Web-design guru predicts the days of the banner ad are numbered
August 24, 1998
by Margret Johnston
(IDG) -- WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Advertising on the Web, especially banner ads that add to download time, is failing on most Web sites and eventually will be replaced by a micropayment system, author and former Sun Microsystems engineer Jakob Nielsen predicted on Thursday.
Even professionally designed banner ads with appealing graphics and colors are often ineffective because there's been too little consideration given to the content that's behind them, Nielsen said in his keynote speech at the Software Development '98 conference here last week.
Designers suffer from "TV envy"
"Most advertisers have no clue about the true fundamental nature of the Internet or how to make use of interactive media," Nielsen said. "Ninety percent of the time you click on a banner ad and you arrive at a horrible Web site. People are learning they can't trust these things."
Designers who create the ads are suffering from what Nielsen called "TV envy" and are relying too much on television models. Most Web ads are too superficial, too glitzy and devoid of choice or possibilities for interaction, he said.
"Users are completely ignoring banner ads," Nielsen said. "Click rates are falling through the floor."
Nielsen, who left Sun last month to join Donald Norman in forming the Nielsen Norman Group, a user-experience consulting company, also criticized other aspects of the Web. Browsers have improved only incrementally since their creation, and search engines should offer search capability instead of reinventing themselves as portals, he said.
Using the Web is still too complex for most people, and 90 percent of all commercial sites are "really bad," Nielsen said. The other 10 percent aren't necessarily good, but at least offer some benefit to users.
No more free lunch
But users eventually will have to pay for information and most likely will do so using a micropayment system such as a smart card, he predicted. Access to a newspaper article would cost a couple of cents, which is comparable to what the paper version actually costs now.
Nielsen also said the Web's exponential growth indicates that in four to six years the number of Web sites will grow from the current number of about 2.8 million to about 200 million. But he said the quality of the sites will continue to be poor because there are not enough people with Web-design know-how.
"This means one Web site will have to be created every hour over the next five years," Nielsen said. "Most Web sites will continue to be bad because there are not enough people around to design them," Nielsen said.
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