Effective Advertising

A recent discussion with my sister-in-law has prompted me to take another look at online advertising. As much as we hate to face this fact as web designers advertising pays for much of what we do. Most of the web sites you visit will have sponsors or advertisers displaying logos and ads on the pages. However, there are good ways and bad ways to incorporate advertising into web pages. I’d like to take a few moments to share my thoughts on the matter.

Ads that flicker and pop annoy users and they mentally link that annoyance with the advertiser, which is clearly not the intended effect. Each ad should be an attractive portal to a web site and a positive experience for those who see it. That means it shouldn?t block access to seeing content visitors want on the page (e.g. pop-ups, pop-unders, floating ads) nor should it present unwanted information, which means targeting ads to appropriate pages.

Ads should not have to annoy people to get their attention. A bit of subtlety in online ads will be appreciated. Too many people have been caught up in an arms race to create the most annoying, eye catching ad in the world. All this really gets you is noticed as the most irritating advertiser. A 30 second radio spot of scratching fingernails on a chalkboard gets attention, but it doesn?t generally make people want your product. Don?t let your online ads be the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

But take it one step further. Ask what it is the visitors to a site are there for. What is their goal in visiting the web site the ad is on? Are they looking for a good experience on a family vacation? Are they looking for a fun night out with their friends? Are they looking for quick meals for the family? Or is it a kid looking to be amused? If your ad and the site it takes them to can help them meet that goal they are more likely to click on it and to stick around when they reach the web site.

Learn from Google, for they are wise. Their ads are simple, unobtrusive, and matched to every page they placed on. You?ll pretty well never see Google ads that are inappropriate or out of place. This means that visitors to web sites tend to see them less as an annoyance and more as a potential source of useful information. I?m not an expert on your target audiences, but you are, so find out what they want and make sure the ads help them meet their goals, it will leave them feeling almost grateful for having seen the ad if it serves their purpose.

Anyhow, that?s my rant on online advertising. Not too many facts or figures to back it up, but a fair amount of experience and observation of what works on the web and what doesn?t. Applying some common sense and a few usability principles to online advertising can go a long way toward increasing the return on the investment in the ads and generating goodwill among those who see them.

Kevin Hall
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