How bad ad experiences affect UX and revenue for publishers

Digital advertising is an integral component of most publishers’ revenue mix, however, bad ad experiences can lead to poor UX, and indirectly hurt their bottom line.

In this article, we will explore examples of bad advertising experiences, their impact on user engagement, the potential consequences on overall revenue, and what publishers can do to address these issues.

Defining bad advertising experiences

Bad advertising experiences generally refer to disruptive practices that hinder users’ interaction with content. This may include pop-ups, auto-playing videos with sound, large sticky ads, and prestitial ads with a countdown.

They’re perceived to be irritating, causing users to leave the site or install adblockers, thus impacting the publisher’s ad impressions and revenue. According to AdMonsters and GeoEdge’s consumer research study, 56% of consumers will immediately leave a website or close an app due to a poor advertising experience. 

Most hated ad experiences

The Coalition for Better Ads has identified the most disliked ad experiences through comprehensive research. For desktop users, this includes:

  • Pop-up ads: Pop-up ads interrupt and take over the user’s screen. These are particularly frustrating when they appear before the user has a chance to interact with the page’s content.
  • Auto-playing video ads with sound: These ads start playing sound without any action from the user, often startling them. Users find these intrusive and disruptive.
  • Prestitial ads with countdown: Prestitial ads appear after a link is clicked but before the user can see the content they’re interested in. Users must wait for a countdown to finish before they can dismiss the ad.
  • Large sticky ads: These large ads stick to a portion of the screen, often the bottom, and stay there as the user scrolls. Their size and persistence disrupt the user’s interaction with the site content.

On mobile devices, users are most irritated by the same ads as desktop users, as well as these ad experiences:

  • Over 30% ad density: Users dislike mobile pages where ads take up more than 30% of the vertical height. Too many ads can cause banner blindness
  • Flashing animated ads: These animated ads are highly distracting due to their flashing colors, text, or background. The constant flashing is not only aggravating, but makes it difficult for users to consume content.
  • Postitial ads with countdown: Postitial ads appear after the user follows a link within the same webpage. Users are forced to wait before they can close the ad, or for the ad to close on its own. Due to their large size and timing, they heavily disrupt a user’s experience on the site. 
  • Full-screen scrollover ads: Before a user can view any of the main content, they must scroll through an ad. These ads cover more than 30% of the page and appear on top of the page’s main content, disorienting users and preventing them from viewing content. 

Real-world examples of bad ads

Now that we understand the different types of bad ads, let’s explore some examples of real-world ad experiences where big brand names struggled with negative user sentiment.

Intrusive video ads on social media platforms

Facebook faced user backlash due to intrusive mid-roll ads in their videos. The platform began inserting ads into videos after a certain time, even in short videos, leading to a disruptive viewing experience.

Many users found this frustrating, as they were forced to watch ads to continue with the content they were interested in. This led to many users either skipping the video content entirely or spending less time on the platform, which negatively impacted Facebook’s user engagement metrics.

Retargeted ads following users across websites

Ever searched for a product online, only to have it ‘follow’ you across various websites in the form of ads? That’s a real-world example of retargeting, a common marketing strategy for behavioral targeting.

While the concept behind it is valid—reminding potential customers of what they viewed—it’s often seen as intrusive and creepy, affecting the overall browsing experience.

One notable instance is when an Office Depot retargeting campaign aggressively followed users around with products they’d already bought or decided against purchasing, leading to frustrated customers and negative feedback on social media.

It’s worth mentioning that publishers may have little control over retargeting, but media buyers and agencies should exercise caution (and set appropriate frequency caps) to maintain a balance between UX and revenue.

Mismatch between advertising content and user interest

Instead of being overly personalized, there are ads that are negatively received due to being the complete opposite. These ads seem random and irrelevant since they do not relate to the user or their interests at all. Due to their nonsensical nature, when users see these ads they can’t help but think, “Why am I seeing this?” 

Twitter has been having this exact issue where users are reporting viewing irrelevant ads such as gold investments or clothing for horse enthusiasts when they have shown zero interest in those areas. Users are left confused and annoyed with these out-of-place ads.

