Engaging the Digital Goldfish: Are You Contextually Relevant?

DennisClerkeA recent PBS NewsHour story on chronic illness plaguing adults was a photo essay. No statistical data, no mention of medical journals, no expert doctor commentary. Only pictures of people with their illness written on their arms and hands covering their mouth.  Yet, it was engaging and impactful.

Why only visual images in a medical news story? It probably has a lot to do with a few increasingly well known facts about how we process visual content that are frequently referenced in relation to digital content on the web. This includes the Microsoft news earlier this year that we now have attention spans of barely more than eight seconds – less than a goldfish, which is notoriously engageable for what now seems like an eternity of nine seconds.

And if Google processing more than 20 petabytes (that’s 20 million gigabytes) of information daily is any indication, this goldfish fact is no surprise. People are literally wading through tsunamis of information online in search of what has meaning and relevancy to them personally.

What ends up being most engaging, and why a medical news story included only a photo essay, is a ‘thumb stoppable’ visual image or video, which our non-goldfish brains process 60,000 times faster than text.

What does this mean for digital publishers and advertisers? We live in a visual society where visual content is the predominant currency of communication on the web. And this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. On one hand, getting a person to stop long enough to process your information, much less an ad, and make a decision to engage is difficult.

The opportunity becomes how to marry the visual-centric participation of users on the web with relevant, captivating and engaging ad experiences with visual content. The good news for publishers and advertisers is that with in-image advertising, previously untapped visual assets are now a highly viewable profit center instead of a cost center.

Creating a seamless experience that does not impact or detract from the viewer while creating a new revenue stream from unused website assets is the goal.  Here are the key ingredients to maintaining a high quality visual experience for the viewer, while achieving monetization goals of publishers and advertisers:


Relevance is what it’s all about. When people say ‘they hate ads’ — they don’t hate ads, they hate irrelevance.  And publishers worry about a potential contextual misfire – when the visual and in-image content are unrelated. Viewers get confused, distracted, and turned off. To avoid this,  editorial content, visual meta-data and user actions must all be part of the consideration to ensure relevant and brand-safe ads on any image on the web.


Media doesn’t work if no one is paying attention. The foundation underneath anything and everything we do is consumer attention.  For example, many consumers have learned to tune out peripheral page ads. What do they like to look at? Contextually relevant images and videos. So visual monetization of the content most valuable to viewers is also an opportunity to increase viewability.


Visual content that has impact is important from the browsing stage to the buying moment, and viewers can be stopped dead in their digital tracks by a stunning, relevant image. The point is visual content tells a story and conveys emotion in a fraction of the time it would take to read and understand the same information. And layering a contextually relevant in-image ad onto a key piece of visual real estate can accomplish what publishers, advertiser and viewers are seeking: a meaningful, relevant moment of discovery.

In today’s age of visual communication combined with banner blindness and short attention spans, advertisers, brands and publishers all need a way to catch customers’ eyes and hold their focus with relevant ads on visual content in articles, galleries and infinite scroll pages that enhance the entire online experience and generate a new incremental revenue stream. On the other hand, monetizing visual content is not a one size fits all approach that must take quality, relevance and viewability into consideration to be a win-win for all stakeholders.

Dennis  Clerke leads the content-monetization business at NetSeer, helping publishers derive greater revenue and user engagement from display and enhanced search. As an executive, advisor and entrepreneur, Dennis has made a major impact on growth at many early-stage and young tech companies in his career. He was CEO at two venture-backed companies that made successful exits – Aligent Software and Cardiff Software – and has an uncanny ability to identify and establish long, rewarding partner relationships. Previous roles included managing director of DaggerBoard Advisors, and EVP of Software Equity Group. He holds an MBA in marketing and entrepreneurial business from UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Business and a BA in engineering from Boston University. Dennis is a sailing aficionado – and has some very entertaining stories to prove it. – See more at: http://www.netseer.com/the-humans/#sthash.LkpczNp1.dpuf