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The Effects of the Presence of Advertising on Human Experience

Does the presence of advertising transform a website or webpage?

10:39 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)


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Exhibit 1: A webpage of information with no advertising.

Exhibit 2: A webpage of information with advertising.

Is there any difference in your experience?

Can you articulate exactly what that is?

What, if anything changes?

Maybe nothing. But clearly something happens when I'm overwhelmed by ads: Click. Gone. This suggests that there may be something going on at a lower threshold than that threshold that causes me/you to click away?

Just curious if anyone is tuned in to any subtle or not so subtle changes associated with the presence of ads.

I know we are encouraged to follow the heat-map but, in so doing, are we loosing something whilst gaining clicks? Maybe just a little bit of credibility . . or something else? (Maybe we're just contributing to the accumulated body of ADHD?)

Do ads alter your experience?


On your website, how have you altered your ads or ad placements to respond to your personal experience of how ads effect you? How?

2:28 pm on July 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Ya, you get more "insta-clicks" by loading/featuring ads "above the fold" (in your visitor's face) but, at the same time, by doing so might you be sending the smart pricing algorithm a signal (by the volume of speedy clicks) that your content sucks?

Quite possibly. For that matter, you might be sending a message to the compensation algorithm, too. If you're adding little or no value--i.e., if you're merely flipping visitors as quickly as you get them--why shouldn't Google feel that you deserve a smaller slice of the pie than a publisher whose readers spend more time on site?

4:29 pm on July 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

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During ASE (Affiliate Summit East) I spoke with several site owners who were concerned about overwhelming their visitors with advertisements. I think this is probably a question that is asked often: “How much is too much?” At what point do advertisements deter visitors from coming back? The answer really depends on what kind of traffic we’re talking about. Let’s look at a few types of traffic and the typical behavior of those visitors.

Search Engine traffic typically has a very high bounce rate (70-90% in my experience). It matters very little how many ads are on a page for this type of traffic, in fact, I would encourage you to try to monetize organic traffic in every way possible. Visitors from search engines are usually looking for an answer to a question (unless it’s e-commerce and then you shouldn’t have ads on your site to begin with) and if they arrive at your site, they’ll typically stay for less than a minute and never come back. Why wouldn’t you try to get them to leave your site via an advertisement? Show them large ads (336×280 & 728×90) above the fold and focus on contextual. The more relevant to what they are looking for, the more likely they are to click.

Visitors arriving from other sites have one of the lowest bounce rates (typically less than 50%) and therefor are much more likely to stick around. This type of traffic should be treated differently than organic traffic and as such should see fewer advertisements. Using basic conditional statements in your forum software, or in whatever language your site is programmed in, you should be able to turn off ads for anyone who didn’t arrive via a search engine. This will improve your bounce rate even more and encourage your referral traffic to register/return.

PPC/Advertising Campaigns
This type of traffic comes from AdWords and other advertising campaigns. It’s a bit of a grey area and you’ll have to experiment with what works best. My personal philosophy is “once and ad clicker, always an ad clicker” so if they clicked an ad to get to your site, you may want to push your call to action (i.e. “Join Today”) up higher, but still have ads in case they want to leave. But you may also want to remove the ads so you don’t risk losing a visitor you paid money for. Bounce rates for PPC campaigns can vary depending on the landing page, so do a little A/B testing and see what works best for your paid traffic. Again, use a simple conditional to show/hide ads for this type of traffic based on the referrer.

Type-in or bookmark traffic has the lowest bounce rate (usually less than 20%) and should be provided the best experience with the least amount of intrusive ads. This would include registered members and word of mouth traffic. Giving these users the absolute best experience possible is important and will encourage them to return again and again.

You may cut in to your bottom line a little at first, but the end result of improving the overall experience for your visitors will help grow your site and your bottom line. Make sure you are using a good analytics tool (like Google Analytics) to track conversion rates, bounce rates, average depth and length of sessions, and return rate. If you can monitor this data and continuously test you’ll find the perfect balance of advertising for your site.

5:51 pm on July 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Good discussion. Thanks Skyhawk for an good attempt to answer the "how much" question. Very useful.

