28/09 2010

The Advertising Riddle

If you're anything like me, you like reading blogs and other online content to learn things, be inspired and have a nice experience while you're doing it. I was recently made aware an article over at Usability post called 'a motive for bad design'. Being someone who strives for the highest quality possible, it took me a while to accept big online business and the unavoidable need at the end of the day, to make money. I have always known this at heart, however, being dedicated to making the users experience and accessibility the best it can be often I have pressure coming from many different directions, my last post touches on these kinds of chaos vs clarity moments.

You often find that the Web sites of the very people you respect and want to learn from tend to do so free of charge - this blog itself aims to be such a thing. The Designers behind these sites can be extremely talented and experienced individuals. The unfortunate downside of these ventures are that as they grow and get more popular, it becomes harder to keep things going without some kind of funding, this is where advertisements come in. The inevitable happens due to the advertiser wanting a prime location on your site through which to show their wares and make it worthwhile for them to part with some of their childrens inheritence.

I myself have recently been approached by such companies but aim to keep Webegg a focused and informative site which is of genuine worth to people who use and make Web sites..

Here are just a small selection of sites I regularly visit for their informative, educational or inspiring content:

I could go on, these are just a handful of my bookmarks which as you can see, are riddled with advertisements. Some of them contain adverts below the fold, which isn't quite so bad but for a fully rounded, smooth user experience, the design should not be compromised by them.

The flat world

In the real world, the flat world, we put most adverts in areas that are separated away from the rest of the content. By this I mean that you rarely find an advert dumped between, say, the title and first paragraph of a magazine article as on, they are usually split off onto, say, the bottom half of the page, or on their own full page. The point here is that the design of an article itself remains untouched. I don't know why it happens in this way as I've always been a digital only designer. Maybe it is because the designer of a flat printed magazine or billboard poster has more say in what they design, maybe they are allowed to say 'no' to anything they believe would undermine the impact of their design. If that is the case, we should be adopting this policy on the web. There is no reason that I can see, why Designers for the Web shouldn't be able to have the final say over the design of a site in the same way as the flat world, with all our experience of usability, spatial awareness, colour placement and behaviour techniques. That's a topic for another day though!

It is virtually possible

With a little thought, it is possible to hide adverts in Web pages. There is no way to hide adverts automatically and it would have to be done on a site by site basis. Again parallels with another industry saw the Tivo, a digital TV recorder that allowed you to skip adverts, fail to impress advertisers in the 1990's. It's hard to find articles that fully explain why it was axed, but my slightly cynical mind found a few pieces to the puzzle by reading an article on wired and another one on the bbc site.

To avoid this kind of back lash on the Web, I see no reason why Web Designers can't provide a situation that benefits users and advertisers alike. On this very site, even though I have no advertising (yet) I have provided users with a button that, when clicked, hides all the unecessary content such as the sidebar, main menu etc and allows the user to concentrate on the article content. I tried hiding the adverts on most of the Web sites in the list above too (using firebug) and was impressed by the results, a moment of clarity one might say. You'd be amazed what these sites look like just by removing the ads. The designers original vision was laid out before me!

We're NOT removing them

The key to this solution is that the adverts have to appear on the initial page load. This means that the user will see the adverts as per normal, however, they will have the option to hide them. Unlike the Tivo, where a users reaction to adverts appearing would immediately be to hit the skip button, users of these web sites would have to see the adverts and make a concious decision to hide them using a well designed button. This button would be part of the design of the underlying site, making it part of the user experience and therefore different for each Web site.

The combination of all of this, in my opinion, would have the opposite effect. Rather than drawing attention away from the ads, it would be saying, 'OK, here are the ads, now do you want to hide them?'. I believe users reaction to this choice would be a positive one. This could only bring more visitors to the site.

This also avoids the 'skip button' mentality as the 'remote control' would keep changing in our situation because in effect, the remote control is any Web site you use this solution on.

This could also have a positive effect on the advertising Industry. Ad designers may feel more obliged to design a more pleasing ad so that users would be less inclined to hide them.

As I said earlier, I see no reason why we aren't treating adverts in a similar way to the real world, even going as far as a lot of magazines do, pushing all the advertisements onto a separate page completely, giving the user the option of browsing through them.

Yes, the virtual world is more flexible than the real one, however, it is people that use it, so we must make it a nicer place to be. We should always have choices in life.

One Response to The Advertising Riddle

  1. Dmitry says:

    Ads between the heading and the body text penetrate banner blindness as you’ll be drawn to the little banner in order to find out if it’s an illustration for that article or an ad. It’s a very lucrative position for an ad. In the real world we actually have almost the same thing because as you read a magazine, every other page has an ad on it–the ads are injected throughout the content at regular intervals. You’re right though, they’re not little banners that try to sneak in under a headline, but I think that’s just because a whole page is better for the advertiser. We don’t have that space to dedicate to ads on the Web, so we make do with small banners.

    Interesting idea about the hide button.

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