December 7, 2004 If you suddenly found that your company was doing something that resulted in a very negative response from your customers, would you stop doing it? If your answer is YES and you have a web site that runs advertising or your company runs web advertising, you'd better read this.
In the world of the internet, few people understand user behaviour as well as Jakob Nielsen - Nielsen's fortnightly Alertbox newsletter on usability and web design is free and is coming up for its tenth year in publication in 2005. Every issue dispenses invaluable information and anyone with a web site should read it. The latest issue (December 6, 2004) is particularly relevant in that it covers how people react to online advertisements and identifies several design techniques that impact the user experience very negatively.
Advertising is an integral part of the Web user experience: people repeatedly encounter ads as they surf the Web, whether they're visiting the biggest portals, established newspapers, or tiny personal sites. Most online advertising studies have focused on how successful ads are at driving traffic to the advertiser, using simple metrics such as clickthrough rates.
Unfortunately, most studies sorely neglect the user experience of online ads. As a result, sites that accept ads know little about how the ads affect their users and the degree to which problematic advertising tricks can undermine a site's credibility. Likewise, advertisers don't know if their reputations are degraded among the vast majority of users who don't click their ads, but might well be annoyed by them.
Now, however, there is data available to enable us to begin addressing these questions. It looks to us like the web community still has a lot of learning to do before we can pretend to understand this complex new medium.
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