On a website, lines are like walls, boxes are liked closed buildings and anything constructed to catch the eye is perceived as a marketing trap.

I once dealt with a large product company that had a huge banner advertisement taking up half its homepage. It was getting less than 1 percent of clicks. Another company I worked with had hidden the search engine on its homepage because a manager thought it was ugly and that it took attention away from another huge banner ad.

We recently tested a task with a description like: "Does product X have feature M?" The answer was yes. We tested with real customers. They read the content on the features page. Every single one of them said no.

On the Web, people are on a journey. They know what they want to do. If you want to engage with them you must become part of their journey. You must not try to change it.

The problem with the company's product feature page was that they had actually tried to emphasize the fact that the product had this feature. They had taken it out of the normal text flow and put it in a colorful box. They had given it a nice big heading and put all the text in bold. You'd think customers would notice.

A line is like a wall on the Web. The thicker the line the higher the wall. People can't or don't want to see over these walls. A box is like a closed, windowless room. People need to make a big effort to look inside.

There's some very interesting research available on how people react to warning labels on products. According to a report called "Boxed risk warnings: research findings", "The research suggests that people choose for themselves what they will notice. Moreover, if you want a warning to be not only noticed but also read and acted upon reliably, consistently, and appropriately, you cannot just give the warning independently of its context, then expect the reader to read it and act upon it."

The customer is not a blank canvas you paint your message on. Most customers live very rich lives. If we want to reach them we have to go where they are, and we have to get into their flow.

Some complain that advertising isn't working on the Web. It's quite the opposite. Sure, traditional, tired, irritating banner ads and fake hero shots aren't working. But search behavior shows that advertising is thriving. And no, I'm not thinking just about search text ads.

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When a customer searches for "Dublin Rio Flight" they are advertising the fact that they want to fly to Rio from Dublin. The customer today is the advertiser. Search is a form of personal advertising. Customers are telling organizations what they want to buy and what they need to know before they buy. Most organizations are too busy shouting at customers about things the customer isn't interested in. Organizations need to listen a lot more.

Because, let's face it, when was the last time you went on the Web intending to book a flight to London and ended up buying golf clubs?