Many newspapers are struggling to survive, and you can understand that they would want to maximise online ad revenues, but I think some run the risk of losing users through ad overkill.
Some news websites, and this in common on regional sites especially, are using some very annoying and intrusive ad formats which could be doing more harm than good.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t use advertising, but newspapers have to find a balance between reader engagement and maximising ad revenues.
Ad revenue versus user experience
If you look at some websites, it seems that publishers are putting ad revenues before usability.
It’s a difficult balance to strike, and I think most web users appreciate that the pay off for free content is to tolerate a certain level of advertising.
In some of the examples below, the publishers are placing ad revenues above the user experience, which is a risky strategy when there are plenty of other news sites to choose from.
Page load speeds
Ad overkill can also mean very slow page load speed, as the various ad elements load up after you select the page.
People hate slow sites, and this is a big deterrent for users. Some of these sites are so slow it feels like dial up. On the Echo and Journal sites mentioned below, it can take up to 10 seconds to load all of the elements.
I tried them out with Google’s page speed test. For a comparison, Mailonline’s content and image heavy (and frankly huge) homepage gets a score of 94%.
Liverpool Echo gets just 76%, ChronicleLive 78%, and The Journal 80%, Clearly plenty of room for improvement.
I hate interstitials. Even if I wanted to buy the product advertised, I would refuse to on principle.
Check out Forbes.com if you want to see an example.
This is about expectations. When I click on a link I expect to be taken straight to that page, rather than being dumped on a page with a big ad on it.
Too many ads
Too many ads make pages harder to scan and read for users, and will ultimately lead to banner ad blindness, or to pretty high bounce rates.
Take this page from the Newcastle Journal website:
Just the headline and half the picture from the article is actually visible, though this will be different for other screen resolutions. It also looks horrible.
Google is looking to ‘punish’ sites with too many ads above the fold, so publishers should be wary.
When I click to view an article on the Liverpool Echo site I get this. Horrible.
Interrupting the user with audio is a big no-no. I often (and I’m sure I’m not alone)listen to services like Spotify online, and having an ad on a webpage suddenly blast out sound is not a good experience.
Also, if you’ve opened a few tabs to read later, or scrolled down the page away from the video, it can be tricky to find the source of the interruption.
This is one very good reason to quit a website immediately.
The Journal does this, as well as stuffing pages full of ads:
Not an ad format as such, but a way of maximising page views and ad income. Take this example from Information Week. It splits an article titled ’10 iPad Problems, Solved’ over 12 pages:
Pagination like this is rubbish. Why do I have to click 12 different pages to view medium sized images? Could this not have been done on one long page?
Of course it could. It’s just a way to artificially inflate page impressions. It provides no added value to advertisers, and spoils the experience for users.
Top 10 lists can be great linkbait, but having tempted web users to the page, publishers risk them bailing within seconds.
Bad contextual advertising
This isn’t necessarily going to deter users, unless the ad placement is especially offensive, but much of the time it seems a waste of ad space as many are irrelevant to the article in question, or innapropriate as in this case:
Alternatives for publishers
Look beyond bumping up page views
There is a lot wrong with the way that online ads are bought and measured, and it’s one of the reasons why publishers face so many challenges.
Instead of pandering to CPM and impressions, news sites should be in the data / engagement game, finding ways to learn about visitors and delivering more relevance.
News sites shouldn’t rely on ad revenues alone, and some have been looking for alternative revenue streams, such as The Telegraph with its fashion shop.
The new Mirror Online site now uses technology from Rummble Labs to deliver personalised news recommendations.
While the Mirror has not mentioned this technology with reference to advertising, it’s clear that this is one way to deliver more information to target relevant ads to specific users.