People only see what they’re looking for.
Unless it’s car keys.
Or my eyeglasses.
Getting people to see what’s right in front of their face is a universal problem. Both metaphorically and, in the case of websites, quite literally.
People tend to ignore — or literally don’t see — any element that looks like an ad (or perceived to be an ad). Further, the more different something looks from the rest of the page, the less likely someone will see it.
The idea of designing something to stand-out on the page sounds like a great way to get people to notice it. In theory. Except in reality, when you make something look radically different from everything else on the page — different colors or fonts — people are more likely to ignore it. Counter-intuitive, I know.
Banner blindness is why pop-ups exist.
How to Combat Banner Blindness
Use Line of Sight
Put the element in the user’s line of sight, rather than in a right column (the best way to signal something is an ad) or wherever else the user isn’t looking.
Make it Look Like the Rest of the Page
Use the same color palette and design treatment as other elements on the page. The goal is to blend in as much as possible.
Add Empty Space
Messages can get lost when there is too much to look at or too much clutter.
Redirect Your Audience
Sometimes people search for the wrong solution to their problem and you need to lead them to it through an alternate route.
For example, according to the Department of Labor, 48% of Americans found their current job by networking. But for someone who only searches online job boards to find work, networking may not even be on their radar as a job search tool. In this case, it’d be futile to try to get their attention with an invitation to a networking webinar. Instead, a webinar called “best job board strategies” might work better (then gently redirect your audience to alternative job search strategies besides job boards).
Conduct User Research
The more you understand how your users think and what they need from your site, the better you can understand how and when they will be most receptive to your message.
For example, in the book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” by Paco Underhill, we learn that people are so anxious to get inside the store and out of the busy or rainy parking lot, that they ignore all door signage and even all signage within the first few feet of entering. These customers aren’t yet ready to receive new information.
Observing your customers’ actual behaviors can help you experiment and place things where they will see them.