December 27, 2018

UX vs. Ads: How to Achieve the Right Balance

As an online publisher, you’ve always been lead by a simple truth:

More ads mean more revenue.

Some of you have understood this quite literally, cramming every available space with flashing ads that keep up with users everywhere they go. Indeed, ads offer great revenue potential but only if there are people to see them. You are also responsible for making sure your audience has a great experience. And therein lies the problem.

Displaying ads almost anywhere or without any filters jeopardizes the user experience, which can diminish your revenue in the long run. On the other hand, it’s understandably hard to just cut down on profitable ads, even if they are driving your readers insane.

ad examples

Image credit: BrandKnew

Finding the balance is an understandable dilemma because every ad affects user experience in some form or another. In a way, user experience and ads are natural enemies and don’t fit together all that well. Audiences come for content, not for the ads, so this “ads first” approach needs some rethinking. The right combination between user experience and ads should focus on these three principles:

1. Ad optimization – focus on the ads that drive engagement

You don’t need ALL of the ads in different formats. It’s tempting and very easy to fall into that trap. It’s a much better strategy to focus on what delivers value to the reader. For instance, overly relying on pop-ups and (especially) pop-unders is just bad practice, to put it mildly. As humans, we are wired in a way to look at only what is relevant and of use to us. That’s why contextually relevant and native advertising is the way to go in 2018 and beyond.

Because contextual ads are targeted based on the context and directly related to the surrounding content, they are more appealing to the audience. That means more engagement, resulting in better click-through rates and conversions. As for native advertising, it offers smooth ad placement that can either be in line with the existing content (line in feed articles) or completely customized to your template, following the natural flow of the user experience. Real, actionable insights on what your audience prefers can help you choose optimal time and format to serve their needs and get the best results.

Ad optimization also counts on the technical side of things. Let’s take website loading time as an example. As attention spans grow shorter, data shows people abandon websites if they take too long to load, with 40% fleeing the site if it takes more than three seconds to load. Today, there’s far more content than before that affects the loading speed. In turn, it might slow down the user experience enough to affect bounce rate. Hence, it’s wise to test different ad formats and sizes to cut down on page load times, as well as completely remove interruptive ads.

2. Personalization – everyone wants something different

This should be an obvious one, even if it still is somewhat of a mystery to certain publishers. Seeing as every audience is consisted of different individuals, meeting those particular needs each and every time can be challenging. Not every publisher manages to solve this equation but ones that do enjoy a truly optimized user experience and revenue combination.

The advancements in data-driven programmatic advertising allow serving of personalized ads to every reader. Add in the dynamic display format and you get the best way to raise (or at the very least, keep) your revenue while tending to the ever-important user experience at the same time. In an industry terrorized by ad blockers, publishers must do everything to deliver the right creatives to the right audience segments in order to facilitate inclusive, not intrusive experiences.

With programmatic advertising more customized than ever before, publishers should demand on working with partners who can deliver said ad experiences effectively. Seeing as all it takes is a few clicks to block out a bad experience, there’s really no other choice.

3. Testing – see what fits best

Obviously, ads are the primary website element that affects revenue in both positive and negative manner. However, you should go beyond the obvious and test everything to optimize your digital ad revenue.

connecting digital platforms

Image credit: UserZoom

Ad placement is a good start (and arguably the easiest) as it requires little effort on your part and doesn’t impact user experience much. You can use simple A/B testing or, better yet, multivariate ad testing to produce the best results in terms of layout. If you don’t have one already, install a heat map tool. This piece of software will help you understand how people interact with the content on the website: where they click and move, how far they scroll, and such, all in real time.

Gain insights on how visitors from different locations, time zones, and other easily segmented demographics respond to your testing to create as much non-intrusive and enjoyable user experience as possible based on the findings.

Not only for websites

One additional note that’s important to mention is that all these rules for websites apply to email as well. As one of the most effective digital channels out there, email is often the preferred communication tool for publishers who seek to improve their response and retention rates through newsletters, as well as increase brand awareness and promote and sell their offerings. As such, email undergoes the same principles outlined in this post for maximum effect.

It’s about how you treat your readers

The user experience vs ads conundrum is an obvious, yet tricky one. It’s easy to see and measure how dropping an ad unit or two can affect your bottom line, all for the sake of user experience. Yet, the benefit of that “sacrifice” can be harder to quantify, especially since it often takes more time to manifest.

It all boils down to ad quality and the value you bring to your audience. Think of it as a weight on a scale that tips in your favor and allows successful monetization. While there is no exact science on how every publisher can achieve the proverbial monetary zen, the core idea should always be the same – invest in knowing what makes your audience happy and stick to it. As a publisher, you have a lot of balls juggling in the air. Some trade-offs have to be made but as long as the goal is clear, the path should be thorn-free.