Making Ads Less…”Ad”-y

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I’ve toyed with the idea of putting lots of ads or sponsored posts on my sites for years, but I’ve rarely if ever gone through with it. On the one hand, I’d love to make a little money off these labors of love, but on the other hand, I’d rather not clutter up my sites with ugly or annoying ads that will drive away the visitors I do get.

This is a common concern for many webdesigners: how do we make ads/sponsored posts less…well, “ad”-y? How do you incorporate them seamlessly into your design, so that people notice them but don’t get distracted by them? How do you make them fit with your site, rather than having to fit your site around them?

As I have puzzled over this for my own personal benefit, a few salient points came to mind (ones which I may or may not put into action over the next few months). If you’re considering using ads or sponsored posts as part of your website, here are some things to think about:

Choose ads that are relevant to your site.

Nothing is more distracting than going to a favorite website and seeing a huge animated ad for random pills or e-books blaring at you from the sidebar or top of the page. When possible, choose ads that go with your site content, because it will be more interesting to your users. For instance, an ad about the latest video game controller wouldn’t suit a medical site, but it would work beautifully on a gaming site!

Try to tame visual ads’ “gaudiness factor.”

Lots of flashing colors, bad font choices, and low-quality pictures tend to plague visual ads, and to some degree a designer/developer can’t change those design choices (much as we would like to!). But you can still place flashy ads on an attractively-designed sidebar, so they’re visible and eye-catching, but they don’t actually interfere with regular content.

(Important: Avoid ads that block content, either as a pop-up window or one of those God-awful slide-in ads that gray out the rest of the screen. I can’t stand those things, and I’m sure I’m not the only user who does. Ads that don’t make the user look at them are best.)

Endorse products you’ve personally tried.

This is a pet peeve of mine: Don’t just randomly endorse a product in a blog post because the people behind the product are going to pay you mega bucks. If I’m a regular user of your website and see that kind of post, I want to know why you like that product, not just “Hey, buy this product, it’s cool–here’s a link, bye.”

It may be harder to choose to write about a product that may not pay you as much, but the company will likely be happier with your ad for them, especially if your passion for the product encourages more business.

Add anecdotes from your testing of the product you’re advertising.

Going off the last point: tell a story about your use of whatever product you’re writing about. If I’m a regular visitor, I probably already appreciate your honest opinion on things, and I enjoy your writing style–why not show off your ability to share your opinion by telling about your first experience (or seventieth experience) of the product? I’m sure I could write some pretty and informative prose about my favorite shampoos and favorite jeans than I could ever write about a mascara brand I’ve never tried, for instance.

Summary

Make ads and sponsored posts a true extension of your site, and make them meaningful and useful to your users. Junky, purely annoying ad content should be a definite thing of the past!

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