User experience and advertising have been in a complicated relationship since the dawn of internet advertising. Stuffing a website with too many ads can cause publishers to lose their audience while getting rid of ads risks running the revenue well dry. There’s a balance to be struck.
Successful publishers are offering optimized user experiences in tandem with sustainable ad models. Under their models, the balance is moving in the right direction, combining both old and new approaches.
Blocking — and educating — the blockers
Ad blockers are being downloaded by the millions, proliferating within a pool of nearly 600 million active mobile users alone. As the ad-blocking community grows, it’s a clear indicator of the customer’s desire to see the back of ads on websites as often as possible. This expectation forms the core of what has been seen as an optimal user experience for years: A decidedly low tolerance for ads. And yet, advertising plays a core role in sustaining publisher content.
Often publishers and their revenue teams are stuck between a rock and a hard place when balancing the amount and placement of ads next to the desired content. Currently, this precarious balance is heavily tilted in favor of the users — 90% of them claim to be bothered by mobile marketing ads, even if they are targeted. For many publishers, the mission is to solve this pain point.
For publishers, solutions to the challenge of content–ad balance have evolved.
Some old-school methods include A/B testing elements such as ad placements, ad formats and ad frequency. Another popular tactic is using in-view ad-refresh, in which an ad unit is updated when it is entirely in view of the user.
Coming to grips with bid shading — where predictive algorithms are abused to determine the optimal amount to bid for an impression in a first-price auction — is yet another way to strike a content–ads balance.
While the jury is still out on how efficient these methods are overall, the results tend to demand a painful UX compromise.
AI could be a game changer for balancing UX and ad revenue
To complicate things even more, Google has included UX as a parameter of its new Core Web Vitals feature, which determines a site’s position on the search engine results page based on an assessment of its UX.
So, how do publishers balance a visitor’s low ad tolerance, the need to maximize revenue and a good UX? One approach is AI-based real-time insights — as artificial intelligence collects and manages them — into how users browse content and generally engage with ads. Actions and factors up for analysis include viewability rates and CTAs, among other things.
However, it’s not all about the user’s ad tolerance.
To create a fully personalized and ad-friendly UX, it’s necessary to be aware that each user is unique, literally and figuratively. Browsing habits vary as some users skim and some stall. And on top of that, user experiences differ based on the user’s circumstances. This means that a user’s internet connection speed and the platform on which they surf the web play a less visible but no-less-important role in their interaction with the ads a publisher shows them. For example, a phone-based UX is entirely different from what a large screen monitor can offer.
This is no easy task, but a dedicated AI-based solution for fully personalized ad placement that can deliver real-time ads can help by showing highly personalized and flexible layouts that should be easy on the eye and mind. Here, “easy” should not mean “invisible,” however. The ads need to be shown subtly and burned into a user’s mind without hurting the UX or a site’s revenue and SEO to perform their core function.
For example, in a case study involving a major U.S. publisher, AI-based methods resulted in a 38% increase in viewability and an 11% rise in ads, followed by a 55% reduction in invalid traffic rates.
With UX being at the forefront of so many publishers’ minds, they mustn’t sacrifice their ad revenue to produce a better UX.
While that may sound impossible to some, there are both old and new methods to accomplish this, with AI technology recently demonstrating its ability to impact ad performance. Because Google’s Core Web Vitals now take UX into account, publishers must make sure they are focusing on the balance between ad revenue and UX to keep users happy — and find them quickly via search results — while also maintaining ad dollars.
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