WEBSITE DESIGN GUIDE - BENEFITING FROM ADVERTISING WITHOUT ANNOYING YOUR VISITORS

If you rely on advertising revenue to support your site, continue to deliver the best possible experience for your visitors by avoiding negative advertising practices and appropriately responding to any visitor use of ad blockers.

CONTENTS

 

1. INTRODUCTION

 

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Some websites generate their revenue through selling products or services - either directly through the website, or indirectly (by generating leads or enquiries). Other websites don’t have something tangible to sell, but instead provide content for their visitors to consume. This content is usually free to access, but the website can still make money through paid advertising. There are a number of popular forms this can take:

  • Cost-per-click (CPC) advertising - the website displays ads and is paid every time a visitor clicks on one. If the visitor doesn’t click, then the website doesn’t get paid.

  • Cost-per-mille (CPM) advertising - the website displays ads and is paid every thousand impressions of an ad it displays. In this case, the visitor doesn’t need to click on anything for the website to get paid.

  • Fixed-price advertising - the website and the advertiser agree terms on a flat-fee basis, for example £100 for running a 200x200 pixel image on the website’s homepage for a week.

  • Affiliate programmes - the website links to related products on other online stores, and if the visitor clicks on one of these links and then goes on to buy the product, the website gets a small share of that sale.

  • Sponsored content - the website publishes content on a specific topic (for example about a product or a service) and is paid for doing so. This content typically takes the form of a review or some other opinion piece.

 

All of the above have pros and cons but the reality is that once a website decides to advertise, a conflict is created:

The website needs to advertise to make money and survive, but the typical visitor doesn’t want to see any advertising.

 

Visitors don’t want to see advertising because at its worst it’s extremely annoying and it gets in the way of what they are trying to achieve. This isn’t unique to the online medium (for example, many regard television advertising as a similar nuisance), but years of irresponsible and excessive advertising online has had a damaging impact.

In response to the more egregious forms of online advertising, ad blockers were developed. Ad blockers are pieces of software, typically simple browser extensions that can be installed in under a minute, that prevent certain forms of online advertising from displaying. They are effective and they lead to a better online experience, and so have quickly risen in popularity. This is costing the online advertising industry billions of pounds per year, and this number continues to grow.

Many online marketeers have taken the rise of ad blockers as a sign that they need to do better, and that the visitor experience has been damaged by negative advertising practices. This is true. However, at this point in time, the majority of a site’s visitors will not be using an ad blocker, and so will still see any adverts displayed on that site.

 

2. LIMITING THE DAMAGE

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Many would prefer not to see adverts, but there are certain types of adverts we tolerate. For example, many people quite like watching the adverts during the Super Bowl or trailers before their movie begins at the cinema (in fact they actively seek them out). From this, we can see that people actually dislike bad advertising, and will accept advertising that is done well. 

There are lots of factors that can lead to advertising having a negative impact on the visitor experience. Presuming you’re reading this guide because you have, or will some day have, adverts on your site, your job is to recognise when the experience is being damaged and rectify it. Ultimately, you need to strike a balance between the financial upside of advertising and the negative impact it can have, remembering that delivering a bad visitor experience is not a sustainable long-term approach to driving revenue. Here are just some signs that your advertising is bad:

  • It’s too prominent. It either takes up too much space on your site, or it occupies your most valuable page real estate. 

  • It’s on every single page. The more pages your advertising is on, the more exposure it gets and so the more ad revenue you could receive. However, there might be parts of your website that are fulfilling more important functions such as any product pages, the contact page or sign-up pages. As such, it is often worth disabling advertising on these pages in order to maximise the chance of your visitor completing their journeys (buying one of your products, getting in touch with you or signing-up for something).

  • It’s too low quality. The advertising execution itself looks unprofessional or messy.

  • It clashes with your visual design. The ads you display might not always be congruous with the specific aesthetic you are trying to achieve.

  • It’s irrelevant. The adverts you run are of little relevance to your visitors and are unlikely to align with their interests.

  • It’s too relevant. Have you ever been looking at a product online and then later on, on a different website, seen an advert for what you were originally looking for? This is an example of ‘behavioural targeting’ and it can be incredibly creepy and off-putting to visitors. 

  • It’s too easily mistaken as genuine content. Any sponsored content should be clearly marked as such to avoid misleading your visitors. Similarly, if you try to tailor adverts so they better fit with your site’s design then they should still be clearly marked as being adverts.

  • It impacts loading speed. Adverts make your pages take longer to load, particularly if you have too many of them. Remember, a page that takes more than just a couple of seconds to load can be enough to turn off some visitors.

  • It’s too visually distracting. Do your adverts move, flash or blink? Despite running the risk of looking tacky, these draw the eye too much and can distract the visitor from their actual reason for visiting your site.

  • It negatively influences your navigational design. You might have visited websites before where it feels like they’ve spread content over multiple pages for no reason. The real reason is that this forces you to load another page and see another ad, getting them more revenue. If your advertising is dictating the navigational design of your website in a way that negatively impacts the visitor experience, then it should be reconsidered.

 

3. DEALING WITH AD BLOCKERS

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With ad blocking so pervasive, it wasn’t going to be long until websites started fighting back. They do this by recognising that an ad blocker is running, and then taking one of several actions:

  • Displaying a message or pop-up asking for the site to be whitelisted (asking for the visitor to disable their ad blocker from running on that site), often reminding the visitor that the site is funded by advertising. The visitor can then choose to do so or not.

  • Preventing the visitor from continuing their visit until they have whitelisted the site.

  • Asking the visitor to watch a video advert before they can continue to browse the site.

 

Again, it is down to you to decide which of these approaches is right for your site, but I’d almost always argue for the first method as:

  • The cost to allow that visitor to browse the site ‘free of charge’ is pretty negligible and often zero (depending on your hosting plan).

  • The potential financial value of any given visitor is more than the revenue they might make you through CPC/CPM advertising on that visit. They could, for example, buy a product through one of your affiliate programmes, share a link to your site (getting you traffic from visitors who will see your adverts) or eventually form a strong enough reliance on your site that you can monetise them in a different way.

What’s clear is that ad blockers are here to stay. As such, you have to work out your approach to advertising that recognises that many visitors will try and avoid it and there might be nothing you can do about that. If your site genuinely provides value to the visitor, then financial gain will inevitably follow, whether some visitors choose to ad block or not.

 

4. CHECKLIST

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  1. Take the time to research and evaluate the most effective advertising model for your website.

  2. Ensure your adverts don’t ‘take over’ your site through their size, positioning or visual design.

  3. Avoid running adverts on pages where the visitor is being asked to complete an important action.

  4. Check your adverts don’t look so low quality that they impact on how visitors perceive your site.

  5. Aim to display advertising that fits with the visual design of your site.

  6. Prioritise advertising that aligns with the interests of your visitors, but consider the impact of adverts that leverage behavioural targeting techniques.

  7. Ensure any advertising you display is clearly recognisable as such.

  8. Run speed tests on your site before and after advertising is implemented to ensure it doesn’t have a significant impact on loading speed.

  9. Reconsider any advertising that forces you to make negative navigational choices in order to maximise revenue.

  10. Decide how you are going to respond to ad blocking software in a way that is right for your site’s business model.

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