Do intranet banners work or are they just litter?

1. The myth

If I scatter web banners across the intranet to publicise my campaign, it will have a big impact and raise awareness among people.

2. The reality

No it won’t!  Web banners can become a check list item for every kind of initiative.  Site owners can get several requests each week to publish banners on their sites.  As they only have a limited number of slots for banners on their pages and they give priority to those relevant to their local audiences, most banners never see the light of day despite the time and effort put into creating them. 

… and few people look at them.

3. The evidence

Selective attention is a widely recognised behaviour on the web backed up by reams of usability evidence.  Selective attention is what web users quickly develop from browsing around web pages – it basically means that they learn to ignore adverts and content that looks like adverts.

Take a look at these diagrams which are heat maps created from eye tracking software following what a sample group of users looked at on web pages.  The red colour is where the users looked most … the grey is what they ignored.  The adverts on these pages have been highlighted with green boxes … as you can see, users instinctively ignore them!

Usability research about adverts on web pages is quite revealing – the below is typical:

  • I enjoy looking at them – 7%
  • They’re OK if not too intrusive – 24%
  • They’re OK if related to the site I’m on – 24%
  • I find them annoying – 45%

So, the lesson seems to be: unobtrusive and relevant adverts are OK … hold that thought.

I know what you’re thinking … this research is about adverts on the internet – not about banners in the intranet.  Well, the evidence on the effectiveness of banners on local sites shows:

  • on average, a banner will get few hits per day
  • this means that a very small % of visitors will click on a banner
  • the banners which get the fewest hits are those relating to company-wide campaigns and initiatives
  • the banners which get the most hits are those referring to activity specific to that site 

4. The solution

So what can be done?  How about:

  • reducing the number of banners and only use them for key campaigns – it is the sheer quantity that can make them intranet litter
  • better planning – agree and prioritise before distributing for publication
  • better targeting – make banners relevant to local audiences – these are the ones that get the best response
  • avoid publishing content on web pages that looks like it is a banner (i.e. both in terms of location on the page and design/presentation)
  • aiming to have a maximum of three banners on a web page – more than three is litter!

6 responses to “Do intranet banners work or are they just litter?

  1. Pingback: Banners on intranet sites « GenY to the Xpower

  2. Hi Mark

    I too have had the problem of too many requests for intranet banners and it is a pet hate of mine. So I ran some experiments using Google Website Optimiser to test different versions of adverts, including static images, animated GIFs and plain text adverts. The campaign was to encourage staff to update their staff directory records.

    The results were conclusive for this particular campaign experiment: the plain text advert in the right hand column of the page, Google style, was the winner.

    After further experiments and taking lessons from Google advertising, we don’t allow header banner adverts on the intranet and only allow right hand tower adverts, preferably in text. We also encourage advertising on pages that are in context with the advert.

    • Luke,

      Thanks for your comments. I like your approach. People who want these banners forget the main purpose why users go to a site. They don’t want to be distracted unless there is a good reason why.


  3. I like the approach taken by some organisations:

    * There are a fixed number of promotional boxes on the intranet homepage.

    * These are placed so as not to impact on intranet usability.

    * Projects or business areas can book a promotional box for a week.

    * After that, the advert is replaced by the next booking.

    * The link to the project/area/tool then goes into the main navigation of the intranet at the appropriate location, and not on the homepage.

    This is a win-win: business areas get to promote their activities; user needs are still met.

    • James,

      I agree because:

      a) you are right and this is great advice
      b) thankfully that’s what we do in BT for our intranet!

      Mark 🙂

  4. Glad to hear it! 😉

    I think the real challenge for intranet teams is finding ways of saying “yes” rather than “no”.

    It’s tempting for intranet teams to act as gatekeepers, “preventing” bad stuff from getting onto the intranet. This just isn’t sustainable. No-one reports to the intranet team, and if the barriers are too high, then content goes elsewhere (such as onto wikis).

    Win-win outcomes are always better, and ultimately more satisfying for all involved 🙂

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