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Best Ad Placement

When you're running a website, whoever is surfing it is staring at the screen…but where? One of the biggest questions for website designers is, "Where are the user's eyes looking?" Where do your eyes go when you read articles on the Web? What do you notice and what do you miss?

Well, we've got some answers for you, because this topic has been studied. Turns out that the upper left quarter of the screen gets the most attention, according to the Eyetrack III research of The Poynter Institute, the Estlow Center for Journalism & New Media, and Eyetools. But that's not all. There's more to it than that.

People's eyes have some very common behaviour patterns. It probably has to do with our hunter-gatherer ancestry.

First, we do reconnaissance, or "recon" as the military calls it. Users' eyes flick over the entire screen at whatever draws their attention. And what draws it most?

Well, the first hot spots are headlines, photo captions, subheadings, links, menu items and the logo on the page-doesn't matter if it's a good logo or a bad one, people look at logos.

Then the upper left corner of the screen gets special attention, probably because that's where people expect to find the very best stuff. And the right-hand and lower part of the page almost always gets less attention.

This is info that site developers must know: when you put your most important, vital content outside that critical upper left corner (did you notice the Ads I put there?), that important content might as well be invisible when people are making the big decision: whether to stay on your site and read more or go somewhere else.

Yes, people scan a page quickly. But scanning has a purpose: it quickly identifies to a user what they really want to read. The good news is that if you can hook them right off the bat, when they start actually reading a news story on the Web, they read a larger proportion than if they were reading that very same story in the newspaper.

Google has put together a page containing useful placement tips:

including the hot spot picture:


Frontloading means that you start headlines, paragraphs and links with the most important words.

The first words should communicate the subject of the headline, paragraph or link. This is not like writing a novel or a story, where you have time to be coy and not get to the point for awhile.

You've got about a quarter of a second to grab that user's attention or he won't read the rest of the sentence. Make the most of that opportunity.

If you do this, and you frontload your writing, especially at the top of the page, user's eyes will easily catch the most important info, and they'll keep reading.

Here are some examples of good frontloading:

  • Foo Fighters release new cd
  • Barbeque beef ribs recipes everyone will like
  • Tom Cruise stars in a new movie

Here are some bad examples that are not frontloaded:

  • New cd is being released, it's by the Foo Fighters
  • Everyone will love these great new recipes for barbeque beef ribs
  • New movie is coming out and it'll star Tom Cruise

Don't Nest, Just List

Remember back in school when the teacher asked you to make an outline and you went nuts making all sorts of nested sub-headings that looked like this?

1. The United States

a. Texas

i. Austin

1. South Austin

a. The 78704 zip code

i. My house

Don't do that.

Why? Because the last few items could be out of sight for many people when they skim-read.

A straight margin is a whole lot easier to scan quickly on the Web. Nested dot-points and numbers are often used in business and government policy documents and management plans, and you're not making those, you're just writing content.

Find another way to show the hierarchy of ideas. Web users do not like to try to read through a whole bunch of indentations, and you will lose some people before they even start reading.

Put web links where people will see them

If you're putting web links in, make sure they're where people will see them-not in that bottom right-hand Corner of Death!

Yes, people notice links in web content. They're usually bright blue and underlined, so people notice them. Many people even read links before they look at headlines.

Now that you know that, make it easy for them to get to your links by consistently presenting them in list form or by slamming them right up against the left-hand margin.

Don't put your links in a sentence or they might end up in the invisible right-hand area of the content. Yes, this means you can't use the old "click here" convention, but for a good reason: it never worked very well anyway.

Here's an example of a good way to put in links:

"There are several cool skateboarding sites you might want to check out. They really rock and they've got some great gear you can pick up for not a lot of bucks.


Here's an example of a bad way to use links:

If you want to read about the latest in cool tricks, check out skateboard.com. For the lowdown on which pro skaters are doing what and dating who, you want to see skatefreak.net. And one of my very favorite places to read blog is liv2skat.com.

Never Hide Headers

Remember how I said people look to the upper left? If you've been centering your headlines and subheadings, do you still think that's a good idea? Well, it's not. Yeah, I know newspapers, magazines and books do it. So do lots of other sites. But that's just not where people want to look first.

They've tested this. Believe it or not, about 10-20 percent of people just literally do not see centered headlines, particularly if they're in a hurry (and who isn't these days?)

They look in the top left hand corner of the content. And when they do, they see empty space, because the centered headline starts off to the right.

So what do they do? Instead of scanning right, they move their eyes down. And they miss the headlines. Centered headlines are wasted headlines. If you center them, you've hidden them from 10-20% of your readers. Might as well not have them at all.

And don't even think about right-justifying them. Just left-justify them and don't ever worry about it again! A word about tables: the ideal table for online is short, narrow, and only used for data.

When a table is too wide or too long, part of it is out of the reader's natural field of vision. When they scan fast, they won't see all of it.

Maximize your Click-Throughs With Placement

Yeah, size matters, but so does placement…particularly as far as Google AdSense ads are concerned. Remember how I said to use the skyscraper format for ads, putting them in the margins as opposed to banner ads across the top or bottom?

Well, guess how much difference that can make. Go on, guess. OK, I'll tell you. Poorly placed ads, such as banner ads down at the very bottom of the page, might have a click-through rate of about 2.3% on a good day.

But well-placed ads, such as a nice skyscraper ad in that critical upper-left quadrant we talked about, can have a click-through rate as high as 40%. And that's for the same ad.

Yes, the very same ad can have a click-through rate of an abysmal 2.3% or an awesome 40%. It has nothing to do with the ad itself and everything to do with where you put it.

Another neat trick to maximize click-through is to massage the colors of the ads so that they fit in with the colors of your site. Ads that are seen as "fitting in" get more clicks than ads that clash.

The eBook Google Adsense Secrets reveals in it's test results that the 336x280 large rectangle has the best performance when placed in the top left corner of an article.

It's also revealed that ads above the fold gets a higher CTR than those below -- and don't forget to remove all other links that would otherwise draw attention.

Additional CTR Boosters

Use an image to draw additional focus to the ad.

Tips for an incredible CTR -- make sure that there's only the Ads and some text containing affiliate links present above the fold. Now make lots of empty lines to move other text below the fold (on a 1024X786 and smaller display).
The referal banner for FireFox make an excellent border -- as it gives the expression of that you have reached the bottom of the page (and it can make you money if someone signs up...).

Here's another trick (it doesn't work on all sites): Abandon the border and match the background color with the background color of the site. I have seen it work wonders on lots of sites - so give it a try!

Try to set the font size to match the ads. The idea is to make the ads look like part of the site. Here's some HTML code that You can use...

<div style="font: 8pt Arial; padding-bottom:8px;">
<div style="color:#0000ff;font-weight: bold"><u>[[TITLE]]</u></div>
<div style="color: black">[[DESCRIPTION]]</div>
<div style="font-size: 7pt; color:#999999; text-decoration: none">[[URL]]</div>

Remember to use BLUE as the link color, because people are very used to see links as blue; they automatically know that it is a clickable link.

Increase your earnings by adding the Google Search Box and Ad Link Units -- You earn money when the visitor clicks on a link from the results page.

To sum it up: match url-color, text and background with the rest of the site. Your Ads should never look like Ads!

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