Still, I have to agree with EuropeForVisitors. The context of the ad matters a great deal.

Most magazines serious about their audience and marketing will refuse ads which are not in context to their product. This is a big, big issue that Google is facing now, especially with the video/display ads. Someone who types in "How to invest a million dollars" and hit search shouldn't see a ad for Lexus. Providing that kind of info not what Google is about.

And, it is not what most websites are about either. The NYT has done a great job, however, getting away with this kind of marketing. Their audience expects it. I would guess that Europe for Visitors could get away with it, maybe.

But, it's tricky. I've personally gotten burned running the wrong kind of ads in my magazines. (It upset readers and other ad buyers.)

6:56 pm on July 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Really good point there skyhawk133.

What do you think about the 20% that might have bookmarked or linked to the site had it not been for all those great big adverts? Perhaps they'll be less likely to do that if faced with more ads. The percentage of NEW visitors to a website must be high from search engines, and for them first impressions count.

Though referral tracking is something that's under-utilised (at least by me).

10:21 pm on July 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Most magazines serious about their audience and marketing will refuse ads which are not in context to their product.

As with most things, it depends. CONDE NAST TRAVELER, TRAVEL + LEISURE, and GOURMET run ads for luxury cars, jewelry, clothing, etc. that have nothing to do with their travel and food topics. Similarly, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and FORBES run ads that are geared to rich people even though the ads have nothing to do with finance. Why? Because the readers of those publications fit demographic profiles that are attractive to advertisers.

There are also grey areas where an advertiser's judgment (sometimes with help from a publisher's audience research) comes into play. For example, a site about luxury cruising might be able to sell geotargeted display ads in the Upper Midwest for a spa resort on Lake Superior, because the spa resort knows that rich people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or the Dakotas who go cruising once or twice a year might be interested in weekend spa trips close to home when they aren't cruising.

The bottom line is that audience targeting can be just as important as keyword targeting, if not more so. (Which is why an ad for "widget dslr cameras" on a camera-review site is likely to convert better than an ad for "widget dslr cameras" on nationalenquirer.com.)

3:04 am on July 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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>No matter how tasteful, sparse, well labeled .. The ads are, you are categorized as a for profit venture<

Is there something wrong with for-profit ventures? :)

The real issue, IMHO, isn't what a webmaster or any individual thinks about the effect of advertising on the human experience on a site. The real question is what those humans actually do when confronted with ads.

The way to find out how ads affect sites, is to test, track and measure. Test and measure how long people stay on the site with ads - and without them. See how many pages they view - with ads and without them (or with some lower percentage of ads).

See how your income changes by taking away some ads on a site. Or by adding some.

Don't ever rely on what one or two users tell you - or even a user survey. What people say they like or don't like and what they DO can be two different things.

For instance, everyone says they hate pops and slideins. But an awful lot of websites who have used them to do things like get people to sign up for newsletters will tell you their subscription rates double or triple when the slideins are used compared to when they're not used.

5:32 am on July 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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My having an ad or two on each page enhances user experience in a big way. If it weren't for AdSense and Amazon ads there would only be a couple of dozen articles on the site. That is if I hadn't just dropped the site altogether.

Now that I can get some nice earnings I put in a great deal more time. Articles are constantly added that cover interesting aspects of the topic that I would never have researched and written up for free.

I know that wasn't exactly what was meant in the original post but it's something to think about.

4:03 am on July 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Here's another take on how the presence of ads can affect a user's experience; slow loading ads.

Case in point a search I ran last night. The number one search result looked promising so I clicked to open it in a new tab. I continued scanning down the SERP and result number eight also looked promising so I clicked to also open it in a new tab.

I then checked on the first tab. Only the site masthead was displaying and the browser status bar was showing "waiting for ad server". I switched to the second tab. The page was open and I found the information I was looking for. I went back to the first tab and it was still waiting for the ads to finish loading. I closed the tab.

So thanks to the ad load the first site squandered it's number one SERP position. Plus it was a major brand name site so I'll remember and be less likely to choose it the next time it shows up on a SERP.

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