Web users are known to be efficient at scanning large amounts of information in order to satiate the user’s goals for visiting the site. These goals rarely include attention to advertisements; which web users have learned to effectively avoid without the need for direct attention. It is clear that web users are able to easily separate these advertisements as they typically appear with a visual disconnect (both in styling and location) from relevant web content. In this study I attempted to validate that this type of inattention can manifest itself in actual web content that may contain the user’s desired goal. I did this by asking participants to search a content rich website for a word while I manipulated the location and style of the target word in a way that would intuitively bring attention to the location of the word.
The results established that the styling of content with shading or a border has negative effects on a web user’s visual search through a web page. Users process visual cues that are not consistent with a web site’s visual treatment and purposely do not attend to these areas. Web users also use expectations for the location of non-relevant items in order to give priority to goal oriented content during visual search. By defining the avoidance of content in a visual search task in terms of banner-blindness, these findings demonstrated the existence of content-blindness.
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