The Secret of Monetizing With Ads Without Sacrificing Design

By Alyssa Gregory

banner adFiguring out a way to monetize a website with ads that doesn’t diminish the design or overall message is a major issue I face in my work, and one that I suspect many designers deal with. I should say up front that I have an unscientific yet firm aversion to ads. I get a slightly icky feeling when I see a site that goes (what I consider) over the top with ads, and it’s likely I won’t stay for very long.

Of course, I understand that the purpose of many websites is to generate income. And I know that many sites must produce revenue in order to support themselves. In fact, I’m in the process of developing such a site for my own business. But it still doesn’t make it any easier for me to swallow. By the way, monetization of blogs is a very different animal in my opinion, so I’m primarily talking about traditional websites.

In an effort to help clients find a way to monetize without looking like a billboard, I have found that the secret is simply giving it forethought and considering the big picture from the very beginning. Here are some principles to guide you as you do that.

Ads have to be relevant.

If I see ads on a site, I expect them to be relevant to the targeted audience. Ads for the sake of having ads makes no sense to me if you are trying to develop loyal fans. Even if you have an impression-based campaign, your goal should be to provide added value to your visitors, which means giving them more of what they want. Ultimately, you want your audience to click on your ads. That’s not going to happen if you’re advertising things they don’t care about.

Non-text ads should be well-designed.

We’ve all seen a beautiful website with awful looking graphical ads. I know a lot of times this is out of our control, but if maintaining a beautiful design is of utmost importance, you or your client may need to monitor the ads displayed on the site and block those that aren’t up to par. Or if your ads are approved and placed in-house, offer to help advertisers create ads, either for free as part of their sponsorship or for a fee.

Make your advertisements part of the design.

If you know the type and level of monetization a website will have before starting the design, you can create a design that supports advertising by building places into the actual design for ads. This makes it obvious that there was forethought about how the site would be monetized and can make the overall flow much more effective.

Ads should be consistent.

Like site navigation, ads need to be in the same place on every page. It may seem simple, but it’s a major negative to have ads that jump around throughout the site. Plus, the format and size of ads should be consistent.

Ads should be secondary.

Even if the advertisements are the most important element of the website in the owner’s mind, they need to appear secondary in importance to everyone else. Well-written and effective content needs to be the first and primary part of the site, as that is what people will be visiting for, not the ads.

This formula has worked well for me, but I’m definitely interested in hearing your input and how you design to support monetization.

Image credit: ilker

  • I agree. In my experience, the more “in your face” advertising styles end up performing worse over the long run – and potentially hurting visitors and future link earning opportunities.

  • Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

    I have but one thing to say:

    “If you know the type and level of monetization a website will have before starting the design, you can create a design that supports advertising by building places into the actual design for ads.”

    YES YES YES! Such an easy thing to realize…yet so many people just plain fail at doing it.

  • dev_cw

    I hate obtrusive ads. If it is in the way of the reading I will not click for sure. If it is on the side it is more effective for me as a visitor.

  • Anonymous

    Some examples to go along with those points would have been better.

  • hcaraway

    This article lays out the ad versus design argument very eloquently. However, it is lacking in the way of specifics. I wanted to see some examples and some solutions. Does anyone know any supplemental links?

  • glenngould

    Let’s look at the Adobe ad in this page:

    -It is relevant.
    -It’s a non-text ad and definitely well designed. (text-ads should be well-designed too in my opinion)
    -It looks like part of the design but in a contrasting way.
    -The ad space is consistent throughout the SitePoint blog posts.
    -It is one of the most prominent elements on the page along with the 99designs ad.

  • The secret? With all the respect *yawn*

  • SHZR

    Good article, but why isn’t this relevant to blogs?

    • There is much more leniency with blogs and monetization in my opinion…it’s almost as if blogs are expected to be littered with ads. I certainly think these principles can apply to blogs (and I wish they did apply to more), but they generally don’t because of expectations and assumptions of what blogs are meant to be.

  • Chris H |

    Coudal Partners does this well with The Deck: they hand-select the sites invited to join the network too.

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