Aaron Shapiro

Search Results to the Nth Power

Originally published in Notes on Digital, September 27, 2010

There’s a myth that needs busting. Top leaderboard banners and 250×300 square ads on the right-hand sides of web pages are not the most valuable pieces of real estate. They don’t deserve the highest CPMs due to greater perceived visibility, and they even devalue publisher brands.

Ask yourself this: How often is what you’re looking for on a website actually on the top of the page? Not all that often, actually.

In a HUGE study of 60 people using the Internet to do everyday tasks—such as browsing news headlines and video clips, finding the latest sports results, booking a flight for vacation, selecting a restaurant for dinner, and choosing a movie and showtime—the content of interest was found to be further down the page and required users to scroll down. In many cases, users scrolled away before the above-the-fold display ad even loaded. No ad, no impression, no value.

In one example, an ad that occupied 1/3 of YouTube’s homepage above the fold didn’t get the attention of our survey respondents. Only one out of the 12 people who encountered the ad recalled seeing it.

Logically, an ad is more effective if it’s placed next to content the user wants to view. Like adjacent to the reviews on Yelp or to the definitions on Dictionary.com. This type of placement gives the ad more visibility and improves the chance of making an impression on the user.

The classic above-the-fold ad structure is not only ineffective, but it also risks devaluing publisher brands. So many homepages are built with this structure that they are all starting to blend together. Brand identity is lost in the clamor to offer advertisers the space they mistakenly think they want.

Someone—whether it’s a forward-thinking advertiser or a courageous publisher—needs to start paving ground below the fold. There’s an unclaimed pot of gold down there.

Dan Hou, product strategy lead, contributed.