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The Art of Balancing Ads and User Experience

Digital publishers are faced with the constant dilemma of balancing ads and keeping users happy. The seesaw constantly tips back and forth as publishers look for the perfect ratio for every user.

It’s important to remember, however, that ads don’t always negatively affect your users’ experience.

Nowadays, users don’t object to ads outright. They just want to consume content with a smooth user experience. As long as you ensure your ads aren’t affecting your users, they will keep returning to your site, allowing you to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Not All Users Are the Same

Each publisher has different traffic sources for users. Some are organic, some come from search queries, while others come from ads or newsletters. You also have Android users versus iPhone users, mobile versus desktop, and the list goes on. Not all users are the same, so their ad layouts shouldn’t be the same either.

Understanding this is key. Perhaps desktop users from Illinois are more tolerant of video ads than iPhone users from California, or users from paid traffic sources are more tolerant of ads than those who arrived from search queries.

The Importance of A/B Testing

To navigate these scenarios, publishers need to know their users, especially because the wrong change in ad display can be detrimental to web traffic. This is where A/B tests come into play.

Rather than implementing changes based on intuition or bias, A/B testing provides concrete data that allows publishers to evaluate the outcome of any decision in terms of ad layouts, ad formats, or new demand partners.

This data provides powerful insights that enable publishers to optimize their site layer by layer without negatively affecting user experience. Perhaps adding another display ad isn’t as detrimental to your bounce rate as you think, or you’re unsure if your users will be tolerant of a new demand partner’s ads. You won’t know unless you run A/B tests.

Metrics to Keep an Eye On

For starters, it’s important to utilize software that supports simultaneous, real-time A/B testing. This is your defense against quick bounce rates, retention drops, and crashed sessions. This type of software will monitor events like session duration, the number of pages the user viewed within a session, and, of course, the performance of the ads.

If the user experience was impacted (meaning that the session was short or the number of page views was less than average) and the number of running ads is higher than your benchmark, the average performance of this ad layout decreases. At the end of the day, the art of balancing ads and user experience is all about breaking down the numbers, focusing on the factors that are important to you as a publisher, and remembering that users will continue to return to your site as long as they have a smooth experience.