Elements of Design and Ad Monetization

As a startup founder I try to put a strong emphasis on details and user experience. So I am a bit disappointed to see the Monster Ad site template take over in the publishing industry.  Let’s take one of my favorite magazines for instance: Inc Magazine is a reference when it comes to business and entrepreneurship. The magazine has been around for more than 30 years. Its articles are both inspiring and entertaining and it is always a pleasure to go to the local Barnes & Nobles and buy the latest print edition (yes, some people still do that). Being a pure Millenial who enjoys the practicality of accessing quick and real time business information online, I aslo gravitate towards Inc.com, the online blogging version of the magazine.

So when I saw the revamped version of the site, I couldn’t help but take notice: Like many other leading online publications geared towards technology and digital media, the Inc team opted for an intrinsically modern redesign: big, bold paragraph headers, an abundantly white background and eye-catching pictures. This was perfect. After all, this style has proven to be a crowd’s favorite and every body has become used to it, in a nice way. “If it it ain’t broken don’t fix it.”

Here’s the sad part: this type of site template sacrificed up to 50% of its viewable page real estate to ads: As soon as you open the homepage you are greeted by a large (and I mean really large) 970×250 billboard. This 970×250 top billboard seems to be a Rising Stars ad unit. Rising Starts ad unit are new standard ad units that were unveiled by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). The idea behind these high impact ads is that they allow advertisers (particularly luxury brands) to tell their story. They also provide a higher user engagement rate as their large canvas can be used for deep, rich interaction (embedded Youtube video, rollover mouse effect, mini-game, etc). My personal stand is that these progressive and innovative ads are great as long the user experience is not sacrificed in the process. For instance they should have a proper (ie, visible) close button and their audio should be user-initiated.

Right below this monster ad (which, I have to admit, my own advertisers would love to buy for obvious reasons), you can enjoy 970×200 pixels worth of corporate identity: there is the nice, simple yet timeless Inc. logo and the magazine’s content menu.

Check it out below:


Let’s do the math: a standard computer has about 600 pixel of vertical viewable real estate (a fancy expression I just made up to refer to a computer screen’s viewing area). Our monster ad eats up 250 vertical pixels and the logo and menu take another 200 vertical pixels. That leaves us with a tiny 250 vertical pixel area for some homepage content.

But wait, there is another leaderboard sitting in that remaining viewing area: a beautiful 950×90 leaderboard.

The remaining conventat viewable area: 160 vertical pixels, clearly not enough to squeeze in anything relevant. So the user has to actually scroll down to see the homepage content.

First of all let me make something clear: I love ads from a business perspective. I head the advertising operations of a fast-paced Manhattan-based marketing company that manages advertising buys from Fortune 500 companies and top clients such as Disney, Macy’s, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz. Our real-time bidding ad ecosystem provides highly targeted and innovative solutions such as FBX (Facebook’s ad exchange) and DoubleClick Bid Manager (Google’s ad exchange). Before this appointment, I served as Gannett’s advertising operations manager in Michigan where I was blessed with the opportunity to lead a team of super heroes and learn from some of the best digital ad executives.

So by all accounts, I should be thrilled to see a publisher take the bold approach of giving so much of its leading property’s viewable real estate away to advertisers. After all, this translates into more advertising units to sell beyond the big 3 (leaderboard, poster and tower units) which can only mean higher potential ad revenues.

But I am not.

There is something particularly pleasing in firing up a Web page and seeing the content you need appearing in front of your eyes in milliseconds without having to scroll down or being distracted by the latest ad offer from your local bank (I won’t get into the ethical debate over retargeting and geo-targeting technologies so no pun intented here). Somehow, the monster ad template manages to deny us this seemingly minor but oh so delightful pleasure. We are a modern society built on instant gratification, consumer experience, competition and practicality. If we, as customers, don’t find what we need somewhere, then we, as customers, just turn to the brand’s competitor with no remorse. Publishers may lose an opportunity to better connect with its core audience and gain more followers with this risky redesign.

All is not lost as there are ways to achieve the best of both words (strong advertising presence and gratifying user experience),

First, the huge 970×250 ad should be a retractable leaderboard that falls back to a more standard 728×90 banner with a 1×24 high impact setting, meaning that the ad should only expand once per user session in 24 hours. This will give the page more usable content area. If a publisher still wants to monetize its leading property’s homepage in a more grandiose fashion, they can follow in the footsteps of Forbes.com which places 3 second interstitials between some of its main content pages (see my article on interstitial advertising).

Second, the bottom 950×90 leaderboard needs to go. I really do not think there should be more than one non-standard ad in a website’s homepage’s viewable area as displaying too many ads tend to alienate the users and create a negative pattern in the Click Through Rates (CTRs).

Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies talked to Bloomberg West’s Emily Chang about why some people stop using websites and apps because of the digital ads. In this TV interview he explained the correlation between a poor ad strategy and a bad user experience. Said Goldberg: ““If the consumer says they don’t like something badly enough to stop using it, people will stop using that kind of advertising” (Bloomberg West).

A lot of publishers forget that the user experience is key. In my opinion, user experience carries a heavier weigh than ad revenue because it drives a site audience which then gives the publisher the opportunity to command higher ad prices. Conversely, if a publisher’s audience starts decreasing because of an annoying user experience, its digital ad revenues will decrease accordingly.

I don’t think the very reputable Inc.com meant to ignore the user experience. There must be a higher wisdom behind the company’s site design strategy. But I do think that ultimately, the user experience should not suffer because of one’s digital strategy– no matter what this strategy is.


INC.com: http://www.inc.com

Introducing the Rising Stars Ad Units (IAB); http://www.iab.net/risingstars

” Could Digital Ads Push Users Away?”Bloomberg West: August 13 (Bloomberg)
SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg discusses with Emily Chang why some people stop using websites and apps because of the digital ads on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg West.”

Ali Diallo

About Ali Diallo

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Ali Diallo is an American entrepreneur focused on building ventures in the U.S. and in emerging markets. He currently manages the startup operations of AdVoice, a global mobile Telecom advertising company. He is a former Manager at Gannett, the largest US media group; a former VP at Quake Marketing, a Manhattan and Las Vegas-based marketing group; and a Partner at United+, an early-stage investment initiative that aims to create a new framework for startups and Venture Capitalists.