Display advertising, along with several other ad formats, has been growing explosively in recent years. Evidence suggests that people are more likely to click on display ads than, for example, search ads or text ads.

Whether you want to monetize a website or promote a product, it pays to learn why display advertising is back on the rise.

1. Images Convey Information Immediately

“An image is worth a thousand words,” or so the saying goes.

But this isn’t just a saying, it’s also science. According to well-established eye tracking research, photos are considered real content. The studies showed that real photos of real people and real products draw more attention than stock photos, which draw next to none. This tells us that relevant, information-carrying images are more compelling, especially when they are set in an ocean of text.

2. Hotspots

Eye tracking studies of Google’s search results pages have also demonstrated that images that appear in search results immediately draw users’ attention. These same studies reveal that when images are present inside the search results, the results themselves get less and less gaze time. Why?

Perhaps it’s because an image is worth a thousand words or perhaps it’s because looking at a picture is easier than reading. Regardless of the exact reason, it’s clear that images are hotspots for people’s eyeballs. The right images in the right context can grab a person’s attention, which is just one reason why display advertising is trending upwards. 

3. People are Developing “Sponsored Search Result Blindness”

The aforementioned eye tracking studies that mentioned Google also revealed something fascinating: people virtually ignored sponsored search results. Apparently, banners aren’t the only thing to eventually desensitize the average web surfer.

Consumers, inundated by pervasive online advertising, are becoming immune and rejecting anything that looks like advertising. In the same way that people ignore stock photos and banner ads, a hefty number of people have begun ignoring sponsored search results as well.

And of those who do click through sponsored search results, the majority are in an older demographic.

This leads us to the next point…

4. Search is Changing

Marketing data is never complete, for two reasons. First of all, we can never know everything about consumer behavior or the psychology that drives that behavior. Second of all, people’s behavior changes as technology changes.

As we can see from the phenomenon of banner blindness and people’s growing avoidance of sponsored search results, consumer behavior is always changing. What this means is that the marketer’s job is never done. If technology and customer behavior are both always changing, marketers must continually research and provide data on those changes.

In 2015 and beyond, we’re going to gradually see new technologies emerge that rely on vocal interfaces. Google Now, Siri, and Cortana already have the ability to interact vocally, which suggests that audio ads may not be far behind.

And, as we can see from Google’s new local results ribbon, which appears at the top of searches for local businesses, Google is taking advantage of consumers’ desire for photos. The next logical step is for Google to include sponsored local search results in this ribbon, which would be a form of display advertising.

5. Display Ads are Funnel-Drivers

Previously, metrics such as “hover” and “view” were considered brand-building metrics. The longer a customer hovered the mouse over an ad or the longer they gazed at an ad in an eye tracking study, the more it was said to be beneficial for the brand’s reputation. However, deeper studies into display ads revealed that these types of display ads can actually influence customers later on.

Historically, knowing exactly what influenced customers to make a purchase has been a thorny problem. But in the above study, detailed customer data indicated that despite the fact that some text ads have a higher click-through rate, display ads were actually the original influencer.

There is much more research to be done in this area, but, as mentioned in the fourth point, marketing data will never be complete.

While display ads may never fully replace sponsored search results, we can clearly see why proper display advertising can be so effective.

And the most effective display ads are those that are highly targeted and personalized: these types of display ads offer the immediate targeting of search, but the instant appeal of images. Targeted display advertising networks, such as CodeFuel’s DisplayFuel, a software advertising network, cultivate exclusive, select inventories for advertisers and publishers.

Unlike the rather crude pop-ups and banner ads that defined the early years of display advertising, these targeted networks will become more sophisticated, personalized, and capable. In 2015 and beyond, we’ll see these targeted networks – along with similarly sophisticated display advertising networks – overtake traditional sponsored search ads and text ads.