UX and user interaction design are really hot professions influencing the creation of modern websites and web apps.
It’s unfortunate they’re not positively contributing to the online ad experience.
Perhaps more precisely, it is seemingly not possible to apply UX and user-friendly design principles to digital ads, without significantly compromising the ad business itself.
The problem, as we all realize now, is that the nonstop bombardment of advertisements has really become downright intrusive, annoying, and disruptive to our simple desires to access information and resources over the web.
Since the beginning of 2017, there’s been plenty of commentary on this subject. Walt Mossberg sums it up very nicely in his report. And there’s been a lot more scrutiny of digital ads following Medium’s January decision to abandon them entirely.
The reality today is that it’s very tough, and extremely competitive to make money as a web-based publisher. This includes the major online news sites, which is why they (and everyone else) have to resort to the same sort of virality, social media-driven engagement tactics pervasive throughout the digital ad industry, due to their success in bringing in revenue.
The ads are published and distributed by programmatic, automated technology platforms. They rely on a cross-synergy between publisher websites and social media networks (especially Facebook), plus often questionably ethical practices. Among them are deceptive bait-and-switch strategies, targeting based on your trackable usage habits, and a tendency to just overwhelm you with spammy, totally irrelevant content.
I routinely run into annoying ad presentations in many different ways. Here are just a few of them.
Overly Bloated Websites
Today’s online news sites are loaded with API hooks, scripts, and asynchronous processes running in the background – all associated with programmatic ad networks and related services. The end result is sluggish page scrolling and site navigation. Slow site behavior also occurs when video content automatically plays every time you open up a page to read an article.
And have you ever started reading something, only to be thrown off by interstitial ad content still being loaded between the paragraphs?
Inaccurate User Targeting
This one irks me plenty. Here’s an example. I’m a Francophile, meaning I speak some French and enjoy the culture of France. So one day, I’m making the daily rounds of news sites from France. Then, I hop on over to the USA TODAY site, open up an article, and a rolling ad plays that’s in French, but originating from Canada!
Many of us often use Google more than our bookmarks to quickly access our favorite sites. But this also fools the advertising algorithms into thinking we’re doing a search with possible buying intent. So one day, I bring up Bluehost through Google as a simple way to get to their site. Bluehost is my web hosting provider.
But what happens after that? I’m bombarded with Bluehost ads on YouTube for almost a week thereafter.
Overly Repetitive Ads
One weekend, I was enjoying music videos on YouTube. But without the paid YouTube Red subscription, I had to sit through at least five video ads in a 20-minute period, all of them the same – for Apple Watch!
On another major news site, I’m watching a video, and then noticing ad banners above, below, and to the right of the video window. But unbelievably, they’re showing the same ad, with animations in unison!
There is acknowledgment from the digital ad industry that current practices are degrading the online user experience and possibly alienating users. But a viable solution remains elusive, other than paid subscriptions. Medium is now going down this road, albeit somewhat controversially. (I immediately became a paid customer when I learned they announced subscriptions.)
Recent trends in paid media have been positive with a dramatic increase in new subscribers.
Perhaps in the end, we’ll just have to accept the reality of paying for the content we desire and cherish, in exchange for at least a decent user experience online.