In it’s recent coverage of Microsoft’s write-down of aQuantive, Reuters noted “a growing scepticism about the effectiveness of jamming ads in people’s faces.”
How could there ever have been optimism about such an approach? Sadly, a quick surf of the web turns up plenty of ads with a strategy that seems to say: “If I get in the way enough, I may just engender a click.”
In-app mobile ads are some of the worst offenders, appearing at the exact moment and in the exact place where your thumb lands to scroll.
But as the dismal ROI metrics of “in the way” ads demonstrate, its not a model that’s built to last.
One of the most consistent findings in online usability is that users won’t click a link – much less an ad – if they don’t have a clear idea of where it will take them. The fact that consumers generally don’t trust online ads – Nielsen found only 1/3 said they trusted banner ads – only reinforces the need for clarity on what to expect.
Here are a few ideas to help overcome this seemingly unsolvable problem.
Add a line of text that described what the user would see if they clicked on the ad. For us at Intent Media, this seemingly minor tweak resulted in a 30% improvement in click through rate.
This wasn’t the “marketing copy” we changed. We didn’t revise the value prop of what was being advertised or improve a tag line. It was a utilitarian bit of copy to explain what a click would produce.
Why did this work? Because we increased user confidence in outcomes. As Phil Terry, CEO of Creative Good, told me, “a big part of the online user experience is about being clear on outcomes. People are goal-oriented online, even if their goal is to browse, and they want to follow the clearest path.”
We’ve repeatedly seen results like the one just described (how do you think we ended up with copy explaining what would happen if an ad was clicked on to begin with?). So in addition to the usual testing of ad copy and images’ ability to drive clicks, we spend a significant amount of time testing against user experience as well.
Working out from the ad unit, advertisers (and publishers) similarly benefit from thinking about an ad’s fit into the broader site environment. This gets harder to do for ads flowing into exchange environments, but where possible, ads that better conform to their surroundings deliver better performance.
We’re not talking contextual targeting here, but rather how well the ad works with the user’s expressed intent on a given page. True intent targeting (directly matching a user’s intent in real time) works best from a user experience standpoint because the ad will have the highest alignment with a visitor’s objective.
Most marketers already have the capabilities to invest in user experience. The same testing regimes used to optimise images, offers, and copy can be similarly deployed against improving user experience. The biggest shift is one of perspective. Instead of thinking solely from the advertiser’s point of view, marketers need to think about delivering consumer value.
Combining relevance and usability is a winning combination for advertiser and consumers alike. While not a panacea for turning around the lack of trust reported by Nielsen, I’d expect many others will see the kind of results we’ve found with the introduction of a more user-centric approach to crafting and serving ads. It certainly beats jamming them in people’s faces.
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