Examples of bad ad experiences on Twitter where users saw irrelevant advertisements on gold investments and a horse lover t-shirt
Source: New York Times

The relationship between UX and revenue

Poor advertising can significantly impact user engagement metrics such as bounce rate, time spent on the site, and pages per session. Users are likely to leave a site quickly (increased bounce rate) if they encounter disruptive ads. It also reduces the time spent on the site and the number of pages visited per session. 

Moreover, poor user experiences can tarnish a publisher’s brand reputation, leading to long-term revenue decline. If a user is used to seeing annoying pop-up ads that negatively impact their experience on your website, they will be less likely to return in the future. 

Not only will your users leave, but 73% of consumers said they won’t recommend a site or app after seeing a bad ad on it. You are losing potential revenue and turning off new users before they have even seen your site. 

There is no shortage of content online—and users will quickly find alternatives if needed. 

Protecting users from bad ads

Here are some strategies publishers can start employing today to limit poor advertising experiences for users:

  • Following the Better Ads Standards to avoid ads that research proves as “the least preferred ad types.”
  • Participating in the Acceptable Ads Standard, whose goal is finding a middle ground between respecting users who want to block annoying, intrusive ads and acknowledging the need for publishers to monetize their content.
  • Balancing the number of ads on a page to avoid overwhelming users—think quality over quantity.
  • Using price floors to set the lowest price you’re willing to sell an ad impression in order to avoid showing users low-quality content and undervaluing your inventory.
  • Allowing users to easily report bad ads (77% of users would report bad ads if publishers made it easy to do so).
  • Implementing user-friendly ad formats that don’t obstruct your content.

User-friendly advertising

So, what exactly is “user-friendly advertising”? After reading about all of the different types of bad ads it seems like an idea that is too good to be true, but actually many users don’t mind ads as long as they are respectful to their experience.

Research shows that even within the subset of ad-averse users, 90% don’t hate ads and 83% are open to seeing non-intrusive ads that are relevant to their interests.

User-friendly advertising is about serving ads that integrate smoothly into the browsing experience, providing value without being intrusive or annoying. 

Let’s look at some user-friendly ad formats:

Native advertising

Native ads are designed to match the look, feel, and function of the media format in which they appear. They’re often found in social media feeds or as recommended content on a webpage. 

One good example is Airbnb’s campaign on the New York Times. NYT published an article about the immigrant experience in America, which was sponsored by Airbnb, but provided high-quality, relevant content following NYT’s typical editorial standards.

Sponsored content

Sponsored content is a type of advertising that involves the promotion of a product or service in a way that’s often more subtle than traditional ads. It’s typically educational or entertaining and aligns with the page’s content.

Buzzfeed often partners with brands to produce sponsored content. One example is their partnership with Hotwire, where they produced travel-themed articles and promoted Hotwire’s travel booking services, which was relevant to Buzzfeed’s audience.  

In-feed social media advertising

In-feed social media ads appear directly in a user’s social media feed. Because these ads blend in with the rest of the content, they are less intrusive and often lead to higher engagement rates.

Instagram is renowned for its seamless in-feed ads. Brands like Nike regularly use this ad format to showcase their products amidst users’ regular content, creating a non-disruptive ad experience.

Contextual advertising

Contextual ads are based on the content the user is currently viewing. The ads are related to the page’s content, making them more relevant and less likely to appear intrusive. Ads feel personalized without users feeling like their behavior is being tracked across the web.

There are many vendors that specialize in connecting publishers to contextual advertising opportunities.

By integrating these user-friendly ad formats into their advertising experience, publishers can maintain an optimal balance between monetization and user experience.

Conclusion

Publishers must prioritize providing an unobtrusive, enjoyable user experience, while tapping into the power of advertising as a crucial revenue stream.

Bad advertising experiences not only cause annoyance and frustration, but can lead to lasting damage linked to audience erosion. After all, an ad that adds value and seamlessly integrates with the user’s journey is more likely to be effective.

As we look to the future, the need for this balance will only become more important. With thoughtful strategy and execution, it’s possible to ensure a positive user experience that also drives revenue growth.

While you're here...

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