We’re currently building a website which offers a service to professionals. The site owner is wondering about having ads on his site. Should he do it, and if so, when and how should he put ads on his website?
Good questions. If he were offering a free service, I’d say yes, absolutely, put some ads on whenever you feel like it. They won’t earn you much to begin with, but people know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and they will tolerate ads that come along with something free.
We have ads on our lab site, as you can see in the screen shot, and we have done the same kind of ad placement on several other websites for people whose websites provide free stuff for their visitors. We’ve tested the effects of a single small sidebar ad and of several inches of ads, and we see no effects on search or conversion. It’s a harmless way to get a little extra revenue.
The thing that’s different here is that the website we’re talking about now is a business site, offering a paid service. We have to consider all the possibilities.
Effects of ads on search
Google loves ads. However, the search engine counts excessive ads against your website, and this is especially true of ads above the fold. If the ads interfere with the user experience, or they appear to be the only reason for the existence of your website, be ready for a serious slapdown from Google.
If you’re in a competitive business, the negative effects of coming up less well for search will far outweigh the possible benefits of a little ad income.
However, ads in the sidebar or even a small banner ad on a page with strong content may not affect your results in search at all.
Effects on user experience
There are times when an ad could be directly helpful to your visitors. For example, if you own a dance studio, your visitors might find it helpful for you to have ads for dance shoes on your website — they can sign up for classes, check the schedule for the new term, and order their gear all at the same place.
On the other hand, a subdued professional services website with a bright-colored ad popping out at eye level could end up losing visitors to that distraction. Even if visitors don’t leave your site, the ads might make the clear path through your website less clear. Most visitors aren’t conscious of the path your web designers create for them, but a good website has at least one. Ads can interfere and make your site less easy to use.
Effects of ads on conversion
Too many ads, unrelated ads, or ads that your visitors find objectionable will all affect your conversion rates. Having too many ads is widely considered a sign of an untrustworthy website, and the internet is all about trust.
This effect can be hard to predict, because “too many ads” can vary a lot from one industry to another. An ad for gym clothes at a physical therapist’s website may get completely different responses from an Adwords block at a surgeon’s site.
Particularly when your ads are responsive ones which vary depending on what searchers have recently looked at, the ads presented may not suit your website’s focus. Like most web visitors, I tend not to notice banner ads unless I’m already thinking about what they advertise (that’s why responsive ads work well), but a banner for Christmas gifts sure caught my eye when it showed up above a tragic news report last week. It came off as incredibly tasteless.
First, we’re making sure that we design the website to accommodate ads. A website that isn’t designed with ads in mind is more likely to look tacky if you try to add them in later.
Second, we plan to test ads on websites with the target market for this website. A mockup with ads and one without, shown without comment to some members of the target audience, will tell us whether there’s an immediate negative response to having ads.
Third, we’re going to recommend that the client build some traffic and conversions before placing the ads. Not only will that avoid possible negative responses during those first few months, but it’ll give us a baseline against which we can measure search and conversion once the ads are in place.
If your website is already live, consider some A/B testing before you go all out with ads.
Great article Rebecca. When you talk about ads, are you saying random ads or are you distinguishing being random ads (adsense is what I think I mean) or affiliate links, like Amazon. Have you noticed any difference between those adsense ads or affiliate links?