Beating Banner Blindness [PODCAST]

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Image by Billy Rowlinson via Flickr.

In this episode of the Call to Action podcast, we have a quick story about why we’ve restructured our AdWords account into country-specific campaigns. Then, we speak to Aaron Orendorff of iconiContent about everything display ads: banner blindness, the fat thumb phenomenon and how one company used display ads in their content to recruit qualified employees.

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In this episode: Dan Levy, Unbounce’s Content Strategist, interviews iconiContent’s founder, Aaron Orendorff.

Dan Levy: You start off your article with kind of a crazy statistic. It’s that you’re more likely to have twins than click on a banner ad. At the same time, you insist that display ads are not dead?

Aaron Orendorff: Exactly. So I get this number from Google DoubleClick data where they say, today, on average, in America, the click-through rate for a banner ad is just around 0.1 percent. So, a few years ago, Solve Media took that number and sort of crunched it in a really creative way and did a whole bunch of advertisements about, “You’re more likely to [fill in the blank] than ever click a display ad.” So they had things like the twins; you’re more likely to apply to Harvard and get accepted; win the mega-millions lottery; become a Navy SEAL; or my favorite: survive a plane crash.

Dan Levy: Wow.

Aaron Orendorff: But the reality is all recent numbers put the display ad networks at a combined total of roughly $3.5 billion worldwide, which is a staggering number, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because people are throwing money at it, it works. But, as I’m sure we’re gonna talk about a little bit later today, there are some incredible ways to actually up those click-through rates and really get a huge return on the investment.

Dan Levy: Right. So one of the reasons we hear people dismiss display ads is the idea that most web users these days are suffering from banner blindness. Is banner blindness a myth, or has it just been overstated?

Aaron Orendorff: It’s definitely not a myth. One of the best studies you can look at is by the Nielsen Norman Group, and it’s a very academic study. It’s a bit dated at this point, but if you just Google it, you can find it very easily. And they’ve got a ton of great visuals, some of which I included in the blog post that this was built on.

Recent data puts estimates roughly somewhere around 86 percent; that is, 86 percent of web users suffer from banner blindness. They’re looking at the either center column or the left column or the right column and ignoring anything that’s on the sidebar. That’s the easiest way to think about it.

So numbers like 86 percent, the heat maps from eye-tracking software reveal really clearly that it’s absolutely not a myth, and I don’t think it’s overstated.

Dan Levy: Great. Well, I wanna get into some of the ways that marketers could combat banner blindness. But, first, you say that one of the mistakes display advertisers make is that they only really pay attention to how many clicks their ads get. So what else are they missing there?

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah. This is a great one, and I don’t think this is a noob mistake at all. We all sort of fall for the, you know, as soon as I launch something, I wanna know exactly how it’s performing, and I’m chomping at the bit to look at the numbers as they pour in. And the easy stuff that we get access to is click-through rates and just conversions on the ads themselves.

A couple things that I mention in the article is it’s really important to set up a Google funnel using Google Goals, and they’ve got some great visualization tools that allow you to get a picture of not just who’s entering the landing page or entering your product page from a specific ad, but to find out which ads culminate in the most conversions at the end of the funnel, so all the way down to not only do they add it to cart, but they checked out, and they gave you money.

So, there, you’re able to see both the big picture of, okay, what ads are the source? Am I using Facebook and getting the most ultimate conversions? Am I using Google and getting it, or am I using my own site and getting it? But, also, what are the sticking points? Where’s the falling off? Where’s the friction coming in?

And I’ll give you one other great example of this. I was just down in California for International CRO Day, and Sean Work, who runs the blog over at KISSmetrics, talked about this exactly. And, for him, it was much more of a service-industry focus.

So he was talking a lot about not just getting those people to visit your website and actually buy from you, but then finding out what the sources are, where they’re coming from, of the people that actually stick around, really trying to reduce churn, so that you’re not fooled by those initial numbers into thinking just because it’s getting clicks, it’s actually bringing in revenue.

Dan Levy: Right. People get distracted by the click, but it ultimately comes down to the conversion.

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah, absolutely.

Dan Levy: You know, it’s become almost a cliché to hear about how selling to your existing customers can be a lot more profitable than trying to reach new ones. You suggest that there is an opportunity here for display advertisers. How so?

