How Is Your Business?

By Thomas R. Temin

How do you balance the experience of web site visitors with the need to drive revenue?

Judging from visits to a number of B2B sites lately, it seems as if in at least half the cases, revenue is winning out over a clean user experience.

Like, “window shade” ads that drop right down over the story you are trying to access. Or worse, that come up before the home page itself. Sometimes these ads are accompanied by a coy link: “Skip this introductory screen.” Introductory screen? Talk about a euphemism.

Equally maddening are the survey boxes that pop up while you are reading. Especially egregious are those that stay in the middle of the screen even while you try to scroll past them. Sometimes they are advertising-driven, sometimes put there by a bozo in the digital media department is trying to gauge reader interest, nevermind that a good program to mine the log files can give you reams of information about reader habits.

How about animated ads that sometimes seem designed to invoke seizures? One site had a basketball team ad, with a spinning basketball that was so annoying, the publication must have gotten reader complaints, because the ad suddenly started appearing with the animation turned off.

Watched any videos online lately? What was a 15-second standard for ads has crept to 30 seconds in some cases. That will prompt a lot of visitors to say, “Fhuggetaboutit.”

I get steamed by mouse-over, or roll-over, ads that serve up even when you haven’t clicked on them. Sure, there’s a tiny little message on the link area, but that is easily overlooked. And, some sites today are so slow to load, that fidgety visitors who are mousing around, trying to read something before the 110 elements that comprise the page finally loaded, inadvertently mouse-over an ad.

Given the dire straits in which the publishing industry finds itself, it’s no wonder that advertisers have the upper hand. They are clever at devising ways to get their ads served up, and few publishers are in a position to turn down revenue.

So the best that editors can do is make sure, once readers clear the clutter of ads, that sites are as cleanly presented and fast-loading as possible. (Problems created by editors and site designers themselves will be the topic for another day.)

Perhaps there is even a deeper strategy: use of editorial thinking to suggest classier ways advertisers can get their messages across without gumming up the site. Sponsored video sections with good production values, white papers presented in a straightforward fashion and other paid-for content – as long as it is clearly labeled so as not to fool readers – might appeal to advertisers and get them to skip the gimmicks. Everyone would be better off.

Thomas R. Temin is a consultant with 30 years of publishing experience in media and information technology products and services. He is also co-host of “The Federal Drive” with Tom Temin and Jane Norris, a weekday morning news and talk program on Federal News Radio AM 1500 in Washington D.C. You can see his weekly column on the op-ed page at www.federalnewsradio.com/ and contact him at tom.temin@gmail.com.

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