Back in February, Alex Kirtland wrote a great overview of how information architects should address the issue of, as he says, finding a “better way to incorporate ads and ad content into…sites.” He’s correct in citing the frustration a typical designer has with the impulse of an ad-supported site, or a site that depends on substantial ad-derived revenue, to place more and bigger ads on every page. He’s also dead on, however, about the fact that ads are here to stay.
Designing around ads is something Catalyst spends a heck of a lot of time thinking about – given our work for About, iVillage and some of the Hearst Magazine websites like CosmoGirl.com. So we might add a few things to Mr. Kirtland’s remarks:
It’s possible to design flexible user interface templates that can accept multiple ad formats. This is important for companies like iVillage – as well as the New York Times and Forbes – which don’t want to constrain advertisers to specific formats on specific pages. In terms of IA, flexible templates just means considering an additional set of requirements in the design process. To be clear, Kirtland does reference “variations” on a template – but this is not the same thing as a single template that itself can accept multiple types and sizes of ads.
Another reality of designing interfaces for ad-centric sites is the need to accommodate advertiser requests to field multiple ad units – from the same advertiser – in close proximity on the same page. Much the way that the the NYC MTA allows organizations to buy all the ad space in a single subway car for one campaign, sites often want to do the same thing for ad clients. This was the case with our client Bolt – and is also something that IGN and UGO do.
We’d actually differ from Kirtland when it comes to this unit format. In our experience, ad sales folks aren’t that psyched about them because they aren’t as valuable (CPM) as larger formats like 300×250 or half page 300×600 units. Further, leaderboards really need to be integrated into the header for them to be attractive to advertisers; just putting one up top doesn’t do the job – or so sales staffs tell us.
Overall, it’s a complicated business. But that’s the point: it IS business. Which is why Kirtland’s article is so important, and why he’s still fielding comments on it. We just figured it might be good to add our two cents to practices on the topic.