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah. The two real key words here − and they’re often used interchangeably − are retargeting and remarketing. And, sometimes, this can refer to using emails and retargeting. Google calls it remarketing. But, basically, what it boils down to is a culled ad, even if it’s generated by a search, has that dismal 0.1 percent click-through rate on something like Google Ad Display Network.

With retargeting and remarketing, what you’re doing is you’re taking the actual data from where your visitors went on your website. So, if they visited your stiletto section on your shoe store, then you can actually retarget them on other display network sites with those specific products.

So that’s sort of − I call it the micro yes customer, the person that hasn’t actually committed yet, but you’re still leaning on that principle, the weapon of persuasion that Robert Cialdini talks about, consistency and commitment, that people are much more likely, if they’ve taken a small step toward you, to take a larger step later on. And you’re just keeping that fresh in front of their minds.

The other way to do this is Google will actually allow you to tag the customers that ultimately check out, so they buy something from you. And then you can offer not just upsells, but, “If you’re interested in this, you might also be interested in that.” So you’re speaking directly to what someone’s already shown an interest in, whether just at the micro level − “I’m just browsing” − or especially at the, “I’ve purchased this, and now, as we all know, I’m much more likely to purchase again, especially in the short term.”

Dan Levy: Right. You also talk about a case study where customizing on-site display ads resulted in a 149 percent increase in click-throughs for the company Visual Website Optimizer. Can you unpack that one for us?

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, I love this one, yes. This is such a nugget, especially for anybody who’s trying to recruit folks and find the right people. So what Visual Website Optimizer wanted to do was hire new developers in India specifically. So they used behavioral tracking and geo-tracking to isolate where their visitors were coming from.

And they just did a really simple split test where half the visitors from India who went to their homepage got no display ad, and the other half got this − oh, it’s great − this tiny, little − if you can go to the blog and see it, it just says, “We’re hiring in Delhi,” with a smiley face after it, and not even a real smiley face, just an emoticon.

And it’s just that simple − I mean, it’s smaller than their headline. It’s smaller than their button. It doesn’t even necessarily look like a button. And yet, that drove that 149 percent increase to the company’s careers page. I mean, just that specificity of, “You’re here, and we’re talking directly to you,” pays off immensely.

Dan Levy: So is that one of the tricks for combatting banner blindness, you know, make your display ads not actually look like display ads, make them look more conversational, look like regular copy?

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah, almost like an instant message or something you would see on a Facebook, and especially because it’s got the specificity that’s, you know, it’s like when I hear my own name, my brain responds differently than when I hear other people’s names. It’s an instinctual response, or even just like − I always think of this as sort of like the, “Thank you, Delhi,” from a concert where everybody goes nuts, even though the band just said their city’s name, and they know they do this at every city, but they still love it.

Dan Levy: Right. They’re reading it off the set list on the floor because they’re −

Aaron Orendorff: Exactly, yeah.

Dan Levy: Right, yeah. It’s funny. You see that tactic done in a sleazy way a lot where display ads, but when you see something that looks like a flashing message from Facebook or something. But, in this case, they’re using that sort of tactic, but in a way that makes sense in the context of the site in that it’s targeted to users who actually find it relevant.

Aaron Orendorff: Yes, and one important word, both targeted and relevant, bringing those two together.

Dan Levy: Targeted and relevant − how do you make that into one word?

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, you want me to start mashing this up? Yeah.

Dan Levy: “Trelevant”? I don’t know.

Aaron Orendorff: “Trelevant”? I have no idea.

Dan Levy: So I’m sure everyone listening wants to get in on this awesome conversion action. What tools do you actually recommend for doing this type of onsite optimization?

Aaron Orendorff: You know, there’s a lot of great resources out there. And KISSmetrics has actually a phenomenal in-depth article on remarketing, retargeting in services specifically, and they give you sort of a pros and cons approach, things like that.

The ones that I’ve had the most exposure to basically fall into three types of categories. And all three of these are about doing exactly what Visual Website Optimizer did, using your own website, because someone’s already come to it, to then direct them to the place that not only fits where they’d like to go, but fits where you’d like them to go.

