We recently helped the Bureau of Meteorology research two different home page concepts [read our related article, “A new design taking users by storm: Bureau of Meteorology case study”]. As part of this assessment, they asked us to investigate if the presence of advertisements on the site prevented visitors from accessing weather information.
The Bureau’s commercial advertising trial was proposed as a revenue stream in the Munro Review1 of the Bureau’s capacity to respond to future extreme weather and natural disaster events. It was extremely important to them to achieve the correct balance of earning revenue through the advertisements while ensuring the Bureau’s brand and the reputation of the Australian Government remained paramount. As public service can never be compromised, the information architecture of the homepage needed to minimise the impact of advertisements on the site, and at the same time ensure the user experience was not negatively influenced.
U1 helped the Bureau find this balance through dedicated research and strategic planning. Some of the learning we have taken away from the experience we share with you below.
As the first Australian Government website to introduce advertising, the Bureau is a pioneer, a very good pioneer with a great advertising strategy in place. Our research demonstrated that while all participants noticed that advertising was present on both wireframes, this did not impact on their ability to complete the tasks. The Bureau got it right – they struck the right balance between providing information the public needed while incorporating advertisements to generate revenue.
Here are some tips to help you strategically incorporate ads into your website
1. Use ads that align with your core business values.
Only implement appropriate ads that relate to your core business principles or values. As an example, if your organisation doesn’t believe in promoting tobacco, drugs, and illegal download sites, then don’t run ads with that content.
In the research we conducted for the Bureau, some participants in our study felt that advertising would be okay on the site as long as it did not get in the way of searching for information or was not too distracting.
"I don’t think it [the advertising] will affect it. The only time I would be concerned is if I sent my students to it and there were certain ads – like for junk food or a TV show they shouldn’t watch – then I wouldn’t tell them to go look at the site."
At the time this article was written, we noticed GoodFood.com.au did a fantastic job choosing ads that aligned with their company’s business principles – promoting food.
2. Don’t block key content.
Don’t forget why users are visiting your site. How are users going to find your awesome content if all they see are ads?
Participants in our study understood why the Bureau chose to implement ads, and mentioned that even though they may not like the fact that ads are on the site, they said they have been desensitised to advertisements in general – developing “banner blindness,” moving straight to the content they need.
"I'm thinking that they [the ads] probably shouldn't be there, as in it’s a government organisation and they shouldn’t be needing advertising to keep the website running, but you get used to seeing ads on all types of things on all types of websites, the fact that it’s a commercial ad - I don’t think it should be there."
We already mentioned that our research indicated that advertising on the Bureau’s site did not affect task completion, however on the flip side, we couldn’t help but notice how Home Life's Country Style has given prime real estate to its advertisers [and in this case, it’s Kitchen Aid].
3. Exercise control.
Ad space falls into two categories – you can either control it or just host it. If you have control in choosing whether your ads are animated, avoid using moving or flashing ads at all costs – enough said.
While it’s clearly evident that there’s a Suzuki sale on at the moment at Carsguide.com.au, the moving and flashing banner ads on this site distract visitors from accomplishing their mission in short order. Visitors to this site will most likely be able to accomplish their task, however they may need to focus slightly harder to block out all the ads.
4. Blend the ads into the design of your site.
If possible, have the ads that complement the colours used on your website.
Bodyandsoul.com.au does a nice job “blending” ads into their site, such that they recede into the background, letting the content shine through. You can assist controlling this by providing some kind of style guide to your advertisers to adhere to when they submit ads to promote on your site.
Advertising on websites is here to stay, however there are effective ways to manage the content and placement of advertisements that will lessen their impact on your site’s UX.
1To view the full report, please visit: http://www.environment.gov.au/about/bom/pubs/bom-review.pdf