Brands in the digital space are all vying for a limited resource: user attention. But considering the average consumer has to wade through thousands of ads per day, visibility in no way guarantees attention.

This is life in the attention economy, where there is an abundance of information and a scarcity of attention. For brands and advertisers, user attention is the gateway to success, with a 5% increase in attention volume bringing about a 40% rise in in-market ad awareness.

Forcing this attention, however, by bombarding audiences with high-volume, repetitive and intrusive ads is not the answer. In fact, this is more likely to push potential consumers further away, leaving brands, publishers and advertisers wondering how to best entice consumers to focus on their ads amid all the noise.

But how can we evaluate attention? And how can we optimize ads in a way that captures and sustains a user’s gaze and interest?

Drive Attention Through Context And Relevance

Identifying different aspects of attention, like quality and quantity, can be a helpful way to align your creative, your context and your environment, and maximize your chances of success.

If a user is barely taking notice of the page they are browsing, their receptiveness to any ad messaging is likely to be low. Likewise, if a user’s vision is split between—or even inundated by—multiple ads, not only will their ability to truly focus on any one ad be limited, but they also might simply abandon the webpage out of frustration, as 4 out of 5 people already do when they see a pop-up or auto-playing ad.

The takeaway here is that many people ignore and actively avoid what annoys or does not matter to them. Among the most common reasons for ad-blocker extensions are the irrelevance of ads, the excessive number of ads and ad intrusiveness.

By targeting ads based on what a user has already intentionally sought out—that is, page content—you can piggyback off of existing attention. This contextual advertising increases the likelihood that the content of the ad aligns with user interests, and it has been proven to increase purchase intent by 14% and conversions by 32%. This approach is also preferred by more consumers over demographic and behavioral targeting.

Environment Is Key

Environment is a broad topic to consider. Publishers and advertisers alike must bear in mind multiple factors. Are users browsing on mobile or on a laptop? Are they on social media or on a trusted publisher’s website? Adjusting ads for different devices is crucial to ensure an ideal user experience, as well as maximum attention. An ad that might not disrupt the user experience on a desktop may do so on a phone screen, and users are more likely to scroll through social media without engaging, while they might be more invested in an article on a premium publisher website.

Environment might also refer to the overall user experience of an online space. With most people actively trying to avoid ads, it’s essential to limit ad intrusiveness.

Positive impressions matter, and this extends into the digital advertising space. The halo effect—whereby one trait or aspect of something influences a person’s perception of the whole thing—tells us that the context and environment in which an ad appears can affect how a user will feel about that ad. A high-quality environment with strong, engaging content can improve metrics such as favorability and memorability.

Content sentiment is also a factor, and while negative online environments might encourage people to stay on a page, they also can decrease their level of trust, their ability to remember or their propensity to buy from brands. Much like most brands will not advertise next to inappropriate content, advertising next to negative content should be avoided as it can reflect badly on a company.

Consider Format Creatively

A revolution in how advertisers measure success also requires a transformation in how we advertise. There are some tried-and-tested formats, such as the unfavorable pop-up, that need to be put to bed. Many traditional formats simply don’t make the cut anymore.

Instead, it’s time to tap into consumer trends and opt for formats that have already been proven successful. For example, the popularity of video ads can’t be denied—they often receive more attention than static ads and are an effective brand discovery tool. But video ads are a costlier investment and still don’t necessarily guarantee views. Motion ads, including animated GIFs and MOV and MP4 video files, can be a great, less resource-intensive alternative.

Similarly, interactive ads that engage users have great potential to boost user immersion: 360-degree, panoramic, parallax or carousel ads, or ads that change color, shrink, move or expand, not only have the benefit of being more engaging, but they also make the most of a given space by offering multiple display options.

This isn’t the end of static ads. It just means that static formats need to work harder in other areas to stand out visually. Think high-impact, powerful and vibrant colors, snappy copy (we’re all familiar with Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan), and clear, strong messaging. You can still boost brand visibility through prominent logos and eye-catching visuals, even if they don’t move.

Pay Attention To What Works

The ultimate aim of ads has always been to grab consumers’ attention. Now, this sought-after attention is also a key metric to evaluate ad effectiveness.

Move away from whether or not consumers can see your ads, and toward whether or not they engage with and remember them. To keep pace with the evolving digital landscape, embrace and experiment with new ad formats.

Great user experience and relevance are key benchmarks of success—and you can achieve these by meeting rigorous context, environment and creativity standards.

(As published on Forbes)