Evidence against expandable ds?
May 3, 2006 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any documentation/evidence (anecdotal or otherwise) that expandable ads (banner ads that expand beyond the confines of the banner space, usually flash, usually animated) turn users off and/or drive them away?

Expandable ads are annoying and intrusive, but also lucrative, so all my arguments for not allowing them to appear on the site aren't working with the marketing folks.

I'm hoping to find some evidence to collect before they do too much damage to our traffic.
posted by o2b to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
This is beyond anecdotal, maybe into the realm of crazy thinkin', but the fact that there are Firefox extensions like Adblock, Flashblock, etc. leads me to believe that ads like that definitely drive users away - or at the very least cause them to badmouth the site to their friends.

The more savvy internetters will install these programs and never see the ads, but what I don't know is if the less-savvy or IE-based folks stop looking at websites that are nothing but flash banner ads.

For myself, Adblock and Flashblock are non-negotiable - I have to have them, because I hate those types of ads. They detract from the site experience, to use marketing-speak. A busy screen is an irritating screen.
posted by pdb at 9:44 AM on May 3, 2006

Those ads drive me freaking crazy, especially when there isn't an obvious way to close them/get them to roll back to wherever they normally are on the page.

Like pdb, I have Adblock, NoScript, Flashblock, etc. installed in Firefox on my home computer, but unfortunately here at work we are stuck with IE.
posted by sbrollins at 9:51 AM on May 3, 2006

I hate them. Is that sufficient anecdotal evidence for you?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:03 AM on May 3, 2006

What Faint of Butt said.
posted by box at 10:09 AM on May 3, 2006

I (among many other things) help make them, and because I work with what most people would agree are "cool" brands, along with some pretty creative people, the traffic they drive is generally very good.

(sheepishly) Sorry -

We're also very careful to make them open only with user interaction and make the "close" function very prominent - if you end up losing the war you can at least win a battle by insisting on strict standards of user interaction.
posted by jalexei at 10:36 AM on May 3, 2006

open only with user interaction

I hope that accidentally rolling the cursor over something for a fraction of a second isn't meant to count as "user interaction." Because it doesn't.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2006

they make me crazy too. i've actually stopped reading what i was reading to hunt around for a "feedback" form so i could rant at whoever runs the site to get rid of them.
posted by clarahamster at 11:45 AM on May 3, 2006

Expandable ads are annoying and intrusive, but also lucrative
There is a reason they are lucrative - supply and demand - most sites simply won't run them. Now it could be that all those other sites just don't like making money, or it could be that they have already done the research and figured that 'x' amount of dollars isnt worth losing 'y' amount of taffic growth.
posted by Lanark at 12:08 PM on May 3, 2006

hope that accidentally rolling the cursor over something for a fraction of a second isn't meant to count as "user interaction." Because it doesn't.

On click - many large sites we work with require it, and as a web user I wouldn't want it otherwise...
posted by jalexei at 12:20 PM on May 3, 2006

I don' t have flash installed, so I never see them. Don't have to mess with AdBlock or whatever either.

I did read of a user study where people actually covered animations up with their hands so they could focus on the rest of the site.

I guess effectiveness of this animation technique depends on a) the product/service having a user base that is OK with that kind of distracting ad, and
b) the sites you're advertising through not having policies against animated ads.

Non-animated ads might be a better long-term investment, since good sites may implement policies against allowing them. Just a thought.

And then there's the idea of "what kind of world are you helping to build?" There are probably lots of people out there who want to do better than cheesy, invasive ads, but your company's putting up some will make everyone else feel just that much more obligated to do the same.
posted by amtho at 1:08 PM on May 3, 2006

Well if I get one of those obnoxious 'pop over' ads and I don't see a close box, I'll leave the page and never come back. If there is a close box, then I'll click the close box.

OTOH, I never ever click banner ads so I'm not the kind of traffic your people want anyway.
posted by delmoi at 2:34 PM on May 3, 2006

Don't forget that not all users are experiencing your site the same way you are (e.g. 800x600 vs. 1600x1200, 733mHz vs. 3 gHz). What might seem like "a cute little diversion" on the high-end machine might become "a browser-crashing, navigation-obscuring disaster" on even slightly older systems.
posted by idontlikewords at 3:35 PM on May 3, 2006

You know what it's like to have a mosquito in your ear while you are trying to sleep? That's what those ads are like for me.
posted by shifafa at 5:33 PM on May 3, 2006

I once refused to go to a movie on the basis that its ad on The Onion's website had driven me crazy. I can still remember it, 2 years later.
posted by salvia at 6:29 PM on May 3, 2006

When I see those, I just close the page entirely. I never click the little close option, because I'm paranoid and get worried that it will actually do something else or go somewhere else. I will go back to the page if it's something I find particularly interesting, but if I can't get around the ad somehow I abandon the whole thing.

