You’re probably already aware that on February 15th Google plans to release a new version of Chrome that will feature a built-in ad blocker intended to automatically remove disruptive ads from publisher websites if they fail to meet the new Better Ads Standards. You may also know that these standards have been defined by the Coalition for Better Ads, which is an organization that Google has joined and that offers specific guidelines for how the ad industry should evaluate and improve the quality of advertising for consumers. What you might be unsure of, however, is how this will actually affect your digital advertising endeavors.
First, it’s important to understand that this will have an impact on both advertisers and publishers alike. If you’re an advertiser and your ads fail to adhere to the specific Better Ads Standards criteria, they will basically be classified as “annoying to users” and will not be shown to your audience. If you are a publisher and you are serving these non-compliant ads to users, that could result in Chrome ceasing to show all ads on your website. The point here is that both advertisers and publishers need to get on board with these new ad standards. With Chrome overwhelmingly being the most popular browser—and having the biggest market share in the world—this development simply cannot be ignored by either group.
Is this a good thing?
Now, before you get too worked up, let me establish this right away—this move by Chrome is a very good thing and a long overdue wake-up call for the digital advertising industry. For far too long the industry at large has failed to put the consumer first. It became commonplace for most ads to be poorly designed, distracting, gimmicky and cheap—and for most of the formats themselves to be downright disruptive and flat-out annoying. And the sad thing is, it often felt like no one cared—except for consumers, that is. As their widespread distaste for bad advertising continued to grow, they showed their displeasure through the rise and prevalence of ad blockers as well as declining industry benchmarks for CTR and conversion rates. Unfortunately, the industry did very little to address their unhappiness. Consumers were largely ignoring digital advertising while the industry struggled to respond accordingly. Consumers were tired of being taken for granted by an industry that had in many ways become too comfortable and complacent—with advertisers and publishers being equally to blame. This is quite ironic, considering that the industry was (and still is) entirely dependent upon these same disgruntled users they were largely ignoring. With many publishers bringing in most or all of their revenue directly from digital advertising, it is imperative that our standards evolve along with consumers.
Chrome’s new ad blocker is a significant step in the right direction for an industry that needs to change in order to continue to support a healthy and prosperous web with open and free content for all users. Chrome’s move to block annoying ads that are hurting the web ecosystem is one that should be celebrated and endorsed by anyone who makes their living in this space. This could very well be the beginning of the end for unpleasant ad experiences, and that is only a good thing for our industry and consumers alike.
What exactly is an annoying ad?
So what defines an ad as being super-annoying and worthy of being blocked? Well the Coalition for Better Ads has designated the following as the least-preferred ad experiences by consumers for both desktop and mobile web. These specific formats are the disliked culprits that will get you in trouble:
Desktop Web Experiences:
- Pop-up Ads
- Autoplaying Video Ads with Sound
- Prestitial Ads with Countdown
- Large Sticky Ads
Mobile Web Experiences:
- Pop-up Ads
- Prestitial Ads
- Ad Density Higher than 30%
- Flashing Animated Ads
- Autoplaying Video Ads with Sound
- Postitial Ads with Countdown
- Full-screen Scroll-over Ads
- Large Sticky Ads
What happens if I’m a publisher who happens to currently serve some of these annoying ad experiences?
Starting on February 15th, violations of the new ad standards will be reported to site owners via Google’s Ad Experience Report, which is a new tool that provides screenshots, videos and descriptions of the annoying ad experiences that were found on your site. This is intended to make it easier for you as a site owner to identify and correct the issues that are causing you to receive a failing grade in the Ad Experience Report. You then have the opportunity to re-submit your site for review once the violations have been adequately addressed. That said, it’s very important to understand that the ad review process only considers a sampling of your webpages on both desktop and mobile, so it is not an exhaustive or all-encompassing exercise. Each time your site is reviewed it is highly likely that new violations that were previously missed by the report will be identified and need to be fixed. Because of this fact, it is a far better approach to proactively fix all known ad experiences on your site and not rely solely on the report to tell you which ones need to be addressed. Otherwise, this makes consistent monitoring of the report essential for long-term success.
