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Published June 2017

Good ad experiences help the web thrive by funding the sites and services loved by millions. Unfortunately, people often encounter bad and disruptive ads on the web — ads that blare music unexpectedly, or force the user to wait 10 seconds before moving onto the next page. Understandably, these types of frustrating experiences can lead someone to block all ads indiscriminately, and once they do, every publisher on the web pays the price.

69% of people surveyed said that they were motivated to install ad blockers by annoying or intrusive ads.

Google survey ran globally, July 2016, Ad block users, n=1800

To get to the bottom of what makes an ad annoying, The Coalition for Better Ads, an industry organization dedicated to improving online advertising, conducted extensive research on consumers’ preferences for online ads. Thanks to the Coalition's analysis, we now know, out of hundreds of ad experiences, which ads people prefer the least. The good news is people don’t hate all ads, just annoying ones — so changing your ads from a more annoying experience to a more acceptable experience can make a huge difference.

For example, 85% of mobile users said they found anchor ads (that stick to the bottom of your screen as you scroll) only just a little annoying or not annoying at all1.


What kinds of ads annoy people the most?

  1. Ads that Interrupt — Imagine clicking a breaking news article and an ad forces you to wait ten seconds before you can read it. Ads that disrupt the flow of information – particularly on mobile devices — are generally ranked as the most annoying by consumers. Research finds that 74% of mobile users find ads that interrupt access to content (like pop ups) either extremely or very annoying2.
  2. Ads that Distract — It only takes a few seconds for people to decide whether your site is worth their time. Flashing animations and ads that play sound automatically distract people during those critical first few seconds and could lead them to abandon your site. These experiences are extremely disruptive in both desktop and mobile web environments.
  3. Ads that Clutter — When a page is bogged down with ads it takes longer to load, and this makes it harder for people to find what they're looking for. High-density ad displays on mobile devices create slower experiences than sites with less-dense ads and similar creative assets.

50% of users surveyed said they would not revisit or recommend a page that had a pop up ad.

A closer look at bad ads on mobile

Mobile browsing is all about speed and convenience, so any experience that gets in the way or makes it harder to focus on the content in a small mobile window will likely irritate and annoy mobile users. Based on the Coalition's extensive research, we now have information on what kinds of ad experiences are more or less annoying for consumers. 

mobile graph

Instead of pop-up ads consider using a simple full-screen inline ad. They offer the same amount of screen real estate without covering up content.

Remember that making a person wait to access content — like with a prestitial ad with a countdown — creates a much more negative and annoying experience. Consider using a dismissible postitial ad instead, which allows users initial access to your content before seeing the ad.

Both of these alternatives are preferable, but should still be used sparingly and not on every page. The best experiences for consumers are ads that seamlessly exist with content, like small ads that stick to the top or bottom of the screen. A good example is the full-screen in-line ad (as seen below), which offers a large canvas without covering up content.

mobile inline ads

A closer look at bad ads on desktop

On desktops, users like to maintain control over their experience, so obstacles to letting them control the flow of information at their own pace are unacceptable.

desktop graph

If you want to offer advertisers a large canvas, “Takeover” ads that border the main content of the entire screen offer a great alternative to pop-ups or prestitials with countdowns.  You could also consider an easily dismissible prestitial without a countdown. These ads don’t hijack control from the audience, making them less disruptive.

Placement and layout also make a huge difference on desktop, where the greater screen real estate changes how people interact with content. Large sticky ads on the bottom are ranked the least preferred by consumers, so try a sticky ad on a side rail instead. Good alternatives include takeover ads (as seen below), which seamlessly integrate with content without getting in the way. 

desktop takeover ad

Building better ad experiences starts with understanding what users care about on your site, no matter how they access it. Don’t try to wrestle away the attention of your audience by obstructing their content — give them respectful ads that enhance their experience.

Three golden rules for building better experiences:

  1. Be Immediate: People are more likely to engage when ads load fast and don't slow down content. By applying the AMP framework to advertising, AMP Ads offer a more efficient way to build, serve and measure responsive ads. With ads that loaded 6x faster, Time Inc saw 13% greater viewability and an increase in eCPMs and CTRs.
  2. Be Immersive: Ad experiences that seamlessly blend with a user's content experience are less likely to annoy them. Native advertising offers the opportunity to deliver ads that fit the form and function of your site's content. Responsive Native ads can even scale across devices and screens. The New York Times saw 6x increase in CTR and 4x viewable impressions with native ads vs. comparable standard banner ads. 
  3. Be Relevant: Programmatic technology allows advertisers and publishers to deliver more relevant ads based on consumers’ interests, helping them stay more engaged on your site.

1Coalition for Better Ads: An Experimental Methodology to Rank N Ad Experiences by Consumers’ Perceptions, 2017
2Coalition for Better Ads: Determining a Better Ads Standard Based on User Experience

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Further reading:

How publishers can engage with people who use ad blockers

    Bad ad experiences are bad for everyone

    Consumers today expect their digital experiences to be fast and seamless. If they’re not, the outcome can be costly. One bad ad experience can motivate someone to install an ad blocker, and once they do, every publisher on the web pays the price. In 2015 alone, ad blocking cost publishers $21.8 billion1.

    As of December 2016 more than 600 million devices — 11% of the world’s entire internet-connected population2 — were running ad blocking software globally. Although people say they use ad blockers for many different reasons, the most common cause cited is that there are simply too many annoying ads.

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