Clutter happens. It’s one of the sad consequences of online ad economics. Publishers hungry for more digital dimes seem unable to resist slapping in another line of code and adding that next bright shiny ad network widget to squeeze a few more pennies of revenue per page. In recent years, the ubiquitous and nearly invisible banners and badges have been joined by so-called “native” sponsored content networks that only add to the mess. These boxes of paid headline link to other content and sponsors often promise contextually relevant information users appreciate. But they are just as often responsible for planting Kim Kardashian clickbait into the latest news from the Middle East or a retirement advice piece.
This is precisely the problem legendary financial advice brand Kiplinger.com found at its own site. “A year ago we were looking at our website and realized we have a lot of noise,” says business development manager, Phil Hawken. Kiplinger was working with up to five redistribution partners as well as using an entry page interstitial that greeted newcomers with an ad. “While the ad had great visibility, it didn’t have great performance,” he admits. “It was a terrible user experience.”
Kiplinger also suspected that the clutter was not only eroding the user experience but overall revenue as well. More was not necessarily more.
The Kiplinger cleanup theorized that a cleaner U/X would also lead to better performance for the ads that users were now seeing. The site eliminated the opening interstitial unit and now only serves it for email sign ups.
“We still have site banner ads,” he says. “But we try to limit that to a number of key placements and talk more to the advertisers.” There is still a prominent leaderboard unit, but it actually performs well for Kiplinger. “A lot of users say they don’t click on banners. But our audience does skew older and are interested in personal finance. So when we run personal finance ads next to that content we see a bit of an uptick for advertisers.”
To be sure, Kiplinger enjoys the advantage of skewing older and still seeing more of its traffic coming from the desktop than many competitors. The mix is still 75 percent desktop, 18 percent mobile and 7 percent tablet. But the site is fully responsive, so the same new pared down ad experience moves to mobile as well. Kiplinger does still use some pop-ups on mobile because of the limited real estate and “ads don’t perform quite as well on phones in terms of clicks and engagement,” he says. But the real lesson from the Kiplinger rethink was not only that relevance matters in ad performance, but irrelevant ad content negatively impacts overall ad effectiveness.
Kiplinger reduced the number of content network partners from five to one, settling on Dianomi, a native ad platform that specializes in financial content. The test, says Hawken, was “let’s see if we can feature the right links rather than even the ones that could make the most money. By putting more relevant content up and taking some of the others away, we found that more people were engaging with the content that was up there.” They did considerable A/B testing of different formats and link content to discover, “when we put [fewer] contextual links in the right places the performance was much better than having many things vying for attention.”
Relevance and utility are the winning combination for Kiplinger now. Widgets like mortgage comparison tools have proven especially engaging in visitors in the lead-to- sale process. By focusing on content links from a single specialized source like Dianomi, Kiplinger is seeing not only better performance from third party sponsored content but from ad performance overall. “We were up 10 percent in terms of the advertising side, and up 40% on the site partnership level,” he says.
The lesson here is that experience matters (user experience, that is). And it matters to more than responsiveness to the clutter on any single page. It matters to a user’s overall interaction with a media brand. That Kardashian clickbait may have an immediate CTR and CPM payoff, but that math is short sighted. The full equation calculates overall impact on ad receptiveness. “We found not only that our users didn’t have interest in irrelevant content links, but that it was a negative. It turned them off to engaging more in our site.”
View the redesigned site here.