Don’t Let Your Ads Alienate Your Audience
Trust, Betrayal, and Web Ads
Web ads keep the series of tubes that is the Internet flowing correctly and efficiently. Cash flow from Web ads is important to our sites, which means for many of us, it’s easy to be prone to bouts of greed in hosting the ads with better returns that are not necessarily matched well to our content.
To webmasters, blog owners, content creators, and marketing specialists, the increase in ad dollars that comes with a growing site is appealing. Issues can arise, however, when we don’t keep our audiences in mind when we make advertising decisions; we risk complete alienation. When was the last time a Web ad really annoyed you? How did it make you feel? Now, think about that experience again, and remember that you’re more resilient to online marketing content than the typical consumer—how would your average reader have felt in that situation?
Your users trust you to provide your content in a secure environment. If you run a good site, your customer probably already assumes that they’re safe from malicious pop-up ads and anything that exclaims “YOU WON!” at them like some sort of cyber-demon-carnival-barker. They visit your site regularly, buy your products or services, leave comments on your posts or products, and sometimes they click your ads. The thing is that clicking an ad is totally up to them. They trust you to leave that decision in their hands, just like they trust you to deliver great content that gives them something to chat about on Facebook. That trust is easily betrayed by greed and laziness.
On the Internet, trust is a fragile thing. Once a user feels betrayed by your site, it’s very easy for that customer to turn to your competitor. This is especially true if they’re already paying you, like a subscription. Let’s look at an example. Two years ago, I was happily subscribed to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. It was a good deal, but paying for a year of it wasn’t cheap. Imagine my surprise when an invasive NFL ad, a pop-up video, started playing audio and took over my entire screen when I moused over the edge of the screen. Every time! I felt betrayed because not only is the NFL not relevant to Marvel comics, but also because the ad was implemented in a sneaky way that was utterly invasive. I bet the payout from the NFL was huge, but I also bet it cost Marvel.com more than a few users. I did not renew my subscription, and that ad experience still haunts me. They lost me. Don’t lose your customers just because an ad is lucrative.
Web advertisements shouldn’t be intrusive or unethical, but they can very well be an essential part of your revenue stream. So the question becomes one of “how” and not one of “if.” I think successful, creative ad integration is the key to a positive experience for your users and your bank account. Let’s look at two good examples. The social news site known as Reddit fully expects its users to be web savvy, so it rewards readers for not using Adblock Plus or otherwise avoiding its ads. In essence, Reddit rewards the most loyal of its users with extra content—usually just a cute or funny picture—and the only ads the user is faced with are non-invasive and relevant to what they’re browsing. The second example comes from an old online acquaintance of mine who runs a geek culture website. When someone clicks through his Amazon ads and buys something from that screen, he personally thanks them on Twitter. A little appreciation goes a long way.
You might not be able to personally thank everyone who clicks your ad, and you might not even be able to offer up bonus content for loyal users. The point is, though, that Web ads need to make sense for your particular site. Marketing is a consensual exchange of goods, money, and ideas—it should never come off like a scenario that involves a victim, a mugger, and an alley. It’s easy to switch off the ethics filter and rake in tons of ad revenue, but that undermines your credibility and alienates your visitors. Using Web ads the right way might be harder, but it ensures that you’ll keep your visitors and be able to sleep at night.
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