This is mostly at work (where I shouldn't spend so much time on the Internet anyway). At home Firefox and Adblock usually prevent these problems.
posted by dilettante at 7:46 PM on May 3, 2006

I run a bunch of sites, many with advertising. Some even with pop-under ads and other things that would make your average mefi user scream.

I can offer some anecdotal evidence: first of all, which ads I run has no effect on traffic. This might be different for other sites, but if you're hoping for a graph showing pageviews go down as expandable ads go up, I can't help you.

Second of all, I pay very close attention to my users when deciding which ads to run or to continue, and I can tell you this: I get about 10x the complaints from an expandable ad as from pop-under ads. For that reason, I don't run expandable banners at all.

(The only ads that get more complaints than expandable banners are flashing seizure-inducing or "punch the monkey" type ads. Pop-unders run a distant third.)
posted by mmoncur at 8:59 PM on May 3, 2006

I worked for several years in an online financial advice company. Our website became progressively bogged down with advertising. Unfortunately (to my thinking) the advertising continued to get increasingly intrusive. The case was simple economics: advertisers paid big bucks for prominent adverts. Things flying across the screen, making noises, obscuring major site devices such as navigation etc. The increasing move to broadband also allowed the advertisers and their agencies to "justify" these ads by saying that they took very little time to load. The ubiquity of Flash also meant that "rich content" became increasingly sought-after.

If you really want to remove the ads from the site you'll have to tackle the revenue issue. I'm guessing that the site's main aim is to generate cash? If it isn't (although running ads suggests that it is) then perhaps you'll have an argument that not pissing-off regular users is of more benefit than raising cash through advertising. I'd also suggest that you'll have a major battle with your advertising/marketing department (or team, or guy) since they will most likely have aggressive targets to meet every quarter, or they won't get their bonus. Unfortunately (again, to my mind) these guys seem generally to feel that the best way to raise more revenue is to simply plaster the site in increasingly obtrusive ads.

Perhaps you may care to raise the value of context-related text links, content partners and syndication, RSS feeds, Search Engine Optimisation, and other ways to draw people (and hence revenue, I assume) to the site. SEO is an interesting one since it actually tends to go against typical poor HTML and intrusive advertising practice, while helping to draw people to the site.

I sat in several useability tests that my previous employer had to run across our very large website. Investigate accessibility and usability. Accessibility is very interesting, since larger websites have actually been prosecuted and fined for failing to make their site available to those with disabilities such as partial sight or blindness, colour-blindness, and attention disorders. Of course, someone with an attention disorder will find a site with obtrusive advertising utterly impossible to use.

The usability studies that I witnessed were fascinating. There are plenty of agencies who will test your site. Make sure you get someone reputable, and see if you can be part of the decision-making team. I saw a web-savvy woman of 25 click so fast to close any pop-up that she failed to successfully complete a credit card application on my previous employer's site - the final application window popped up and she killed it, thinking it was an ad. And that means lost revenue.

Get the stats you need. I don't know what business you're in, but you need figures. What age groups are you targetting? Why do they fail to complete certain site sections? Where do people leave the site? Can you test less intrusive ads on sections of the site, and get good stats to compare with the behaviour of the sections with more intrusive ads?

Talk to the CEO or whoever makes these decisions. Ask them what value they put in the customers. Do they know the demographics of site visitors, and how they behave, and where the revenue is generated? If not, try to get the figures for them - you may then be involved in the decisions later on. If they do know, then quiz them on how it compares with advertising revenue. Work on a compromise: you'll (probably) never get rid of the entire advertsing team, so work out where they can optimise their revenue while minimising the impact to customers.

You'll still have a long battle, and you'll never get rid of the ads 100%, but it's a fight worth fighting. Remember you're talking to people who have cash as their top priority. User convenience will only ever be addressed if it can be proved to maintain or improve revenue.

Good luck (and apologies for being unable to find any links for you, a few judicious web searches will sort you out).
posted by ajp at 4:16 PM on May 4, 2006

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