The internet has been an amazing asset to advertisers. Getting value out of your ad dollars has never been easier. Advertising has also singlehandedly funded most of the services we love. That being said, as a user ads can be one of the more annoying things we come across online. From our time at Grooveshark (former music streaming service with almost 2 billion impressions a month) we learned a lot about how to make advertising as effective as possible while reducing the negative effects on users.
By far the most effective and valuable advertising we did was through direct sold campaigns where the content of Grooveshark was the focus. Samsung ran a campaign for Valentine’s Day where users could send each other songs accompanied by a love note. Bacardi routinely sponsored live DJ sets through Grooveshark’s Broadcast feature. Glade had us create a custom branded music-playing widget. In all of these cases users were experiencing the core features of the site, but interacting with the advertising brand at the same time. The user is happy, the advertiser is happy, and the publisher is happy, but what can you do as a publisher when you don’t directly control the content of the ads on your site?
Our first solution was a “Report Ad” link that rotated the ad when clicked and then prompted the user for why they were reporting it. We got a modest amount of reports and were able to identify and remove a few annoying ads, but continued getting quite a few complaints. After a while someone had the genius idea of simply changing the text of the link. Instead of “Report Ad” we changed it to “Skip Ad”. We saw a sudden drop in complaints of advertisements and a sudden increase of people skipping ads. Changing the text made people feel like they now had power over their experience with ads on the site and rather than doing a good deed by reporting an ad, they were simply helping themselves by skipping it. We were not collecting quite as many responses about why an ad was skipped as the feedback step was not required, but this was a fair tradeoff as users were much happier.
In the end, it’s always best to have users interacting with your ads in a way that is relevant to the content on your site, but when that’s not possible you can at least give users the satisfaction of being in control over the ads they see.