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WEBSITE OBSTRUCTIVE ADS: What A Mistake! image Article by: Jonathan Service | nngroup.com Nielson Norman Group | Posted on: Fri Jun 04 2021

Have you ever visited a website for useful information and come face to face on your mobile with a full-screen ad?

I have and surely I am not alone in thinking that there must be a better way, when you visit a site you expect there to be some ads and this is the normal way of the internet today more so than ever. Some types of ads are fine as they are unobtrusive and not that annoying at all but some I have visited recently include ads that are so annoying the website becomes unusable.

Some types of ads I find annoying: 

  • Full-page ads that load before you can read the article and you must click a close button before you continue this might be fine on desktop but when you are on a mobile device getting out of these full-screen ads can be a chore and in most cases, I just want to leave the site and go elsewhere.
  • Partial screen ads that follow the user while reading but then cover part of the content on mobile making the site very difficult to read on mobile.
  • Ads that load well after you have started reading the article that pushes the content down the page and then you have to scroll to get to the point you were reading before and as part of these ads in the middle of articles that do the same but there is so many ads you spend most of your time scrolling the page. This frustrates me so much, again I leave the website as it becomes extremely annoying.
  • Video ads that cover all the screen and you have to watch before going on, this is so annoying I just want to get to the content.

As you can see there is a lot of ads and ad types that really annoy me and I am sure that I am not alone in this when it comes to mobile and desktop they are different and must be treated as such in fact when designing a website layout you must nowadays start with the mobile device first and work up. Google is putting more emphasis on mobile-first and sites now have to look at designing for mobile-first then looking at tablets, laptops, and desktops.


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Average advertisement ratings by device (error bars represent confidence interval at 95% confidence level) - Image Courtesy of nngroup.com Nielsen Norman Group


Ad Preference Ratings

In the following analysis, we report ad dislike, which is a number from 1 to 7 (1= strong like, 7 = strong dislike) that directly reflects participants’ ratings. The overall average score for all ads was 5.23. This number shows that our respondents aren’t rabid haters of advertising per se. The overall feeling is a slight annoyance, but that’s the average. As we’ll see, certain advertising formats irk users much more and do cross into “hatred” territory.

An ANOVA on ad type and the device showed that people hate mobile ads more than they hate desktop ads (desktop average of 5.09 vs. a mobile average of 5.45; this difference was statistically significant at p <0.0001). The effect of ad type (discussed later) was also statistically significant (p <0.0001).

None of the ad types were particularly liked: the lowest average rating was 3.81 (just barely better than the neutral point of 4) — that is, most people did not indicate positive effect for any ads, but rather ambivalence toward certain advertisement types.

If you look at the above data thanks to Nielsen Norman Group, you can see that mobile device ads scored as a higher annoyance than that compared to desktop and this also proves my point that some ad types may be there to gain your income and monetize your website but you must think about the mobile user and their usability score. I also need to remind website owners of this point Google is now putting full emphasis on mobile-first development and design and penalizing sites that do not cater to the small mobile device user.

I also would like to point out when a customer gives me a brief of the design they would like and features and they mention ads to monetize, I always advise on making sure the design looks clean and usable on a mobile device first if the ad type they wish to display does not fit this ethos I then advise the client against using this type and suggest an alternative.

Another type of Annoyance that has come about due to EU cookie laws is the cookie consent popup they come in many flavors, the most common is the whole screen modal that only pops up after a few seconds of site loading or waits until the full site loads and you begin to read then it pops up completely obscuring the content on mobile I find this infuriating.

I understand the need for these now to comply with EU laws but there is no need for overdoing it a simple notice at the top of the site that can be dismissed would be enough, if you look at my site at the top of content there is a small dismissable notice that does not look out of place and translate very well to mobile.

So in conclusion I would like to say to all website owners and those thinking about building a website think of your users and design for mobile-first, if it irritates you it will irritate your user!