Web Publishers: Cleaning Up Our Environment

Last week, I received at least three unsolicited voice messages from sales reps introducing their sites. During the 20-second sales pitch, each made a point of saying his site offers a clean environment with “no pops” and frequency controls.

This got me thinking how much we’ve cleaned up our environment in the past year to make it more appealing to marketers. Yet there are ways we can do even better as business continues to scale.

Not long ago, we saw a dramatic rise in pop-up and -under ads. These intrusive, often annoying units were used with unbridled abandon by marketers such as X10, Classmates, and Orbitz. They, and other marketers, used the units because they supposedly worked. I’m not certain what percentage of consumer interactions were intentional, as opposed to accidental as they tried to click the “X,” or close, buttons). Though some marketers still use these units, rampant “pops” use is history on the leading Web properties. Thank goodness.

The decline was partially driven by these ads’ performance issues. More significantly, it was been driven by the publisher community actively seeking to clean up their environments. None of the large portals (AOL, MSN, or Yahoo) sell pop-up or -under inventory.

Pop-ups and -unders may have been among the worst polluters, but they’re hardly the whole of the clutter problem. As rich media continues to proliferate, we’ll need to actively self-police and manage the consumer experience. This includes creating active frequency controls both within and across publishers and developing of standards and practices at the publisher level, among other things.

According to a recent Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division) report, “Rich Media Frequency Control: Maintaining Ad Effectiveness by Limiting User Exposure,” rich media advertising is expected to represent 29 percent of all online display advertising this year. This includes invasive ad formats such as pop-ups, floating ads, interstitials, and Superstitials. In the next three years, that percentage is expected to rise to 49 percent, indicating rapid growth in the rich media advertising sector.

The report states:

Sites and rich media vendors traditionally control rich media frequency at the campaign level. But there has typically been no control on the total number of rich media ads delivered to users — when a site accepts multiple invasive campaigns; users are exposed to multiple invasive ads. With the rapid growth of rich media, reliance upon campaign-specific frequency caps can overwhelm users and reduce ad effectiveness. To avoid such problems, it is crucial for sites to more carefully control the total number of invasive ads delivered to each consumer.

Some larger sites, such as AOL and MSN, have developed homegrown solutions to control rich media delivery to consumers, rather than by individual campaigns. These sites usually regulate the most invasive ad formats, such as floating ads, interstitials, and Superstitials.

The large ad-serving companies (e.g., DoubleClick and 24/7 Real Media Open Ad Stream) also developed tools to allow advertisers and publishers to collaboratively control the number of invasive ads delivered to a unique individual over a predefined period. Now, we just need to use them.

Though we’ve been relatively successful in cleaning up our environment, we can do more. We should create a more rigorous screening process before releasing advertising to general populations. Much as broadcast networks have a standards and practices department to review all commercials, we should have a similar online practice. It’s rare to hear a publisher refused to run a particular piece of creative because it didn’t meet ad standards guidelines.

Highly questionable messaging prevails on the Web. If publishers become more selective with the advertising they allow on their properties, the Internet will continue to be a more attractive place for our nation’s blue chip advertisers.

We’re getting there. Let’s take it to the next level.

What do you think?

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