Management at my company said we needed to start labeling our ads. We need to make it clear that an ad is not part of our site by putting the word "advertisement" near the ad.

(A) Is labeling ads counterproductive? I thought the point of an ad was to blend into the site and trick idiots into clicking them. Personally, if I knew something was blatantly an ad, I would not click it. CNN and Yahoo blatantly label the ad. Digg, however, makes their ads look like real content.

(B) A co-worker pointed out that most sites label the ad with text below the ad. I always thought that headers should be above what they describe. Plus, every other header on our site is above the content that they describe, so shouldn't I strive for consistency?


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4 Answers 4


And here I thought the point of an ad was to inform the visitor of products and possibilities he was not aware of but would delighted to explore. Wait...

You do understand that trying to trick me all day to click on your ads will make me less likely to return to your page?

All of us are idiots some of the time. Leeching on that is cheap. If you are happy with that, fine, but don't assume your view is universal.

Images are usually labeled below the image in most publications - the image is supposed to catch attention, and the description only for additional information.

For your purpose, text above the ad would be more logical (and a border around it, or some other visual distinction while you are at it. We've become pretty good at ignoring ads anyway).

However, "label below" might match visual expectations better. Still, from the samples you gave, your site looks best.


A) Labeling an advertisement is not counter-intuitive because, by this time, everybody on the web knows what a banner ad looks like. Also, tricking a user to click on an ad by hiding its label is worse. If a user clicks on an ad, but don't realize that it is an ad, then their option of the ad and associated material will be negative. As a Digg user, I can differentiate between a paid and unpaid link on Digg, and I usually avoid the paid ones. Even if some users are tricked into click the ad, the number of hits does not mean much if the bounce rate is also very high.

B) The simple answer is that most of the time nobody looks at the small advertisement header. That is why you get errors.

The reason why most advertisers put the "advertisement" label at the bottom is because they want users to look first at the ad, then at the label. Ultimately, they want users to click on the ad before they notice that it is an ad.

However, users have adapted to this trick by simply ignoring them. It's called "banner blindness," and you can find more information on it here: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/banner-blindness.html

Basically, people know what ads look like, so they skip anything that looks like one and continue reading about whatever content the page has to offer. Even non-ad content will also be skipped over if it looks like an ad.

My advice would to be to follow the design of the site, and stick with consistency. Continue to place the ad heading at the top because placing the ad label at the top or the bottom will not affect the function of the ad.

  • 1
    Thanks for the input, but you have a few contradicting thoughts. In (A), you say ads should be labeled to avoid trickery. Then in (B), you say people put the label under the ad to be more tricky. Your last point about how people blind to ads seems to contradict the need for a label.
    – JoJo
    Nov 4, 2010 at 1:58
  • There is still need for the label, even if they don't pay attention to them. Labeling ads ensures that there is no doubt in the mind of the users. The placement of the label doesn't matter, but it needs to be there just because it's what users expect. In my experience, ads really don't need to be labeled unless they look like actual content that could fool a user (like a fake news article that was just a promotional). Generally, the ad label is put there for the owner to show a distiction from the ads and their own content.
    – Kevin G
    Nov 4, 2010 at 3:48

The decision to label ads may not be one of UX, but for legal or other reasons. Whether above, below, beside, or over, be sure the label does not clutter the page, unnecessarily draw attention, or harm the experience of reading (or whatever task the user may have) as it is.

(Aside: you should not consider users "idiots"—certainly not call them idiots. It'll be far more productive for you to identify with and have sympathy for your users, rather than disparage them.)

  • I call them "idiots" because this is the best way to design. You must not think your users are all computer scientists. You must think of them as idiots to make the simplest and idiot-proof design possible.
    – JoJo
    Nov 4, 2010 at 2:00
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    I prefer to think of design as consideration, not condescension. Ultimately, it's the user experience and not the designers' intentions that matter. Nov 4, 2010 at 2:53
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    If you design for idiots, only idiots will want to use your stuff. Nov 4, 2010 at 7:02
  • What are you guys talking about? Nobody should design a website to be like an airplane cockpit that only trained professionals can use. A website designed for an idiot can be used both by the idiot and the professional.
    – JoJo
    Nov 5, 2010 at 7:06
  • I didn't mean to say one should assume users to be computer scientists, only that one should not think of them as idiots (or "lusers"). User-centred design should be done with an understanding and sympathy for users, not with disdain or distance. If you can't respect your users, how can you expect to create something that they will understand and enjoy? Nov 5, 2010 at 13:40

The answer to (a) depends on if you are a user experience person or an online marketing person.

I'd say the same for question (b) as well. From the UX perspective, I'd say the text 'advertisement' should definitely be above the ad and larger. I have a hunch the text under ads is more often than not is some compromise between legal and marketing.

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