Interstitials – The Bigger Picture

After a four month sabbatical from ClickZ, I hope you’re glad to know I’m back. With a new company and a new hobby doing what I love (you heard it here first). And what a topic to reappear with. I know, I know the first thing you’re saying is, “Users hate interstitials.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Interstitials are the ad equivalent of email Spam.”

Well, think about this has anyone ever really looked into why users dislike interstitials? I mean, really, you go around talking smack about pop-ups and intermercials. You might even have read the two paragraphs Jupiter devoted to interstitials in the past 12 months. Truthfully, no one has looked at the ins and outs, whys and hows of interstitials — in detail and in depth. Of course, until now (Download a high level overview of my findings – 130k Acrobat .PDF format).

No Consistent Definition

Let me start with a definition — of the 60 people and numerous articles I’ve reviewed, none offers consistent definitions. You’ll find interstitials referred to as splash screens, pop-up windows, parent windows, daughter windows, intermercials, extramercials, transitionals, and child windows.

All share a combination of eight common properties: engine, window, open/close method, load mechanism, file size, length of time, and medium. Essentially, I define interstitials as the broad category for each of theses terms, all of which exhibit a unique set of identified properties and have a unique relation to each other.

Now that we have an understanding, onto the truly impressive stuff.

Double Your Pleasure

Have you heard that interstitials are nearly twice as effective as banners in nearly every category — especially for increasing ad recall and conveying the advertiser’s main message? How about that users notice interstitials four-times as often as banners? Or that click rates for interstitials are on average five times those of banners?

Of course, you probably have not heard any of that stuff.

But you probably know that interstitials are more attention getting and TV-like, offer more real estate space than banners, create a new, premium inventory source for publishers, have the ability to increase overall revenue per user, keep users at a site to perform transactions within the ad rather than clicking through, leverage down time between loads, are targetable with the ability for 100 percent target impression yield, are effective for branding, traffic generation and conducting transactions. Truth is, interstitials are used for branding more than any other objective, followed by sales, traffic and lead generation, respectively.

Then again, you probably have not heard any of that stuff either.

Time to Get with the Program?

Maybe you think there is a lack of publisher acceptance and no advertiser demand. However, 67 percent of the top 52 ad-supported publishers surveyed and interviewed accept interstitials, and 20 percent of top advertisers have tried interstitials. Publisher acceptance of interstitials has grown by 34 percent from Summer 1998 to Winter 1999. Most executions are likely “tests.” But those who test and succeed don’t want to tell you about it!

But nobody tells you that either.

The Big Picture

Don’t get me wrong. My goal here is not to sell you on interstitials, but to bring some perspective and balance to the negativity that surrounds them. It’s no secret that interstitials are more annoying to users than banner ads, twice as annoying to be exact. (But no one tells you that “twice” only represents 15 percent, a small, albeit vocal, factor by most standards).

Overcoming the Biggest Obstacle – Annoying the User

Even so, consumer acceptance is still the biggest obstacle to adoption, as users consider interstitials disruptive and intrusive. The secret to implementing interstitials is a combination of balancing user impact and advertiser effectiveness. Typically, “daughter windows” (where the user clicks a banner and a pop-up ad appears) are the safest overall — they put the user in control of frequency, open and closure.

Publishers can Attest

  • USA Today found that pop-ups caused computer crashes or appeared too often — so they now limit the frequency of pop-ups.
  • Both RealNetworks and Jumbo have found that interstitials larger than 25 percent of the screen caused problems for users — so they limit pop-up sizes to approximately 250×250 pixels.
  • Concerned with taking control from the user, The Globe has tested multiple “time-out” auto-close features, including user-elicited closure and found there is no effect, positive or negative, on the user.
  • HomeArts has offered interstitials and has received no user push back to date.
  • Wired Digital experimented with interstitials in 1997 to test user reaction and was surprised to receive little consumer response — good or bad, which is almost no surprise considering its technically advanced audience.
  • admits it has gotten some negative responses to interstitials, albeit a small amount.
  • Infoseek attempted interstitials for two months and found that users did not like them. Users said the interstitials were obtrusive to navigation.

Overall, consider the impact interstitials have on navigation, compatibility with the users system, frequency of pop-ups, window size and closure method. There is an optimal balance between these that offers the best for advertiser, user and your top line.

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