I saw this great article a month ago by Troy Hunt about the UX of most sites. It was about advertisers and how they are mucking up the works of UX.
(I have addressed something to this effect as well - how ads are messing with the Internet)
He indicates how we're letting business factors - like revenue - drive UX decisions rather than user needs. Let's be honest - ads can provide a lot of revenue to a site. Sure, in UX we need to figure out how to elegantly incorporate ads and revenue streams into an experience. But these ad styles often don't enhance or complement an experience - they literally take over the screen.
One could wonder how UX professionals approach implementing ads on a page. In some ways, that's almost pointless to consider - how do you make a takeover ad work for a user? No user wants that experience, unless he likes punishment. And those types of ads weren't built for a user to access content anyway. It was built to be on a page so the user does see it and that view drives revenue to a publisher.
The problem with ads rests with the business model for publishing - and how the goals of the user (content consumer) and the business collide. Users want to experience content uninterrupted. The business has a different perspective - they aren't selling access to content. They are distributing content with hopes that it will attracts eyeballs that will read ads. The real customers to the magazine business are the advertisers. The publishers are selling your demographic and the opportunity for their brand to be exposed to a large number of people.
Will the ad experience experience change? Possibly. Some say that ads will be more localized to video. Or they will transition to micromoments.
I think things will stay the same. There isn't a publishing business model replacement on the horizon. The only way the experience of ads will change is if users shift their perception of Internet content from being entertainment-driven to being purpose-driven.
When a specific purpose drives you to find content, you don't browse. You are on a mission! You go to your content and ignore the ads. You just don't pay attention. (The Google search results study speaks to this - you go to find something specific - not browse for options)
Content isn't perceived to be that way just yet. In many ways, we still consider content to be entertainment, something to do to pass the time. We will read content online for hours, staying on a site and browse the night away. Heck, we binge watch TV; we surf the Web; we scroll through Facebook and Twitter as if we are searching for nuggets of gold.
On the business side, we measure the success of content sites by their stickiness, how long someone stays there. Page view time and number of pages per session need to be as high as possible. This reflects how we look at content today. But is this how we should be using content in general?
Contrast this with the need to reduce page view time and pages per session for online processes like shopping. It's almost a contradiction how we are defining experiences.
In the land of sticky, the more someone is on a page, even if that person doesn't click on the ad, the greater the changes that person sees the ad - either in direct site or through the subconscious minds out of the corner of their eye. With that in mind, one could consider advertising the leech of the entertainment industry. An ad is waiting for it's next victim to come close and become a distraction and a click to another diversion. Without the entertainment factor of content, without that browsing, where would ads be?
As long as we flip through magazines or surf the Web to pass time, ads will appear to distract our gaze.
One could also look at these ads as a way for us to pay for the content. The other day, a big ol' ad stood in my way of viewing an article. I had to wait until I finished watching a video before I could read it. It's like I am paying for the content with my time spent watching the ad. I'd almost rather pay to read the article than sit thru a mind-numbing ad about whatever.
A great UX and business option here - give me the option to pay $0.50 to read the article or watch the ad.
Airports also present ads to you in payment for Internet access. It seems benign enough - watch an ad and give your email address to get free Internet. Three days and 50 pieces of spam later, you regret your decision and $5 for 30 minutes doesn't sound so bad after all.
But there is hope.
I think we are in the midst of an information revolution. We may be on free platforms, with free content contributions, but running and managing the platform isn't free. So how do we pay for the publications? Micropayments is one option. Another larger scale option is a shift in how we think about the publication business. It has always been about advertising. Maybe it's time for a different way of funding content display and publications?
The online world has been quickly shifting our economy to work in different ways. There is a push to make the Internet more user friendly, to be less about ads and more about accessing content. We are using the Internet less like an entertainment time suck and more as a tool to help us find knowledge and share thoughts. But we need to make that transition for the industry to react. Ultimately, the users decide what they will accept or not for an experience. We as users need to make that decision to stop accepting watching ads as an acceptable payment for accessing content for free. We need to encourage the publishing world to shift its model to make the users the customers - not the advertisers.