On Tuesday I wrote about my trip to the WPP Digital Stream conference in early October. One of the most interesting discussions came from an agency and client that will remain nameless. The subject of their discussion was eye tracking software, and how it showed them exactly how little their target consumers looked at the special offers that were presented on the home page of the site. It’s a great reminder of just how difficult it is to get meaningful marketing right.
For those who have not been exposed to the technology, eye tracking is a system that allows you to track what people look at when they come to a website. A special monitor tracks the movement of the research subject’s pupil, and software records the results. Two of the most popular outcomes are a “heat map” style report, like that shown above, and an “order of viewing” report that shows where people looked from first to last. The machines are expensive, but are coming down in price and rising in importance.
The subject of the discussion at Stream was that of a financial services company that had trouble getting its online customers to click on offers for additional services. The agency had just refreshed the home page by making the ad/offer space more prominent. And it created a system that would serve relevant ads to individual customers. For example, a person with a high credit card balance would see an offer for an outstanding interest rate.
Seems smart, right? Even meaningful, perhaps? Unfortunately, the results were horrible. It seemed like customers were not even seeing the great offer staring them in the face in the center of the page. Well, they were right. By using the eye tracking system, they found that people were completely ignoring the offer on the page. Ironically, the screen shot they shared was similar to the above screen shot for Virgin stores, which I found at the SEOmoz blog.
In our discussion, we worked to unearth the problem. As we saw it, the issues were twofold: First, people have learned to simply ignore online advertising. There is so much of it that we have trained ourselves to block it out completely. Second, when people are online, they are often on a mission. At a financial services site, they want to log into their account and get down to business. So no matter how well targeted the ad is, it’s only really relevant if the person is actively looking for a new credit card at the time. This is the reason why Facebook ads don’t work, but Google has created a multibillion-dollar AdWords product.
The solution is tougher to come by. In this case, I think the main answer is for the company to work harder to build a great “shopping center” for credit cards and other financial services. The magic really lies in getting someone who is ready to buy, and offering a brilliant experience. Another solution could be for the company to create a special “smart offer” section on the customer’s home page. Better wording and an explicit comment that the offer is “just for you” or “based on your account history” might have a chance of cutting through people’s expectation that anything in a box is an irrelvant ad.
Nothing is easy in the move from interruption to meaning, and from traditional to digital. But information like eye tracking results helps us get down to the real results, and helps us try the 100th option, which might actually work.
UPDATE: I should have linked to Jakob Nielsen’s post on banner blindness. It’s super.