Advertising is the internet’s currency. It is through ads that users can access valuable content, for free. However, with time, users are now starting to show their dissatisfaction about disruptive and intrusive ads. According to research, nearly 91% users find ads more intrusive today than 2-3 years ago. 79% users feel they are being tracked by retargeting ads. In addition, about 15% users also say that some ads tricked them into clicking.
To counter this, reputed international trade associations and online media companies together formed the coalition for Better Ads, and introduced Better Ads Standards. The concept is centred around understanding consumer preferences and addressing their expectations in the world of digital advertising.
What are Better Ads Standards?
Better Ads Standards is a framework created and introduced by the coalition for Better Ads. The framework aims at refining users’ experience with both desktop and mobile based ads.
How does it work? The coalition determines the lowest-ranking ad experiences which prompt the adoption of ad blockers amongst internet users. For this, their research identifies the least preferred ad types which disrupt experience, interrupt content, and slow down browsing.
Next, by testing all desktop and mobile based ad types, the standards define which ad types are acceptable for consumers, and which are not. Once defined, the lowest-ranking ad types are recommended for removal by publishers and webmasters.
Introduced in March 2017, Better Ads Standards are primarily effective in North America and Europe. And since publication, the standards have been adopted and incorporated by many publishers in their ad practices.
The Need for Better Ads
The coalition’s conceptualization of Better Ads Standards has been based on research and surveys that they conducted to gather real consumer insights and understand user preferences about online ads.
In the first phase, they surveyed over 25,000 North American and European internet users. Here, the users were asked about their problems and preferences on different types of online ads. This phase studied about 55 desktop-based and 49 mobile-based ad experiences.
In phase two, a similar research was conducted to learn the problems and preferences of consumers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Consequently, both the studies found similar consumer preferences on the most- and least-preferred ad types and experiences, hence creating the need for a framework like the Better Ads Standards.
Also, Better Ads Standards has always prioritized consumer preferences. Therefore, to reach a conclusion, a user-centric methodology was deployed. The researchers combined all the responses, and created a ‘ranking system’ to rank ad experiences from best to worst.
Desktop-based ads that were found to be the most disruptive:
- Pop up ads
- Auto playing videos with sound
- Prestitial ads with a countdown
- Large sticky ads
Mobile-based ads that were found to be the most disruptive:
- Pop-up ads
- Prestitial ads
- Mobile pages with more than 30% ad density
- Flashing animations
- Poststitial ads that require a countdown to dismiss
- Fullscreen scroll-over ads
- Large sticky ads
- Auto playing videos with sound
Based on the ranking, these ad types are the first on the list to be improved or removed. Of all types, pop-up ads and autoplay video ads with sound were the most despised. Some ad types were classified as ‘not all bad’ if they were used in the right manner, e.g., sticky ads.
Who are the Better Ads Standards Meant for?
Better Ads Standards are aimed at publishers, advertisers, and ad tech platforms. The coalition encourages them to assess their existing ad practices and improve their users’ ad experience by complying with the standards How?
For publishers: The standards guide them on how to follow best ad practices and deliver better user experience to their audience. The coalition also runs a Better Ads Experience Program, inviting publishers to participate and get certification from Better Ads Standards for following the best practices.
For advertisers: Better Ads Standards empower them to develop and execute informed ad campaigns. Since the standards target publishers in the first place, advertisers get a clearer idea on: Which publisher is compliant, who follows good practices, and whom to work with.
For ad tech platforms: Ad networks and ad exchanges are responsible for helping publishers run ads on their websites. And Better Sds Standards help these platforms develop new and improved ad offerings for publishers, and hence users.
From its publication in 2017, the Better Ads Standards have been effective in North America and Europe as stated above. In January 2019, the coalition for Better Ads announced it plans to expand Better Ads Standards worldwide.
The coalition said that it will review the desktop- and mobile-based ad practices of publishers outside of North America and Europe. The conduct will likely take place by May 9, 2019.
Why Better Ads Standards
One never-ending fight publishers face is winning against ad blockers. As per TheNextWeb, publishers lost about $22 billion of revenue to ad blocking software in 2015. By 2017, the number of ad blocker users rose to 615 million users, compared to 198 million in 2015. Further, 83% users said they‘d like to have an ad blocking option on mobile devices.
Clearly, ad blockers have had a severe effect on publishers who are solely dependent on ad revenue for income. Also, increasing ad blocker adoption is a sign that something is seriously wrong with ads in their current state.
It is also well known that Google takes user experience seriously. The experts at Google agree that bad ad types can hurt a publisher’s ad revenue. Just like the coalition, Google prefers non-intrusive and well-thought out ad placements from publishers.
So on the good side, publishers are now able to know which ad types are the least preferred by users, thanks to the Better Ads Standards research. Eventually, the standards might prove useful for publishers in their fight against ad blockers.
How Does it Work for Publishers
The coalition has been encouraging publishers, advertisers, and ad tech companies to review their ads. With the Better Ads Experience program, participating publishers get 30 days to make improvements to all sections of their website.
On the other hand, the non-participating publishers remain unaffected by the coalition. However in that case, websites of such publishers may come under Google’s scrutiny for ensuring compliance. Google’s industry leading web browser, Chrome, has been assessing and acting upon ads that do not follow the standards for more than 30 days since the first warning message received.
But to help publishers remain compliant, Google also gives them a tool to determine which areas of their website could need rework. The Ad Experience report found in Google search console is a simple way to do so. The tool reviews a few sample pages of the website to help publishers identify bad ad practices and discover the scope of improvement.
Once done testing, publishers can submit their site for review and get notified via reports. In fact, according to Google, most sites with no pop-up ads or autoplaying video ads with sound are most likely considered compliant with the Better Ads Standards.
The coalition considers consumer preferences as their most valuable data. Till date, over 66,000 internet users from different geographies have participated in their research. Also, with the program in place, it has been certifying publishers who comply with the standards.
The coalition has also been educating non-participating publishers about the benefits of adopting Better Ads Standards. And in the future, it plans to continue to engage publishers via webinars and other outreach methods. On the ad tech side, six programmatic ad exchanges have already committed to serve only Better Ads Standards compliant ads.
Despite all the facts on disruptive ads, surprisingly there are stats which also show the brighter side. 77% users say they wish there was a way to apply ad filters on a website, instead of an ad blocker. This suggests that to some extent, users are open to reconsider their use of ad blockers. But of course, in exchange for a decent experience.