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Responsive Web and Advertising clash

In a recent Digiday article about how the New York magazine online edition is moving towards responsive web design, they describe some of the challenges faced by this school of thought.

As some of you know Responsive Web design is a school of thought that says you should design your web pages in a flexible layout that allows devices with various screen sizes access your site in a somewhat similar fashion.

For instance, you want your website to be usable to the person using a 4 inch iPhone and to the person using a 30 inch desktop monitor. One person would be using their thumb to navigate and the other is using a mouse and keyboard. In the past you would have had to design two different websites but these days you can’t accomodate for every screen size with a custom site, you need to make your layout flexible via the CSS.

I think the majority of online advertisers have no idea what is about to happen to their ads. So let me give you a bit of preview.

  • Currently most ad units are standardized sizes, the IAB standard units of 728 x 90, 300 x 250,  468 x 60 and 160 x 600 etc.
  • These ad units are quite rigid meaning that if the screen is bigger the ads dont get bigger, and if the screen is smaller they don’t really scale down well. The buttons may be too small for a thumb to press or the text might be too hard to read for an average user. They are really optimized for desktop viewing.
  • In recent years mobile advertisers have introduced mobile specific ad units but these too are quite rigid in their design.
  • From a reporting perspective, if your ad unit shows on a small screen but is unreadable, it still counts as an impression. This is a waste of your ad budget.
  • Right now most publishers don’t use ad tags that have operating system detection or device detection. Using a tag like this would help determine what ad unit can be seen given the screen size.
  • Your beloved retargeting campaigns may not work. As more ad networks are allowing cross device pixeling, you are not guaranteed your retargeted ad unit will look correct on the smaller screen.

Some publishers are taking steps to make their websites respond well to the large variations in device size but they need to take steps to monetize this inventory in a comparable manner to their desktop viewers.

As more and more people access the web via their phone or tablet, it will be increasingly important to create responsive ads that scale well and are easy to click on with a thumb or mouse.

Some tips to help make your ads perform better on mobile:

  • Ask your ad network you use, what happens to my ad when a mobile user sees it? Is it possible to show them a different creative size?
  • Test your ad unit on multiple devices. Make sure it is easy to click and make sure the landing page is easy to use regardless of the device.
  • If you don’t have ad units that scale down well, ask the ad network to block those impressions from your campaign. This may cut into your campaign quite a bit but at least you know the user experience is consistent.
  • Ask them if they offer click to call services based on the device. For instance if you are a hotel and a person sees your ad on a smart phone, why not just ask the person to call instead of going to a web page?
  • Use more text based ads which tend to scale a bit better.
  • Do not use Flash ad units. iOS devices do not support flash at all and it renders inconsistently on other mobile devices.
  • Check your analytics data to see what type of devices are accessing your ad specific URLs to get a better idea of the screen sizes
  • Talk with your ad designer to see what they know about responsive web.
  • Check with your webmaster to ensure you are collecting analytics data on your visitors.
About Krish Sailam

Krish is a writer based in the Austin, TX area that is focused on making information easier to digest. Krish's enjoys topics around education, technology, economics and online marketing.

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