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User blog:Adam Carey/Making Ads Better: What We've Done So Far

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Making Ads Better: What We've Done So Far

Adam Carey January 18, 2017 User blog:Adam Carey
Adam Carey is the Vice President of Revenue Strategy at Fandom powered by Wikia. Do you have any questions or feedback for him about how we've been cleaning up advertisements so far? Read this blog (Part 2 of 3) and then leave a comment!

Earlier this week, we started a conversation with you about how ads work on Fandom. I think the message was pretty clear: we know, like you do, that ads on the site could perform a lot better. There's too many of them, and that can clutter the page and even cause site performance issues. One of the ad types we introduced you to was programmatic ads, which represent the most common form of ads on the web.

How we've cleaned up programmatic ads so far is the focus of today's blog, and, on Friday, we'll talk more about direct ads (ad units sold directly to advertisers) and how we'll continue to improve the ad experience on the site.

Ensuring Standards of Quality

Like in any industry, there are good players and bad players in the world of web advertising. Some ad exchanges adhere to high standards around the user experience. They understand that, to really get the most value for advertisers and for users, performance and quality need to be prioritized while learning more about the web user to continue serving high quality and relevant ads. Others, however, use data collection in a bad way to try to make the most of every page load, by loading more and more ads onto a page the longer you have that page open.

Over the years, Fandom has grown in size and the industry has also changed. While we were once reliant on any types of ads we were served, our direct advertising has grown to such a level that it has allowed us to more easily and quickly take action against the networks and partners that don't take the user experience into account. It also allows us to adapt to the changing industry standards that focus on ad viewability. In doing so, we can deliver more high quality, relevant, and directly sold ads onto the site, which we'll talk more about on Friday.

Assessing Performance

In many cases, ads use tracking pixels, which are small bits of code that live in a 1x1 transparent image file on the page, and they deliver information about your interests back to the ad provider. Similarly, ads can initiate processes on your device in order to operate. This can power a video or animation, or it can also be another method of two-way data transfer. These concepts are not uncommon online, nor are they malicious in and of themselves. In fact, they are how ad exchanges know what's relevant to you. That way, they can show you ads that suit your interests.

Some ads, however, leverage these techniques without any regard to the user experience. Last year, we launched ongoing assessments of all Fandom ad partners and providers. We found that some ads were being placed on Fandom with more than 10 pixels along for the ride. That dumps way too many pixels onto a single page. Other ads maintain many constant processes for the entire time a page is open, sometimes with hundreds of processes operating at one time. These are "CPU hogs," since these take up the valuable processing power of a viewer's computer. These pixel abusers and CPU hogs also eat up internet bandwidth.

This skews the balance between advertiser needs and the user experience. It creates poor performance on the site, and it has no doubt driven some users and readers away. We take full responsibility for letting it get to that point.

How Have We Improved?

We know what the problem is, so how have we started fixing it? In some cases, we implement controls on our side in order to restrict the operation of ads when they are not actually visible to the user, as well as cutting down on background processes. In other cases, we protest to the ad provider and begin a disciplinary process in which we limit the number of ad units they can have on a page or remove their ads altogether. Some of the providers agree to change their ways, but others don't. Those who don't, no longer have their ads on the site. If you don't ensure quality, you can't advertise on Fandom. Period.

This continued assessment and reassessment is ongoing and is part of our standard operating procedure.

Building technology is also a way to handle the problem more directly. Serving ads on a massive site to users on six continents (we're still hoping to crack that all-important Antarctic market!) is challenging when we also want to maintain a good page load time. The systems involved are designed to make many decisions in fractions of a second, and these are continually being improved. We've also developed better ways to detect bandwidth and a device's capabilities so we can serve a lighter version of the ad experience to low bandwidth areas. Plus, like we've mentioned throughout these blogs, we want better control over what's in the final page load, which could include removing some or all programmatic ads when a direct ad might be loading. Remember to check back on Friday for our blog about direct ads.

Hearing from you and your readers is an important part of identifying bad-acting ad providers. These providers can vary depending on what country or region you're in, as well as what language you're reading the site in, so submitting all of that information is important when you're making a report. You can read more about reporting bad ads on our help page.

Do you have any questions about how we handle programmatic ads? Share your questions or feedback in the comments so we can keep the conversation going!

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