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Finding the Right Balance Between Ads and User Experience

Ads and UX
It's a question that every publishers strives to get the answer for. Here's an actionable approach that will help you deliver a better user experience while running ads.

Generally, people think that ads are bad for the user experience on your site. If you ask professionals from the UX design industry, most of them would be against showing ads. But think it this way, “Ads help users in reaching the products they need”. How can something that helps the user can spoil the user experience?

Ads aren’t a problem, but the way they’re shown to the user can be problematic. If the right ad is shown in the right way then the user will be delighted, not frustrated. So instead of asking “whether ads spoil the user experience?”, we should ask, “what’s the right way of showing ads?”. If you’ll ask the right question, then you’ll reach the right solution.

To show the ads in the right way, we need to follow good practices, and we also need to avoid some bad practices. Therefore, in this blog, we’re going to talk about what you should do and what you shouldn’t do to serve the best user experience despite showing ads on your site.

Table of Contents:

Label Your Ads

The ads on your website should be declared as ads, not as native content. Users can feel deceived when they reach an advertisement unknowingly. If the trust between you and your user is broken, then you may lose your user forever. Therefore mark your display ads as “Advertisement” and sponsored content as “Sponsored”. The user should be able to distinguish between ads and the native content.

Label Ads

Maintain the Number of Ads

There should be a balance between the amount of content and ads on your webpage. If a user is consuming more ads than content then it will definitely be irritating. Google vaguely says ads should not be more than content, so we can assume ads should not cover more than 50% of the content. The Better Ads Standards says that mobile ads should not cover more than 30% of the vertical height and sticky containers should not cover more than 30% of the screen.

 Content is the ‘value’ you provide to the user and earnings from the ads are what you get in return for the provided value. Users come back to the sites that provide more value to them.

Visit premium sites like The Verge and you will see that most of the articles have only one ad within the content and the remaining ads are outside it. Some short content may not have any in-feed ads at all. Similarly, you can set a standard number of words the user should be able to read before seeing the next ad.

The above suggestion doesn’t mean that you should strictly reduce the number of ads on your site. There are other places like the head, the panels, the space below the article to show ads without hampering the reading experience. There are ways like refreshing the ads to increase the number of impressions with a limited amount of ad space.

Even if you decide to decrease the number of ad units on your sites, you cover the resulting loss of revenue by increasing the number of page views per visit. To increase the page views, you can implement various strategies like:

  • Test various site layouts.

  • Use a content recommendation system.

  • Create a series of articles.

  • Use sidebars with popular content

  • Ad a search bar

  • Write on closely related topics

  • Create an interlinking strategy, etc

Load Your Ads Faster

When your ads don’t load on time, they leave a blank space within the content. It breaks the continuity of the page that can irritate the user. In a few cases, it can also create the illusion that the article is complete and the user can bounce from that point. The bounced user may end up thinking that your site has incomplete information. If your ads aren’t asynchronous then they can even stop your page from loading further. Therefore make sure that your ads are loading faster.

Here are some resources to help you with faster ads:

Try Contextual Ads

As we said at the beginning of the article that the ads help the users to reach the products they need, contextual ads can help with that. Contextual ads are the ones that are related to the content the user is consuming on the page. The context of the content helps us in knowing what the user is looking for.

For example, a user reading about fixing a garden-related problem may be in the need of a garden tool. Showing the ad of the tool that can solve the problem will save the user from searching for the tool separately. In this way, the ad on your page has helped the user in reaching the right product and therefore it delivered a good user experience.

Contextual Ads

Show Personalized Ads

Personalized ads are even better than contextual ads. Personalized ads analyse the user on the basis of multiple data points like demography, geography, interest, behaviour, weather, device, time of the day etc. When all such data points are analysed together for a single user, an accurate prediction can be made about what the user needs at a particular point of time. Once the need is estimated, the ads that can help to satisfy the need are delivered. Personalised ads save the publishers from irritating the users with irrelevant ads.

If you are selling via a programmatic technique (like header bidding), then you don’t have to do anything. The ads will be personalized to user. In case you are using a contextual ad network, you should start exploring other options.

Try Native Ads

Some people may argue that native ads can make it harder for the user to differentiate the ads from the content, this is why we suggested marking your ads in the beginning. Native ads don’t have the motive of confusing people, it has more to do with the user’s attention.

When the ads blend with the content, they don’t distract the user. Your content is consumed in an attentive state of mind. The user’s focus remains the same when the ad comes in the view. If the user doesn’t click the ad, it doesn’t distract the user even if it remains in the view.

On the other hand, when the ads are distracting, the user first gets disturbed by the ad, then sees the ad with a disturbed mind, and if the ad isn’t interesting, the user comes back to the content in the same distracted state.

Apart from display, content recommendation platforms like Taboola are also used for native ads. While the recommendations blend well with the site, you have to be careful with the user experience. Some irrelevant and misleading ads can hamper it. There are controls to mitigate the irrelevancy, but there are shortcomings too. We have covered all the problems and possible solutions in our detailed post here.

Native Ads

Set a Frequency Cap

If a user isn’t interested in an ad, there’s no use of showing the same ad again and again. It can irritate the user. The user may even start trying to block the ads altogether which isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Implement frequency capping to avoid showing the same ad to a user again and again.

What Should be Avoided?

On the basis of the research conducted by the Coalition of Better Ads (a survey of more than 66000 users), we should avoid some experiences that can upset the user.

Pop-up Ads: These ads cover the main content and obstruct the user from consuming it.

Auto-Playing Video Ads with Sound: Such ads catch the reader off-guard and compel them to switch off the sound by closing the complete window.

Prestitial Ads with Countdown: Prestitial Ads make the user wait until the ad is finished, the waiting time annoys the users.

Large Sticky Ads: Sticky ads at the bottom of the screen that covers more than 30% of the screen make it difficult for the user to consume the content on the screen.

Flashing Animated Ads: Ads that are too flashy and change colors continuously keep distracting the users until they’re in the view.

Full-screen Scroll-over Ads: These ads require the user to scroll them over while they appear on top of the content. Such ads are seen on mobile devices and they can disorient the user.

Some More Points to Ponder

Interrupting Users: The main motive of the user is to consume the content created by you. You have to ensure that there are no interruptions while the user is fulfilling this motive. Not only ads but other elements like popups for subscriptions or your website layout can also cause interruptions in the flow. Avoid them.

Taking Away the Control: Who likes it when things go out of control? When videos play automatically when it is difficult to close the auto-playing videos when a new video begins as soon as the previous one is closed. Such instances make us feel like the site is not in our control. Avoid auto-playing videos as well as ads that make the user feel that the control is out of hand.

Paywalls: Paywalls can be a necessity for you, but you should always use them responsibly. If you’ll push the paywall (or even free subscription) as soon as the user reaches your site, it’ll be irritating. People may even start to avoid clicking your links in the SERP. Always provide value first. Meter your free articles. Allow a few free articles every month, take HBR as an example, they allow you to read two free articles per month. If the content worths it, then the user will definitely subscribe.


Ads don’t hamper user experience if they’re presented in the right way. The ads shouldn’t obstruct the user from consuming the content. The user should have control over the ads, and the ads shouldn’t behave in unpredictable ways. If you’re providing the right value to the user, then ads can even improve the user experience.

Read Next – Data-Driven Approach to Find the Best Ad Placements on Your Site.

Automatad Team

At Automatad, we help publishers to monetize better without hampering the user experience. Our products are live across hundreds of publishers, earning them incremental ad revenue with every passing second. You can request a free audit to get an estimated revenue uplift today.

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