We were over in Brussels this week, giving a talk at the CommPass Media Vision conference. One of the charts we presented got us thinking about what distinguishes the best performing websites in terms of advertising attention. What does it take to win gold in the Attention Olympics?

For some time now, we have been highlighting that the key to success is as much to do with viewable time as size or context of advertising. The longer an ad can be seen, the more likely it is to be noticed, and the longer it will be looked at for.

But there’s more to it than that. As you can see below, ads on high performing sites not only get noticed more – but they get noticed sooner. Newsbrands make a particularly good example. Not only do people notice the ads more and look at them for longer – but it takes them less time to get noticed. The attention higher, and the results stronger, but it all happens much faster. Altius, Fortius, but also Citius, as it says on the gold medals.

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Why is this? We have three theories. It could be down to direct programmatic. Buying direct from publishers means that it takes less time for ads to load, which means that they are viewable sooner than those sold via other technology.

But let’s not slag off intermediary ad tech too much. Better ad tech in general may also be having an effect. Major newsbrands can afford invest in better sell-side technology, or partner with the best buy-side providers, than other, lesser sites. This means that ads even the remnant inventory will be served quicker and more consistently than other sites. This may be having an impact their relative ‘velocity of attention’.  

And finally, it might be down to the power of design. We’ve said before that quality journalism leads to longer dwell times, and so better results. But it looks like quality site design means that ads are getting noticed quicker. Good UX means that ads are positioned in prominent locations, and surrounded by negative space, which accentuates their attention-grabbing powers. The simple, elegant design of many newsbrand websites contrasts with the busyness of other sites, where even viewable ads can be lost amidst the clutter.

In the ancient Olympics, there were prizes not only for the fastest runners or highest jumpers, but also for the most affecting artists. It seems that to win the modern Attention Olympics, there’s a role for both brawn and beauty.