I sat on my couch, wrapped in a comfy blanket, holding my smartphone in one hand while my other hand rolled strands of hair nervously. I was engrossed in an article that someone had shared from an online newspaper that told the story of a serial killer — a story that was long and peppered with photographs.
Strewn throughout the photographs were ads — brightly coloured ads, white background ads with black text and ads that only showed up as blank space until enough time had elapsed.
Since I was reading this article on a mobile device, it meant that the big blocky ads took up the majority of the space on my tiny screen. Scrolling past them meant precariously navigating my thumb so that I didn’t accidentally hit one.
As I read about the serial killer’s life, and those who encountered him, I was pulled further and further into the story until suddenly… the screen flickered to white and my face was met with the crushing contrast of an advertisement for something I never wanted to know more about.
I hit the back button to go back to the article, anxious to pick up where I had left off — somewhere in the swamps of Mississippi — when, much to my dismay, I found myself at the top of the article again.
I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled until I found my place again. I had been pulled out of the story a bit but I was determined to finish it. I began reading, became immersed in the story once more, when the screen flashed white and there it was — another ad, pulling my attention away from the writer’s work.
I hit the back button, went back to the article, scrolled, scrolled, scrolled and found myself wondering if I wasn’t the plot line to a Robert Munsch book. The repetitiveness felt uncannily familiar.
The third time it happened, I set my phone down and picked up my computer to write this article.
Readability and user experience are two very important parts to creating a website experience that will keep people engaged and able to appreciate your work and your writing.
Unfortunately, websites these days rely on advertising dollars to help make ends meet and most web advertisers think that more ads will equate to more dollars, which is why you see stories riddled with ads.
While they aren’t wrong — people mis-click these ads a lot, which does result in dollars — you are also losing something every time people have a bad experience — something that is a little harder to measure against CTRs and CPCs. You’re losing your audience.
If you produce long-form content, create and share it in a way that is easily consumed — especially on mobile devices.
The article I was reading contained over 110 ads and that’s when I stopped counting (spending the time counting them, waiting for the site to load — slowly — was making me more frustrated than the initial experience so I had to stop.) One hundred and ten ads for just one article and as I am sitting here finishing this sentence, the entire article refreshed without me clicking on anything and I’m back to the top again.
Here are a few of the screenshots I snagged through the experience:
This needs to change.
Advertisers and website owners — we can, and should, do better.
If the experience on your site causes someone to be interrupted while reading your piece, you are contributing to them having difficulty spending time there, which causes detachment. When detachment happens, especially during something as emotionally connecting as reading a story, you’ve lost your audience with little chance of getting their attention back.
Here’s how to check your own site to see if you’re contributing to a great experience or a poor one:
- Read your own articles on a smartphone – how does the article flow? Are your advertisements popping up in a way that makes it difficult to scroll?
- Test your site using Google’s mobile website tool – a great way to check your website for overall mobile friendliness is with Google’s Test My Site tool. It’s free to use and the report you receive will be extremely helpful to create better website experiences.
- Consider the placement of your ads – while the thought that more ads = more money, consider what it’s taking away from your users. Is it making their experience worse? If so, you may want to tone down the ads — particularly those that show up right in the middle of the content.
The article I was reading on this online newspaper website is just one example of poor user experience (I never did go back to finish that article.) Large sites are guilty of this as well and I’ve found myself avoiding articles on certain websites because of how slow the articles are to load, how many ads they have throughout the content and how frustrating the experience is.
Don’t be one of those websites. There are better ways to achieve your goals but first, audit your website and see how you can improve the experience for others. Your audience base will thank you.
Also published on Medium.