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5 Features of Annoying Display Ads (and How to Make Them Better)

annoying display adsEach week we hear a friend joke about banner blindness and pop-up takedowns. They simply click those ads away without regard to the information. Our marketing hearts sink, leading us to wonder how we could have made the content more pleasing — even engaging — rather than yet another annoyance. Thankfully, there are lots of options.

In 2017, the Nielsen Norman Group shared the results of a survey regarding digital advertising techniques completed by adults not involved in IT or marketing-related industries. Variants of 23 display ads were shown on desktop and mobile, then rated. Let's dig into the top five least-liked display ad types, and ways to make them more palatable.

Overcoming the Most Common Display Ad Challenges

To avoid any brand bias, researchers used nondescriptive wireframes rather than screenshots of actual advertisements. This helped viewers focus simply on the ad type, not the messaging or visual design. Overall, ads were more tolerated on desktop than mobile, by a small margin. Here are the ads we need to improve upon, ASAP.

1. Modal Ads

These are pop-up ads that are present when you first visit a website. They overlay the main page and must be closed before you can view the website's content. These ranked number one as most hated by both desktop and mobile device survey-takers.

These ads were disliked because they mimicked the main content and were confusing. To keep brand loyalty a top priority, it's best to do away with this type of ad outreach. If it must be used, clearly label the No Thanks or X button so users can easily bypass the ad with as little frustration as possible.

The least annoying modal ads load quickly, don't require interaction (such as answering a question), only occupy a small portion of the screen and are able to be moved around prior to being closed.

2. Autoplay Video (Skippable)

Desktop viewers ranked video ads that start playing the moment you land on the page as the second most annoying, even when there's a delayed option to skip the ad. Mobile viewers ranked this ad type as the third most annoying.

Again, viewers were confused and sometimes mistook the ad for the content they planned to watch. Instead, marketers should consider A/B testing pre-roll video ads that play only when the viewer selects the Play button. This type of ad was better tolerated since the viewer is in control of when the video starts playing.

3. Rich Media Slider (With Content Reorganization)

Mobile users placed this ad type second, while desktop users put it in third place. Intracontent (with content reorganization) advertisements are like lost puppies. As the website content loads, the ad edges out the content to get your full attention. Sometimes the content drops below the ad, fades out or is covered up.

Much like modal ads, these were confusing and made it difficult to access the desired content. Simply put, these should be avoided to improve the UX of the site, or at least make the option to close the ad obvious and simple.

4. Deceptive Links

Ad links that could easily be confused for the main content ranked fourth by desktop users. Deceptive links are often placed near legitimate links that encourage a viewer to take action, making them tough to differentiate.

If you're placing an advertisement near a Download, Submit Now or Sign Up link or button, make it visually different than the call-to-action requested by the website owner. And, always clearly label the link as an advertisement so no one feels deceived.

5. Pre-Roll Video (Non - Skippable)

Finally, (and the third least liked ad on mobile devices) are pre-roll video ads that don't allow the viewer to skip ahead to the main content. The ad was sometimes mistaken for the main content, and viewers felt confused.

The simple implementation here is to offer a bypass button when the ad starts playing. Often mobile users are short on time and don't have the patience to wait for an ad to play.

Making Better Choices to Improve User Experience

With the Nielsen Norman Group study in mind, let's quickly highlight which ad types were welcomed by viewers. Overall, ads without animation, blinking, autoplay, deception and slow loading times ranked best. As you plan your next campaign, put these ad types at the top of your list:

  • Right Rail Display Ads: These ads sit in the right margin and don't block content. Viewers can look at them at their leisure.
  • Related Links: When positioned in the right rail or at the end of content, these ads were happily accepted by survey participants.
  • Banner Ads: When placed above or below the main content, with an option to be closed, these ads also received favorable ratings.
  • Retargeting Ads: When placed in nonobstructive areas, retargeting was welcomed by some viewers and perceived as helpful while shopping.

When it comes to display advertising, it's best to create several options and beta test them across multiple platforms to see which ad types resonate with your audience before you fully launch. Reach out to a marketing professional if you need help creating and implementing the best display ads for your audience.

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