Triangle User Experience Professionals Association (TriUXPA)

It’s Time the Right Rail Advertising Bubble Bursts

06 Oct 2006 5:00 PM | Richard Phelps

by Rebekah Sedaca.
--originally published at Capstrat

Way back when the Web first started and before the corporate advertisers caught on to the whole information superhighway concept, Web designers and developers had all of this screen real estate in which we could display functionality, design, content, and information. Literally, we had a plethora of real estate in which to communicate our ideas and information.

Over time, as the heads in those corporate offices turned from their offline advertising to the Web, we saw a flurry of onsite advertising. With varying levels of success, popup ads, spam emails, banner ads and right rail promotions cluttered our minds, inboxes and screens. (The right rail is the rightmost column or section of a Web page that is often used to display advertisements.) With time and technology, tools like spam and popup blockers have diminished the effectiveness of online advertising. This has left advertisers with few online “safe” spaces, one of which is the right rail.

We have sold out the right rail to advertisers to the point that it’s becoming ineffective for even that purpose. User testing shows right rail, or column, “blindness” and it is only getting worse with the likes of Google sponsored links. Info World also recently published an article, "What Users Hate Most About Web Sites", that lists “invasive advertising” among its top gripes along with a note about “right rail blindness.” There are a number of hypotheses around the root cause of right rail blindness including the western convention of reading from left to right and superfluous advertising.

Rather than surrender the rightmost sections of our screens as useless for containing content and information (and ads, for that matter), we must take back that section of our screens. Web site navigation is one option. User testing on the subject has shown that users perform as well when navigation is on the right side of the screen as on the left. In one study, users were divided into two groups and asked to complete a series of tasks: one group using a left navigation-based site and the other a right navigation-based site. The results showed no significant different in time completion between the two sites.

There is even an argument to suggest that in following with Fitt’s Law, right navigation would be a more effective solution if convention could be ignored, since it is closer in proximity to the scroll bar. (And considering that the Web in its current state is relatively young, how set in stone can convention be?)

Right rail navigation also proved successful for audi.com. The right rail placement not only supported their “innovation in design” brand message, but also proved successful in user testing and rollout to the market. Furthermore, many blogging tools, like Word Press, are using the right rail of pages to capture tags, recent activities and the like. As blogging becomes more and more mainstream, the right rail may be able to rise to its former stature.

So can we change user behavior over time by removing advertising from the right rail and putting navigation and other site essential items there in its place? Only time will tell, but it sure beats the alternative of giving up on the right rail and losing that real estate all together.

I would love to get some feedback from the Triangle User Experience community on right rail usage, testing, and ideas about reclaiming it. Thoughts?

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