Users ignore heavy formatting - Nielsen

Another nugget of wisdom from Jakob Nielsen - website visitors will often ignore heavily formatted areas of a website as they look too much like advertising.

The usability guru says surfers have trained their brains to ignore 'fancy formatting', in a form of banner blindness. This suggests that ads should be made to look more like actual content in order to attract attention - something Jakob also covered recently.

In his latest Alertbox post, Jakob uses the example of the homepage of the US Census Bureau, which displays a US population clock in big red letters in the top right hand corner of the page.

According to his eyetracking study, 86% of visitors to the site were unable to find out the population figure, despite its prominent placement. Some even decided to search Google instead.

Jakob also put the failure down to the use of the term 'population clock' , suggesting that a simpler, more descriptive line of text would have been more effective.

It's also possible that users failed to find the figure they were looking for as they were used to seeing advertising in that area of a website.

Jakob said:

"It's clear that users only fixated on the first third of the number that shows current population. In other words, people scanned that area, but didn't actually read the number."

Related stories: Interview with Jakob Nielsen

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