Big banners – beautiful design or annoying barriers

6 May 2015

Call me a luddite, but I have an issue with banner-style home pages.

You know the ones. The page is just a series of ad-style banners laid one on top of each other down the page. No? I’ll give you some examples:

Now I am not dissing these sites. They’re both really good sites, with lots of interesting information but … what is with the home pages?


If you read my rant about scrolling the other week, you might see where I’m going with this. Both these home pages rely on your curiosity and tenacity to find the bulk of their content.

Yes, I know, they’re designed for tablets, and we love to swipe on tablets (apprently) but to me they’re just annoying. They almost force me to skip the home page altogether and just hope the navigation has what I’m looking for. 

What they really are is a series of ads. Banners for the products or services the site owners want to spruik this week. Convenient if they happen to coincide with what you’re looking for, but annoying if they don’t.

“Unfair” you say? “They’re promoting their services”. Well you might be right. Let’s give it a try. Let’s see how easy it is to navigate these pages to find something that doesn’t stare you straight in the face (we’ll get to why I hate banners in a minute).

The acid test – can give me what I want?

Let’s start with Let’s say I want to plan a trip to NZ to go hiking (or tramping as we Kiwis call it). I want to find an accompanied trip, someone to carry my pack, with nice lodges to stay in each night. I think they call it ‘glamping’?

Here is the home page as you see it on an iPad.

OK, I can see a “selection of recommended experiences to complete your New Zealand holiday” at the bottom of the screen. Promising.

So I scroll

My options

All wonderful and rewarding things to do, but not what I’m looking for. Is there a link or button or any kind of hint that these options aren’t all there is? Nope.

More scrolling

Let’s scroll down. Scrolling, not out of enjoyment of the page, but because the page hasn’t given me what I want.

Flights to NZ. Useful, but I don’t have a reason to go there yet. (By the way, how cool do the new Air NZ planes look? The whole country is going All Black).

More scrolling

Here we are, right at the bottom, a hint that I might find something about tramping.

Right, once I click on “Things to do” I actually find a section called “Walking and Hiking”.  But how hard did I have to work for it?

Is any better?

I had a similar journey on, trying to apply for a bank account. I showed you the site because it’s prettier. (Biased? Maybe)

Why I don’t like banners

This is why I don’t like banner pages. They are hugely slanted towards pushing the agenda of the site owner, rather than providing the site visitor with access to the information they are looking for.

Of course there is another reason, experience. 

Back in the day, I managed a suite of sites for a well-known Australian software company. Website design was a little less mature back then and big banners with flash and animated gifs were all the rage. We had a really big banner, just under the top level navigation, and two smaller ones to the right of the screen. The smaller ones were often Flash.

I was curious about the likely success of these banners. They seemed a bit big on form and small on function. And I’d just been to a seminar on eye-tracking, at my first usability conference, which introduced me to the concept of ‘banner blindness’. 

Banner blindness is a term to describe how our eyes tend to recognise advertising and just slide past it. We quite literally look around things our brain tags as advertising, banners in particular, often before we conciously see the content:

There were some beautiful examples of how people not only don’t see the banner, but often miss items near the banner. In one instance the item missed was the site navigation.

With this in mind, I decided to run a little test with our banners. On our home page we had an area for text links – bulleted with cute little ‘action’ arrows.

For each banner on the page, I created a corresponding text link. Same offer, same call to action, same destination page. I tagged each of the links with an ID so I could see which link had been used to get from Home to the promoted page – banner or text.

Well the results surprised even me.

The average ratio of clicks on the text links to clicks on the banners was 500:1. In the case of one of the Flash banners, the ratio was closer to 1000:1.

Our home page got between 100,000 and 150,000 visits a month, so I felt I had a sufficient sample to come to a conclusion. Our customers didn’t see or didn’t like our banners.

Now to be fair, after I presented those statistics to our marketing department, the banners improved no end. They became more text based and less ‘pretty picture’. Flash was GONE.

Cicks on the banners improved, but they never matched the number of clicks on plain old text links.

Now yes, that site was pre-smart phone and pre-tablet, but I don’t think the human brain has changed that much. We read. When we’re looking for a product or service, we have a word or phrase in mind. I’m just not convinced that we suddenly want to look at things we identify as ads.

OK, so on a smart phone or tablet, a link ‘click area’ should be at least 1cm x 1cm. This is true, but do they have to take up the whole screen?

Wading through huge banners with small amounts of text is work. And who wants to have to work to find what they’re looking for.

Yes the and sites and others of their ilk (and there are heaps) look nice, but do they really give the site visitor what they’re looking for?