Thursday, March 20, 2008

When Not to Offer Interstitial Ads

Quick story about an interesting online service experience I had this morning. I receive an eWeek email daily and found that the content wasn't that pertinent to me. So, I clicked the "Unsubscribe" link and was surprised when instead of seeing the unsubscribe page, I was first served an interstitial ad.

Interstitials are pages that are displayed before and instead of the content one expects, and they usually are used to show advertising. I'm not a big fan of interstitials, but I also understand that content providers deserve to earn some cash in exchange for their valued content, and many find that banner and text ads don't provide the revenue necessary. Interstitials have the risk of being annoying, but at least they aren't as user unfriendly as pop-overs or -unders.

Even though I don't object to interstitial ads, I do object to being served one when my purpose is 1) functional rather than informational, and 2) to sever or manage my relationship with the site. Think of a real-life retail corollary: It's like stopping people on their way to make a return at the Service Counter and forcing them to see an ad.

It's easy to implement the code that can shunt anyone who is entering your site to an interstitial page. In fact, it may be too easy, because doing so for every page can get in the way of offering great service and can damage your brand.

BTW, while we're on interstitials, let me briefly share another pet peeve: If you are going to run an interstitial ad, get to the point immediately. Not merely quickly; get to the point from the very first micro-second!

It is a best practice to offer people a "Skip" button so they can proceed past interstitial ads, and most will avail themselves of that feature within a second or two. If you waste those precious first seconds on meaningless animation instead of answering the question, "What's in it for me?", you are wasting your advertising budget!

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