More musings on the effectiveness and necessity of ads

Two commenters on my post yesterday Blocking ads is taking a free ride show the passion this issue evokes. It seems people really don’t like ads – or at least the digerati doesn’t.

There were a couple of points – the first from Tom Raftery making the point that a lot of sites are available via RSS feeds, so unless the ads are in the feed then people won’t see them. And worse, it is pretty easy to switch off a feed so the content had better be pretty compelling to make it worthwhile putting up with the ads.

All very true Tom – in particular I agree that in-feed advertising will become more important..

A couple of thoughts in response:

  1. I’m guessing that a lot of the sites you read are blogs, and they are written by people who are not looking to monetise their content directly. I’m a prime example – I write this blog because it helps me be a better VC, not to make money directly. This is a different case to companies whose business model is to build a web service that people want to use. If they are not making money from their site they are probably in a world of trouble. Typically these sites don’t make their content available via a feed precisely because it is then difficult to monetise. Newspaper sites are a good example.
  2. Content needs to be compelling enough that people are happy to put up with the ads. If it isn’t then it almost certainly isn’t good enough to build a business on. Particularly given we are pretty adept at not seeing the ads – see below.

Then Alan made a couple of points around the idea that ads don’t work. He cited Jakob Nielsen’s eye tracker studies which have shown people barely see the ads. These heatmaps show where people’s eyes linger on the page (they make compelling viewing):

Heatmaps from eyetracking studies: The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn’t attract any fixations. Green boxes were drawn on top of the images after the study to highlight the advertisements.

This is undoubtedly an issue for advertisers and they need to find formats that work. I would regard this as a problem for the advertiser and the publisher though, not the consumer. If we barely see the ads then why do they irritate us so much?

IMHO we need to let publishers and advertisers experiment to find formats that work and that consumers are prepared to put up with in return for free content and services. Otherwise we will either have to pay for the services directly or they will disappear.

To my mind it is as simple as that. Notions of fairness and irritation are secondary considerations. At some point, maybe not in the too distant future, companies will lose the land grab mentality and close down services that they don’t believe can generate cash for them. This is business after all.