Ad Density Can Be Just As Problematic As Bad Ads

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Daniel Meehan, CEO at PadSquad.

On Feb. 15, Chrome began blocking disruptive ad formats in compliance with standards set by the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA).

While attention has largely focused on poor ad formats that agitate consumers, rather than engage them, the initiative also takes aim at mobile pages overloaded with ads, no matter how consumer-friendly they may be.

Therein lies the tightrope for publishers. Ad density – pages being far too packed with brand messaging and creative – is rarely talked about with regard to online and mobile media, yet the overload of ads is just as annoying to consumers as the disruptive formats. As someone who came up in print media, the ads-to-edit ratio was always key. For publications that were low on ads yet still able to find success, it was a source of pride and a selling point.

Not so for online media, especially when mobile burst onto the scene. Publishers scrambled to monetize mobile traffic and the ad inventory placed there. The solution at the time was simply to place more ads on the page, regardless of quality. The cheaper, the better, too. The approach gave rise to more and more pop-ups, adhesion ads, autoplay and other obtrusive formats.

Ad blockers and now the CBA’s Better Ads Standards are the pushback, the course correction for an industry that’s drifted away from the consumer experience, and even further away from the guiding principles that should govern more of advertising.

Marketers, agencies, publishers and even ad tech vendors should take off their professional caps and look at any given web page as a consumer. Do the ads interrupt the experience? Do the ads engage politely, without creating pop-ups, page takeovers or unwanted sound?

Chances are if they don’t like what they see, that goes double for common users who don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.

There are plenty of resources to help reduce the gray area around which ad formats and density levels are acceptable. Google’s Ad Experience report allows companies to enter URLs and receive a score and possible fixes. The Coalition for Better Ads sets the standard for ad density at 30% of the page.

The publisher and brand decisions around density aren’t dictated by specific ad formats. Even compliant ads can run afoul of the 30% standard if five are stacked on a single page. Often, placing more than two compliant ads is too much of a good thing, taking the page above that threshold and into Chrome’s problem area.

Outside the standards but still relevant for the user experience, it’s also worth tracking how fast ads render, including compliant ads below that 30% mark. Google Website Optimizer and Adobe Target’s multivariate testing tool are two of many options available to evaluate how quickly and efficiently a given page and its ads can render for end users with diminishing patience for delays. Even the best intended user experiences can be bogged down by slow rendering times, potentially making the work put into ad compliance all for naught.

With all of these resources available, if some want to keep pursuing poor formats, that’s on them. The nature of the Chrome ad-filtering initiative dooms them to eventual failure as publisher demand for those formats dries up.

The onus, then, is on the publishers in this new environment to use the tools at hand to take the right approach. Quality formats are available and the guidelines are clear around how much advertising is too much. Any publisher that wants to stay in business can respond accordingly.

It may seem like a jarring moment for publishers here, but it’s been made quite clear. Using fewer, better mobile ads is the preferred alternative to using more. Using innovative formats, less will be more, in terms of consumer experience, engagement and, yes, even ad revenues.

Follow PadSquad (@PadSquadMedia) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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