So some simple ones, first off, coupons, free shipping coupons, discount coupons, coupons specific to pages they’ve visited before with retargeting. A great resource for that is Fanplayr − that’s without an “E.”

And then the banner blindness thing comes up often. And, in fact, actually registered the domain name So I’m not sure exactly how − I’m sure it’s not like a non-profit website, but the dot-org always makes me feel warm.

And they’ve got these variety of what they call in-fold, in-text, in-tag where you can have your banner at the bottom of the screen static, kind of like a Hello Bar, but at the bottom instead of the top.

You can actually tag keywords, so that they become hyperlinked to these advertisements, so if someone hovers over the keyword that they used to get to that page, it then sends them to the product itself or the next step in that process. So that’s for product ads.

And then the third one, this one actually I just discovered. I didn’t even include it in the article for Unbounce.

Dan Levy: All right, breaking news, I love it.

Aaron Orendorff: News, yeah. I might just be late to the game, but this is a service called Trendemon, with just one “D,” Trend E-M-O-N. And this is really great for content marketers, for bloggers that are selling a service or a subscription or a membership site. And it tries to actually replace the kind of for-further-reading stuff you often see at the bottom of blog posts. Usually, it’s just generated automatically by either what’s most recent or what’s most popular.

With Trendemon, they actually go in and identify what are the most lucrative paths, what articles connect with the next one that then gets somebody to that membership page? What are the highest converting articles on your site? And then it uses that as essentially a popup at the bottom. When somebody’s read the article and scrolled through, they’re most likely to then commit if they spent that sort of time on it. So those are the three that I’m most familiar with.

Dan Levy: All right. Well, I wanna ask you a little bit about that M-word that seems to be on everybody’s mind these days, mobile. First off, why is it so important to keep mobile in mind when setting up display ad campaigns?

Aaron Orendorff: Well, I mean, the big numbers, we’re all pretty familiar with. 2015 is the first year that we’re gonna see mobile internet viewing surpass desktop viewing, and not just by a little bit either. Estimates that I’ve seen put it at 34 mobile or Smartphone viewing hours to 27 desktop hours per month.

What’s interesting about that is when we look at the actual conversion rates by device type, what we find is a really significant sharp drop-off. So desktop, tablet, iPad, Kindle Fire kind of things usually hover somewhere between 8 and 9 percent conversion rate just across the board.

As soon as we half the screen size, we normally see about a half or even more drop in the actual conversion to around 4 or 5 percent. So there are some hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is the whole − have you heard of the fat-finger phenomenon?

Dan Levy: I have not only heard of it, but I think I suffer from it.

Aaron Orendorff: Okay. Well, everybody does. And this is what accounts for about 40 percent of mobile ads being accidental, based on sort of a bounce rate.

And so those create sort of those first big numbers. This is the need. This is where folks are going. This is where people are, especially starting the process. That’s really important to keep in mind. Whether it’s a service or a product, people start usually on a mobile device, and then they ultimately convert on a desktop.

Dan Levy: Right. I don’t wanna get too technical here, but there is some new jargon to learn when it comes to mobile, so can you tell me a little bit about what responsive ad units are?

Aaron Orendorff: As much as you don’t wanna get technical, neither do it, so I feel for you there.

Dan Levy: Cool.

Aaron Orendorff: The simple answer is responsive ad units are essentially the same as a responsive website. So they’re built behind the scenes to respond to the display size of the device that they’re on, so images get resized. Oftentimes, on a responsive website, you’ll see copy itself get reduced.

And the great thing is neither one of us have to be experts at this. Google already does this automatically. Facebook already does this automatically. And most of the other services that I’ve talked about, anybody who’s reputable is gonna give you that responsive just built right in.

Dan Levy: So what are the most important things to keep in mind when designing those responsive ads for mobile?

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, this is gonna sound so basic, which is great, right, because it’s those simple lessons that we have to return to over and over again, things like image cropping.

But with responsive ads, because you’re trying to anticipate a variety of screen sizes, some of the best practices are: Avoid using text in your images, unless that text is crazy large, unless you’ve tested it out, so that you know when it’s shrunk as an image, it still is eminently readable, just avoid it.

