Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Eye Tracking is Eye Popping

Infolinks just released a new eye tracking study to identify solutions to the challenges presented by banner blindness and declining engagement with digital ads. For those not familiar with the problem, online display ads have seen consistent and rapid declines in engagement since they were introduced back in the mid-90s. Click through rates, a common measure of engagement, have fallen from 2% on average in 1996 to .1% in 2012. Simply stunning! But the study takeaways provide some solutions:

1. Ads need to be placed in non-traditional locations on the page to break the cycle of banner blindness. The average US online user sees 50 ads a day, and most are irrelevant. So the industry has trained people 50 times a day to learn where the ads are traditionally placed and ignore them. A non-traditional location forces the user to take a look, rather than dismiss the ad without even looking at it. This opens the door to engagement.

2. Ads should be targeted to real-time intent, not previous interests. Real-time intent means showing advertising that is related to what people are doing at that moment, not what they showed interested in days or weeks before. If you are reading an article about maintaining balance in your investment portfolio, for example, an ad for Scottrade would be relevant to someone's real-time intent. If that person happened to visit Sprint's web site a week earlier, showing that person a Sprint ad on the investment site would be targeting previous intent. Perhaps the user would still be interested in Sprint's services, perhaps not, but the user is currently on a task related to their investments. Scottrade will have a much easier time engaging the user than Sprint. Real-time targeting also has the virtue of avoiding the need to build user profiles with big data and all the attendant privacy concerns.

Example of an eyetracking study heatmap
These insights were generated through the use of eye tracking technology, in partnership with a company called the EyeTrackShop. If you haven't seen it work before, you should. It's pretty cool. Eye tracking utilizes webcams to track the exact position of the eyes and where on a page they are focused. This resembles a lab environment more than a broad survey of users, but you get enough participants so you have statistically significant data. We asked each participant to review several web pages and recorded their eye movements. From this we were able to generate heatmaps showing where the eyes spent their time, as well as vital metrics for each region of the page studied. These metrics include: % seen, time to (how long it took for the participants to see the particular region of the page), and time on (how long the participant's eyes were focused on a particular region of the page).

The insights from the study should be used by publishers to improve the design of their sites and advertisers to select the best locations and targeting techniques for their ads, all in order to increase user engagement.

The release of the study generated some terrific industry press coverage. Here's a sampling:

Adotas: Display Ad Pioneer Looks to Resuscitate the Model He Helped Create
Pando Daily: Why Should You Click on This?
MediaPost: Search Ad Blindness Resembles Banner Blindness

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