Web Design: Widgets, Geegaws, AutoPlay, and Busy Busy Busy!

I went to Forbes.com to read the article on Glock's pricing plan that I posted here. It's a great read, and I had sent it around to a couple clients who enjoy reading case studies (I hope).

I had originally found the story through my iPhone's Flipboard app, (which if you don't use go get it this minute for your iOS device). The UI is much different on Flipboard than Forbes.com, or any other site not specifically set up to look like, well... Flipboard.

I needed it on my computer so I went to read it on the original page. I was greeted with an Oikos yogurt ad, playing at full volume. With my infant daughter sleeping (finally), I went to find the ad and mute it quickly, but I literally couldn't find it. A pop-up window survey request was in my way, so I declined it, which allowed me back to the page.

I looked in the upper right window- the normal place for third-party ads video ads, prime placement. I did see an ad, but it was for HP, and about 1000 pixels tall. John Stamos' face was nowhere to be seen, much less muted.

I looked left, all I saw was a vertical share bar. Hmmm...

I scrolled down (the share bar moving with me the whole time), and I looked back at the right column. I found a listing of most popular and the most shared stories from the site. Not there yet.

Next was a bio on the author, and his most popular posts, roughly 500 pixels tall. Keep going...

The author's Twitter feed was next, or news stream, or whatever exactly Forbes means when they use that phrase. Another 500 pixels down.

The article had now ended, and horizontal social share icons were placed as well as a comment button, but no three or four field comment form, yet.

Below the story (the commercial is still playing at this point), are links for three stories and two features. On the right sidebar is an advertisement to subscribe to the magazine, newsletter and/or customer service... um service. This box was once again about 500 pixels tall.

Still going down and the center block is the comment form and the side bar has a Microsoft interest-based ad block from AdChoices. Sigh.

And below that... John Stamos eating some yogurt. Or is it yoghurt? Who knows, the ad had stopped playing by now.

I had a few thoughts on my Homer-esque journey to the bottom of the page, starting with "Who still autoplays ads anymore?" Apparently Oikos and Forbes do.

Seriously though, there are a lot of reasons not to autoplay ads, namely if a viewer is at work or another place where he shouldn't be surfing pages with your ads coming blasting out of their computer, or if your creative puts them in a bad or awkward spot.

In my previous gig working in politics, when a client wanted his intro video to come popping up and blasting loud, I always counseled against autoplay. I used the example of a very conservative visitor who works in an office filled with liberal hippies. Or vice-versa, depending on the client. Either way, all of the sudden, anti-Obama ads are blaring out of this tea-partier's computer, and his Birkenstock-wearing, ponytail-sporting boss is now taking notice. Not necessarily a positive impression for the visitor, especially if their boss decides to take action.

One of the first things I learned in business was that you never want to anger or alienate a customer/voter/client, as a their motivations can be so fickle anyway. I would think that sudden, loud and unanticipated noise blaring out of a speaker is more than likely to alienate than win over. So why would John Stamos come right out and sell me yogurt then without waiting for my invitation?

In politics one of the golden rules, right up there with never disparage anyone and always be nice to your opponents (wait a minute...), was that it takes 13 interactions with a client's name to build ID. In campaigns, one of the crucial early metrics is name identification, or name ID. Name ID is measured by how many people have any idea that your client (or business) even exists, as not everyone is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney that nearly everyone is familiar with. Most people need to hear an unfamiliar name or brand at least 13 times before that starts sticking in their brains, and maybe that's what Oikos is doing.

Perhaps Oikos knows their metrics are low and are willing to risk potentially alienating or upsetting potential customers in an attempt to build ID. Given the fact that this particular ad aired during the Super Bowl for roughly $3m/minute, I'm pretty sure they did a national name ID survey. So they probably know that they need to bulk up their recognition, and probably have targeted specific subsets of their market, such as the kind of people who either read Forbes about pricing data, or like Glocks. Or maybe both.

Data and metrics are fascinating and provide businesses, organizations and politicians deep insights into crafting a strategic plan. I highly recommend them, but that's a topic for another day. For now let's jump back to the site itself.

I'm sure there was a User Experience study and focus group commissioned to figure out that all those ads, share bars and widgets move numbers in analytic readouts. I don't doubt that they are effective as well at moving numbers, but they sure can be distracting. I also know that the most effective web design gives visitors options to interact in their preferred method, and this site certainly did. Unfortunately, it wasn't that attractive to look at, and appeared cluttered once I really started paying attention. But is it effective? I assume it must be, or it would look different.

One of the big reasons for my taking notice came back to where I started, and that's with Flipboard.

Flipboard delivers a clean, ad-free view of the same content I used to browse the web for. In fact, before I went to Forbes.com, I forgot how busy all these sites are, as I've been using Flipboard to aggregate my news, Facebook, Twitter, sports for the past few weeks now.

But how is a company, especially a news company, going to capitalize on their visitors when other services like Flipboard deliver their same content stripped of their ads, and for free to boot? If a Super Bowl ad is worth $3m/minute because viewership is high, and people are actually watching the spots rather than fast forwarding through them, then how can a website or the Interwebs themselves create that same kind of event, a must-see captivating experience? My suspicion is that it can't yet. Things are too on-demand, too fleeting for the web to capture that kind of focused audience.

The Super Bowl pulled 111.3 million viewers in the U.S. alone. As I write this, the largest YouTube video viewed on the day I write this is something called "No se Me Olvida," with 2.2 million views for the day. It only lasts 3:55, and it doesn't seem to have ads.

Unfortunately if you're a business trying to leverage your own content for advertising revenue however, how do you overcome the challenge that your content may and probably will be reproduced in other formats than how it was originally created through aggregators, viewers, etc? YouTube embeds into multiple sites, but what do site owners do when their content can be easily copied and pasted? How do you deliver the maximum ROI to your advertisers?

I guess for the time being until someone comes up with an innovative and elegant solution to that, video ads will loudly autoplay and try to take advantage of the 5-15 seconds the visitor is there, along with cluttered UI's and share bars, gee-gaws, widgets, ads and streams will be everywhere you look.

Andrew Franks