If this sounds daunting, you can take some solace in knowing that a single ad violating the new standards will not necessarily be enough to cause your site to receive a failing score in the Ad Experience Report and may only result in a friendly warning. Instead, you should be more concerned with your overall site score, which will be determined by measuring against empirical thresholds that establish the frequency of non-compliant ad experiences found on your site. Apparently, during the initial phase of the program, the threshold for determining a failing score will be calculated based off of the following percentages of annoying ads found on the page views evaluated by the Ad Experience Report:
- 5% in the first two months following the launch date of the program (February 15, 2018)
- 5% in the ensuing four months
- 5% in the months thereafter
So the bottom line here is that you will most likely only find yourself in trouble if you ignore or fail to fix multiple violations that were reported, and in that case, Chrome will then proceed with blocking all ads to your site. Specifically, if your site receives a failing grade in the Ad Experience Report for more than 30 days, Chrome will then immediately begin filtering all ads for your site. Now, although Google is doing everything possible to make this an easy transition for you, wouldn’t it be easiest to simply serve compliant ads? Why put yourself in a situation where you are having to regularly and constantly jump through these hoops and deal with these headaches? The answer is simple—demand that higher-quality, standards-compliant ad experiences are provided by your advertisers.
What should I do if I’m an advertiser who happens to currently make annoying ads?
If you are an advertiser, how can you ensure that your ad experiences are not going to cause publishers these issues? Again, the answer is quite simple; however, it’s slightly more difficult to achieve—design and build better ad experiences within the confines of the ad formats that adhere to the new standards. The intrusive, non-compliant ad formats were good at one thing—getting noticed by users—you simply couldn’t ignore them. Unfortunately, they were getting attention for all the wrong reasons. If you were previously using these disruptive ad formats, there is now a new challenge for you—figuring out how to successfully reach your target audience without the crutch of using the ad formats that are now banned under the new guidelines. How can you ensure that your ads will be acknowledged by your target audience in a way that ensures their genuine receptiveness to your message and that increases their brand favorability within the confines of standard ad units? How can you maximize campaign performance while ensuring the consumer experience is your main priority? These can be challenging goals within the parameters of the new standards, but they are by no means impossible objectives to achieve.
How can I create good ads that get results and don’t annoy users?
Now, the good news is that most consumers don’t necessarily dislike digital advertising at all, and the opposite has actually been proven to be true. There’s a lot of industry data available that shows most consumers are receptive to ad experiences that are timely, trusted, non-disruptive and relevant to their specific interests. What really gets under their skin are those ad formats that are obnoxious, intrusive and unwanted—the very same types of ad experiences that have been singled out in the Better Ads Standards. You simply don’t need to disrupt, distract or beat consumers over the head to get their attention. By focusing more on the quality of the creative itself, it is entirely possible to achieve outstanding results even within the confines of standard ad formats. That said, it appears that most advertisers haven’t received the memo because most standard ads are quite ordinary and commonly ignored by consumers. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
By taking a strategic approach to creative that is based on data and performance best practices, you can deliver relevant and unique ad experiences to individual consumers, resulting in ads that are more appreciated and that perform significantly better. I’m sure you’ve heard about the importance of getting the right ad in front of the right user at the right time. Although this phrase has almost become an industry cliche at this point, it is definitely true and should always be your overall objective. That said, it’s easier said than done because even if you have targeted the right user at the right time, determining the perfect ad to show someone in that exact moment is usually the tricky part. In my experience, the key to delivering the optimal ad experience to an individual consumer is a clear focus on understanding the consumer need and a strategic response to their intent.
Take a strategic creative approach that puts the consumer first!
We find that those who are most successful follow a very data-centric methodology that is based on A/B testing and campaign performance analysis—and that also leverages appropriate data signals and dynamic creative optimization technology—in order to achieve true personalization at scale. Following this best practice leads to a high degree of certainty about which unique characteristics a specific ad should have, which allows advertisers to maximize campaign performance, and improve customer satisfaction, across the board—driving prolonged user engagement, clicks and conversions—while simultaneously raising brand awareness and favorability.
Often subtlety and elegance are the best ways to approach consumers and ultimately compel them to take action. Focusing solely on the consumer experience—ensuring it is always intuitive, pleasant and rewarding—While highlighting brand the most relevant brand message seems to be the key to higher performance. Seamlessly combining purposeful animation, relevant interactivity and personalized content, usually results in compelling ad experiences that get eyeballs and drive measurable consumer behavior. To successfully engage and inspire audiences, you don’t annoy them—you need to understand who they are, what they want and then give them exactly that. Leveraging the appropriate data and understanding best practices is the key to delivering the optimal ad experience to a consumer, not disruptive or gimmicky ad formats.
Recommended Read: When it Comes to Ad Blocking, Personalization is the New Scale