Cup of Joe: Why Ads Are Devastating to the Users You Love
A few weeks ago Ken Fisher wrote a popular blog post about how ad blocking software can have devastating effects to the websites that you frequently visit. Mr. Fischer describes how ad blocking software is responsible for showing false page view data to ad networks. As a result each ad is priced at a lower rate because the number of impressions are significantly smaller. The number of page views is an extremely important metric for websites that sell advertising based on a CPM price model. So it’s only understandable that Mr. Fischer and other online publishers will hold a grudge against ad blocking software.
While I can understand Mr. Fischer’s frustration I cannot sympathize. To be completely honest I use ad blocking software every day. In fact on at least one occasion add blocking software has been responsible for a pretty embarrassing moment. So you’re probably asking yourself why does someone who feels so strongly about marketing block advertisements? It’s simple really, I hate ads.
What? You hate ads? How can you write for Marketing Pilgrim and hate ads? In my opinion marketing is fundamentally organizing people around information. Interrupting people with abrupt irrelevant commands isn’t how you organize people around information. Instead speaking to them on a unique and authentic level is more effective and genuine.
Putting philosophy aside, in my opinion ads are the worst way to monetize content. Generally speaking an increase in on-page advertisements contributes to a degraded user experience. Which can lead to lower user retention levels and decreased page views. Online advertisements are also ripe with fraud and manipulation. Historically click through rates have been at around 2% for most online advertisements. All of these factors and more contribute to the extremely low return on investment.
Online ads add to a decreasing user experience by taking attention away from the site’s primary content and placing it on the ads. This is not the actions of rogue spammers, this is the fundamental method to making any substantial revenue from ads. An excellent example of this in action, is taking a look at Google’s own recommendations for ad placement in the Adsense program. Here we see Google advises users to place ads on every available white-space on the page. This is a huge contradiction for a company that was so widely praised for starting with such a clean user interface.
Most ad platforms have large potential for fraud and manipulation. This is is an issue that not many professionals in IM discuss publicly because, quite honestly, whether they are participating in the fraud or not they still stand to profit off of ad manipulation. To a great extent Google and some of the other larger ad networks have gone to great lengths to minimize the impact of this type of fraud. However, any potential for fraud creates an uneasy market place where advertisers and publishers are continually left wondering if they are being taken advantage of. Google doesn’t help matters by keeping the exact specifics of their pricing model a secret from both advertisers and publishers. What’s even more devastating about these fraud schemes is that they can manipulate entire ad markets not just the individual ads they are targeting.
We reported back in January that the average click through rate for Google Adwords is around 2%. This means that 2% of the site visitors are clicking through on the ads. Most businesses off the Internet wouldn’t be able to survive with a 2% conversion rate. The only way to make substantial revenue from ads on the Internet is to completely dominate the market and control the flow of information. *cough* Google *cough*.
Wow Joe what do you want me to do? Not make any money? Absolutely not! But I do think that more companies and content producers need to experiment with different business models that aren’t reliant on ad dollars. The mainstream media on the internet is already starting to experiment with pay walls and different premium membership options. While I generally agree with the old saying that information should be free, I do think there is substantial room to monetize parts of the web that are currently a free-for-all. For example there are many opportunities to monetize communities and forums that provide quality content and meaningful dialogue to its users. Another potential opportunity is product development. Content developers and publishers should work to create their own products aside from their content that they can offer to their regular subscribers for premium fee.
So next time you see a drop in your ad revenue don’t blame the users, blame the ads. They got you into this mess and they aren’t going to get you out!