Product images: This is a great one. Product images are much more high-converting than abstract images. If you’re gonna go the sort of abstract-feeling way, there’s some traditional things like, yes, use smiling people, happy people − get a little REM on you − and then especially pay attention to line of sight. You want that − wherever the person’s looking, whether it’s directly at them, or if their line of sight is point towards the call to action, these are just small touches that make a big difference.

And then, with copy, you’re just focusing on exactly what the click is going to do, active language, language that uses the customer’s voice. “Let’s go,” “I’m in,” “Download now,” or my personal favorite, which is just the, “I want to −” fill in the blank, “I want to get access today,” “I want to start my membership today,” “I want to find out the Top 10 benefits of blank.”

Dan Levy: You know, it’s funny. I feel like so many of these tips are important for ad and landing page optimization in general. It’s just that, in mobile, the stakes are so much higher because people are so much more ready to bounce that it forces marketers to just focus on these things even more.

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah, that’s a great way to think about it. It’s sort of a condensed, boiled-down experience because people are mobile-snacking and not mobile-reading.

Dan Levy: Right, right. I need to ask you about this one. Can you explain what the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones taught the telecom company T-Mobile about mobile advertising?

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah. So this goes back to the whole, “Just show people the product. That’s what they wanna see.” So T-Mobile launched this campaign when they had a new phone come out a few years ago with Catherine Zeta-Jones as the representative of the entire campaign, and that’s who they featured in all their advertisements.

And I love this quote. This is from User Interface Engineering. They’re the people that were actually behind it. And they explained it just like this: “One older shopper interested in buying a phone with easy-to-press large buttons became frustrated when she couldn’t discern the button size in any of the pictures. When she spotted Catherine Zeta-Jones holding a phone she liked, she became exasperated. ‘She’s a very pretty woman,’ the shopper told us. ‘I just wish I could see the buttons.'”

Yeah, the need to actually show your product in action, or what are the features that are gonna highlight it? And that’s simplicity again.

Dan Levy: Yeah, show it in the context that the user is gonna be using it, so they could actually imagine themselves using it. They know how to use it.

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah, instead of Catherine Zeta-Jones using it.

Dan Levy: Right, yeah. Savvy marketers know already that they should be sending their campaign traffic not to their website, but ideally to a dedicated landing page. As we talked about, I’m sure most of the basic rules of landing page optimization still apply here. But is there anything in particular marketers should keep in mind when designing landing pages for display ads?

Aaron Orendorff: Sure. I like to break this down into the two S’s, send and story. And send will often be people talking about aligning the call to action on your display ad with whatever the headline is that you’re sending them to. So it’s very clear, one for one, but send goes beyond just simply the copy itself into things like obviously design, image and color scheme. So there’s a very clear continuity. It’s not a surprise to the person when they click it. There’s no adjustment period.

And the same thing goes for the idea of story. I really love talking to clients about trying to think of their sales funnel as a story that unfolds. The job of the banner ad, the job of the display ad, of the Google AdWord is just to get the click, to entice, to compel an action. And often, you can use things like cliffhangers or the “I want” or a question to drive somebody to the next stage. And then you’re immediately answering it and propelling them onto the next part, the conversion point.

And thinking about it like a story where they’re actually going through a process − there’s kind of this narrative art; there’s a character; they’re the main character of it − really helps you think in those continuity terms a little bit stronger than simply saying, “send” and make it feel the same to us.

Dan Levy: Yeah, that’s interesting, yeah, using the framework of story to make sure that every element on your page leads you to the next, just the way that a paragraph would in a story.

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, yeah, and having a consistent emotion. I mean, okay, so this is obviously − this applies to any sort of campaign, any sort of funnel. The same stuff, image and color absolutely applies to mobile and smaller and display ads.

But the story, having a continuous feel, okay, if you’re gonna go after somebody’s fear, then don’t shift emotions on them from a scary ad to a comforting landing page, right? If you’re going after someone’s excitement, or you’re enticing them, or if it’s driven by lust, then run with it. That’s the emotion that should be amplified every step.

Dan Levy: Yeah, that’s like a movie or a TV show where you can’t quite figure out if it’s a comedy or if it’s a drama, right? It kind of baits and switches on you, and that’s not a great way to drive people towards that conversion.

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, yeah, to communicate in general.

