Loyal Site Visitors Don’t Mind Ads

Web sites’ loyal visitors tend to not mind the site’s ads and even have a more positive impression of advertisers’ brands, according to a study released by the Online Publishers Association (OPA).

The OPA developed an affinity index that calculated users’ likelihood to recommend a site, their satisfaction with the content and whether it was bookmarked. The study found that consumers who scored a “high affinity” ranking for a site carried their positive attitudes over to the advertisements — both in terms of viewing the advertisers positively and having a higher tolerance for ads.

A little over half of the participants qualified for the high-affinity category. Of those, 82 percent thought the site had high-quality advertisers, versus just 36 percent for low-affinity visitors. Likewise, 75 percent of high-affinity visitors did not find that ads interfered with their visit, while 31 percent of low-affinity users were not bothered by ads.

The OPA undertook the study with Internet measurement firm comScore Networks and market researcher the Millward Brown Group. The study polled about 5,000 visitors to OPA member sites, which include NYTimes.com, washingtonpost.com, Forbes.com and ESPN.com.

With half of sites’ visitors showing brand loyalty and an increased tolerance for ads, Web sites with strong brands could take the findings as an indication that advertising has not turned off their key visitors — a concern voiced by a number of industry luminaries and publishers in recent weeks.

At this week’s IAB/Jupiter Events Advertising Forum, which was co-sponsored by the parent company of this site, Google Chairman and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt warned advertisers that they risked scaring off users through in-your-face advertising. He said too many users were turned off by advertising like pop-ups that interfere with their experience on the site.

In July, iVillage announced it would no longer serve pop-up ads, after finding 92.5 percent of its users fingered them as their No. 1 complaint about the site. AOL followed suit this month, when it launched a pop-up free AOL 8.0. Ask Jeeves followed suit earlier this week.

The level of acceptable intrusiveness is up to some debate, however. Jupiter analyst Gary Stein said users actually expect a certain amount of intrusion from advertising.

“We’re looking to get in the way of consumers,” he said. “There’s the question of whether that’s a problem or not.”

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