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Children taking interest in Web ads

Most of the click-through traffic for online ads may come from children, mainly because they can't tell an ad from other Web site elements, according to a recent study.

A recent study on Web usability indicates that children may account for a significant proportion of Web advertising click-through traffic.

The study, conducted by consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), found that children are likely click on Web advertising, having difficulty distinguishing it from regular content.

"The most notable finding of our study was that children click the advertisements on Web sites. Unfortunately they often do so by mistake, thinking ads are just one more site element," according to NNG.

An NNG representative said the group gained parents' permission to observe 55 children between the ages of 6 and 11 using the Internet. Researchers examined the manner in which the children interacted with Web content, and last month NNG published its report in the form of a guide to building Web sites for children. The group recommended that parents take the time to teach their children to recognize Web ads.

"Many people help their children understand and cope with television commercials, but Web ads seem to have been overlooked in most of these educational efforts--possibly because most adults wouldn't dream of clicking on an ad on a Web site," the research group said.

While the study says adults develop a facility for ignoring ads called "banner blindness," colorful animations and mouse rollovers used in Web ads draw children's' attention.

Citing figures from market analysis firm Datamonitor's August 2001 report, NNG said that 65.3 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 in the United States and Western Europe have access to the Internet at home, and 54.1 million have access at school.

ZDNet Australia's Andrew Colley reported from Sydney. News.com staff contributed to this report.