banner ads. Depending on the person, these actions can be conscious or unconscious, but are usually the result of wanting to avoid interacting with the ads. Users look to avoid anything that disrupts their user experience.

We often go to webpages to find a specific piece of information or accomplish a specific task. An ad would distract us from our goal, so it gets ignored. The only occasion where we do spend time interacting with an ad is the rare occurrence where the ad is engaging enough to divert someone from their goal.

Nielsen recently found in a study that people completely ignored banner ads when searching through a webpage. The heatmaps tracked the eye movements of participants for three levels of attention, including scanning, partial reading, and thorough reading. During all three tasks, the banners and ads were completely ignored.

The reason that this happens is because of sensory overload. When there is too much to take in, we dial back and ignore everything that isn’t relevant. Our brains do this all the time, taking in just enough information to make sense of our surroundings and ignoring anything that isn’t relevant. 

Repeated exposures to the same stimulus, in this case, an ad, leads our brains to ignore it. We’re wired to look for change. That’s why bad smells seem to go away after a few minutes, and long, monotone speeches are harder to follow.

This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to desktop sites either. Mobile sites advertise too, and the places that regularly display ads regularly get ignored by people. They still have banners, and they still don’t get seen.

Changing the placement of ads and embedding them into content makes them more difficult to ignore. The location is directly in view, and people must process it before moving on. With mobile, users have to actively scroll through the ads, and it requires more work on the part of the reader to ignore them.

Marketers and websites don’t want ads that get ignored. Each ad that doesn’t engage the audience means less revenue and fewer conversions. Thankfully there are some strategies that will get a website’s ads viewed more carefully, allowing them to sidestep ad blindness and increase returns.

Strategies to Avoid Ad Blindness

Getting more creative with how ads are displayed to users helps boost their effectiveness. This means playing with the format and layout, and experimenting to find the best results. Then the best practice is to test the new ads to find ones that convert better than the previous iterations. If you work with an Ad Ops partner like Sortable, we can collaborate together to use strategic methods of analyzing your data in order to determine how to best avoid ad blindness with your users.

Marketers should try to move away from making their ads look too much like ads. Common sense would dictate that the more bold, colorful, and contrasting an ad is with its surroundings, the more attention it will get. This was the thinking behind ads for years, and in the beginning, those strategies may have even worked. However, as users became accustomed to these tactics, they lost their effectiveness. Now, anything that looks like an ad is automatically ignored. 

Today’s best practices dictate that marketers should match the colour scheme of an ad with the surrounding webpage. By making its appearance blend with the rest of the page, readers are more likely to consider the ad before discarding it. These are called native ads because they are harder to distinguish from the actual content.

Branch out from the basic banner to find different ad options. Find a different placement, and if possible, find a place where users aren’t accustomed to looking for ads. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better either, and a smaller ad in the top left corner may do better than a large banner because the consumer won’t be as tempted to ignore it.

Find ways to integrate the ads into the content. Native content tends to work more effectively because it is embedded in a location where the reader is spending their time and the ad looks and feels like the content they’re actually trying to consume. The majority of internet users would rather learn about a product through content rather than ads. 

When experimenting with a new ad or location, try not to go with what feels right. Use objective measures to test which one works better to get a definitive answer. A/B testing is simple to both implement and run, and is a powerful marketing tool. A script will randomly serve customers with two different ads designed for that target audience. Analyzing the conversion numbers for each element will help determine which one performs better. This testing approach is so common that most marketing software comes with A/B testing for this purpose.


Many ads being displayed on websites are being ignored. Ad blindness is an adaptation that consumers have made to avoid interacting with the overabundance of advertisements we see every day.

Marketers hoping to reach more consumers will have better luck by ditching the conventional locations and formats of common ads. By experimenting to find better locations for their messages, blending ads into the rest of the page, and rigorously testing these assumptions, marketers will have an easier time creating new and novel experiences that attract the attention of readers. There isn’t a quick fix for ad blindness, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence, here are ways to optimize your site.