Dan Levy: Yeah, exactly, yeah, communicate in general. I guess a lot of these rules are just − they flow from general communication best practices and ways that you should conduct yourself as a human being talking to other human beings.

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, what a beautiful way, yeah, as a human being talking to other human beings.

Dan Levy: Yeah, that’s what online marketing is ultimately about, right?

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah, oh, the conversational element and the building a relationship element, absolutely.

Dan Levy: So I have a feeling you might have converted some display ad skeptic or banner blindness phobics at this point. So what’s the best way for marketers who want to start experimenting more with display ads to get started?

Aaron Orendorff: Getting started, two ways: The simplest and easiest is Facebook. Facebook is gonna be your lowest-entry cost, the most fun to play around with, and really a simple user interface, as well. They’re really easy to create. And it’s so ubiquitous now.

Now, this is gonna depend a little bit on your industry. I mean, things like the average Facebook click-through rate varies quite a bit, and I’ve sort of got some bad news coming. But the lowest-performing, or close to the lowest-performing industry, is advertising in consulting. That’s right about a 0.07 percent. The only thing that performs worse on Facebook − and I found this so hard to believe − is dating sites.

Dan Levy: Oh, wow, interesting.

Aaron Orendorff: Yeah, shock. But things like telecommunication, publishing, and then also just anything entertainment-related has about a 2 to 3 to, in some cases, almost a 10 times improvement on that. So it’s a great place to get started.

Dan Levy: Right. That’s actually kind of good news for content marketers, as well, right, because publishing, entertainment, that’s where you could kind of nudge yourself over to that category.

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, yeah, to try to create content that’s in these streams that already exist of why people are there.

Dan Levy: Totally, yeah, but I digress. Sorry for cutting you off there.

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, no, not at all. Yeah, and the cost is low. That’s the really great thing. AdWords is, as we all know, incredibly competitive, even just on an all things being equal, we’re looking at about a $2.50 cost-per-click rate, whereas, Facebook comes in at 80 cents cost-per-click, and you can do that by volume and just impression rates, things like that, which comes out to be about 25 cents per 1,000. So it’s a very inexpensive way to get into it.

What I would say is, if you’ve experimented with AdWords before, or if you’re used to using full-body copy, the absolute best place for you to go − and I can’t say enough good things about this dude − is Perry Marshall’s Ultimate Guide to Facebook Advertising. It is the simplest introduction. And, in fact, Perry Marshall’s got a great podcast, as well, that the amazing folks over at I Love Marketing did where they kind of crash-course you through the difference between AdWords and Facebook advertising.

Dan Levy: That’s best for people who have already used AdWords and are trying to make the transition to Facebook advertising.

Aaron Orendorff: Exactly, or folks that are just used to traditional − I’ve built some landing pages before, I’ve done long-form copy, I’ve written product descriptions, and now, I have a couple of lines to get a point across.

And then the other really great one is your own site. Simple things like what Visual Website Optimizer did, they did with their own service, and they’re an incredibly inexpensive service. Same thing with what you awesome people offer is to A/B test things like geo-targeting, like where the source is coming from, and just start adding those kind of non-button buttons, the, “Come work for us here,” those kind of elements to your own site.

The only trick with that is you’ve got to be sort of a certain level of player obviously to run tests or to see the kind of improvement, but with enough traffic to actually get that, which is why again, go back to Facebook because you’re gonna get the exposure that you need, and you can get immediate feedback.

Dan Levy: Yeah, that’s great advice, using Facebook as your testing ground for testing, testing ground for testing.

Aaron Orendorff: There it is.

Dan Levy: Yeah. I was, like, does that make sense? And, yeah, that’s exactly what I was trying to say.

Aaron Orendorff: That is exactly it, like a human.

Dan Levy: Like a human. That’s great advice. It was so good talking to you, Aaron, appreciate it.

Aaron Orendorff: Oh, thank you. It was really great being here. I look forward to doing more of this kind of stuff with you guys.

Transcript by GMR Transcription

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About Stephanie Saretsky
Stephanie Saretsky is a former multimedia producer at Unbounce. Producing projects like the Call to Action podcast and The Landing Page Sessions by day and a radio DJ by night, she is a lover of all things multimedia. Find her on Twitter: @msbeansie
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