Advertising has always had a constant home on the net, as it’s the one place advertisers, publishers, and consumers all commune together. And whether folks realize it or not, all three groups depend on each other to provide the online experience we currently know. After all, consumers flock online to find great content, but how many publishers would devote time to delivering quality content if they weren’t getting paid (through advertisers)? Similarly, advertisers rely on publishers to draw in readers (through their content) so their ads can reach as many people as possible.
Still, for many it’s a love/hate relationship as publishers grumble about ads detracting from their articles, readers find ads annoying, and advertisers complain about their messages being ignored.
It seems it’s time for a sort of revolution in how advertising works on the web — something that pleases everyone. But, making matters even more complicated is the persistent, massive growth of mobile users.
Mobile’s Growth and its Effect on Advertising
In 2009 there were around 4.7 billion mobile subscribers worldwide; now there is over 6 billion,* and experts predict by 2013 54% of all phones globally will be smartphones.** Although it goes without saying, mobile devices are here to stay. However, mobile gadgets aren’t arbitrarily becoming more popular, they’re also becoming the preferred way for people to get online and make purchases. For example, a recent study from comScore found that four out of every five smartphone users (represents 85.9 million US users) rely on their smartphones to shop. *** Not surprisingly, advertisers want to get in on the action, and it’s suggested mobile advertising will become 3.5 times more popular by 2016.****
All that said, the world’s collective shift to mobile presents a dilemma for web developers, advertisers, and publishers alike. Namely, how to best display and sell ads when dealing with small screens.
First Step: Adopting Responsive Design
Web developers have already come up with a way to satisfy both static and mobile users at the same time — responsive design. By using the technology, websites render optimally no matter the viewing device, as the layout, text, and images automatically resize or adjust according to the screen size.
Ultimately, switching to responsive design is the first step in transforming online advertising, because it solves the technical and visual problems with mobile viewing and thus better meets the needs of everyone. Through it, consumers can be anywhere and access the content they want using any device they prefer. They don’t have to worry about slow load times, small text, or confusing navigation, since everything rearranges to provide the best delivery possible. Of course, this improved flexibility and experience also helps publishers and advertisers, as bounce rates are lowered and consumers spend more time on page.
Additionally, because responsive pages are static and mobile all rolled into one, publishers don’t have to pay the added costs of maintaining multiple sites. With only one responsive site their content is available for mass consumption, and the better methods (equates to greater audience) and lower maintenance costs mean there is more money to be had by everyone.
Second Step: Ad Packages? Change Ad Formats? Sponsorships?
Responsive design is undoubtedly the preferred method for accommodating the growing mobile audience, but where things get a bit hairy is in deciding how to display ads in an environment designed to change its appearance. For instance, an advertiser would rightly become peeved if he paid for an above-the-fold, full banner ad, but when viewed on a smartphone that ad was relegated to the bottom of the page. Likewise, a reader would become annoyed if the top half of his smartphone’s screen was monopolized by an ad.
So, what’s the solution?
Some have suggested selling “packages” is the best compromise, where ads might appear in different places or be different sizes (depending on the viewing device), and advertisers would pay a price per impression (as opposed to paying a flat rate for a specific size/placement of ad).
Others are relying on things like flyouts and takeovers, but these are easily dismissed by consumers and can slow down load times on slower cell connections. However, with some clever coding an ad can evolve into a “snap banner” (as created by Josh Clark) when viewed on a mobile device. Instead of taking over the page or interrupting the text, these thin banners are fixed to the bottom of the browser window and can move up as the user scrolls or expand to full screen when clicked.
Still, another proposed solution is for publishers to sell sponsorships, where advertisers pay to have exclusive ad rights to one page. These could be full page ads between pages (as commonly found in print magazines) or could appear as splash screens (although those can be disruptive to readers).
No matter what type of ads or hybridization is chosen, the bottom line is finding the best ways to advertise in the mobile, responsive web era isn’t something developers alone can solve just by inventing new HTML (the technology’s already there). Instead, it’s going to take a change of thinking on the parts of everyone involved, as there’s no longer just one way to view the internet. Thus, publishers will have to learn how to streamline their ad orders by possibly selling cross-platform (desktop, tablet, smartphone) packages, and advertisers must accept the fact they may have to use new styles of ads to match the elegance and function of responsive, mobile websites.
Undoubtedly, it will be some time before we see how it all unfolds, as not everyone understands the importance of responsive design and appealing to mobile users. However, those who embrace the innovations now will effectively plant a foot into the future and more closely provide an online/advertising experience that makes everyone happy.