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Ads and User Experience
How do ads affect user experience?

Question asked to users:

When you are browsing through an app, do you mind the ads you see? If yes, what do you find irritating? Also, are there any instances when you didn't mind the ads you saw, or if you felt the ads were useful?
Conclusions drawn on what makes an ad desirable from user interviews

Users mostly don't like to see ads.

They tolerate ads to a certain extent, as they understand it is a revenue stream for the business. If the ads get very irritating, they will try and find an alternative app that provides the same service. 
Aspects users find irritating are - jarring to the eye, noise, pop ups, placements where one might unintentionally click the ad, and repetitiveness of the same ad again and again.

If the ads are presented in a non-intrusive manner, in which they blend well with the design of the app, users tend to not mind the ads too much. 

Users appreciate it when they see relevant ads.
Listed below are steps taken to design ads that would add to the user experience be part of the user’s content discovery journey.
It all begins with a stakeholder interview...

The purpose of the interview would be to understand the goal of the redesign. Below is a list of questions that I would begin with.

1. Goal of the redesign
2. Can we be selective about the kind of ads we show?
3. Do we want more native ads or google adwords?
4. How important is the impact on SEO required? Can ads increase our SEO
5. How much distraction can we try with? Minimal | Average | High?
6. Current traffic of our website and the pages that are hit the most.
7. Time spent by visitors on the website.
8. Bounce rate and pages that people bounce off from
1. Define goals for the desired ads experience

User experience maintained even with ads, as non-intrusive as possible, more relevant results while searching, simple intuitive flow (not confusing)

Get more users to click and buy from ads

Get more sellers to buy ads and understand the impact of their ads.
2. Understand UX friction in current ads

2a. User research / Usability testing

I asked users to browse through the carousell app, and point out ads that caught their attention, and ads they interacted with. 
Ads from google and container sizes are not the best fits for each other. The images that are meant to catch the attention of the user are cropped, of inconsistent size and very small. 
Having two listing ads in a single row makes it hard to read text, or highlight price and title. Also, all the ads with the spotlight don't stand out from regular listings, so they aren't really highlighted to draw attention.
Summary of observations by users on current design:

1. Ads are not presented in a way that would help to serve the purpose of an ad - the ads do not draw attention as the image and text sizes are too small.

2. Many ads are placed in and near categories where they have no relation, hence no relevance. 

3. Paid native ads look very much like the unpaid listings, hence don't stand out and that reduces the impact of the ads.
2b. User Personas and their expectations

​​​​​​​Buyer Personas

Good bargain lovers

Compulsory shoppers, will buy things even if they don't need, if they think they are getting good deal. 

Target with lots of flash sales, discounts, buy multiple items for a bigger discount. etc. 

Discerning buyers

Will spend a good deal of time researching and comparing items before making a decision to buy. 

Design should aid the decision making process by displaying curated lists, and expert opinions, quality assurance etc. Flash deals that expire after a few minutes could force this user to decide faster.

Browse shoppers

Those who love surfing the net, looking for new items on sale, might actually buy items rarely, when there is an actual need or if the deal is a great bargain. 

Design should have a good variation of items, so these users get to discover something new and interesting now and then.


Seller personas

New items/store/business

Seller wants to reach many people and entice them to buy from their listing. Seller will be more likely to place ads, and would expect to get a good value for money for their ad budgets.

Everything must go

When the seller really wants to dispose/sell off belongings to either clean clutter, or because they are moving. They don't care much about earnings from the sale, they would like to sell things fast. These sellers might spend ad revenue to bump their listings.

Rare items seller

Might list and wait long for the buyer who values his item and is willing to pay a good price for the seller's item. These sellers will attract the special buyers to the site. 
3. Proposed design solutions

Encourage more native ads by creating ad formats that are a win win for both the buyer and seller.

Create ad formats where the seller can not only advertise, but also give offers that would help close the deal faster. Goal is to get value of money spent to the advertiser. Should have a clear idea how the ad will look. Ad should reach the right audience. 

Use gamification to make finding bargain deals fun, easy and playful for buyer. 

Rethink placements ads from google so that the original image aspect of the ads is maintained, so that ads display as they were intended in design.
3q. Wireframes of various proposed ad formats
100% row width ad

One listing per row will give the ad the much needed space to contain bigger/muliple images, and spacing between elements. Sellers could be charged extra to bump their listings in a full row.
Editor's Picks/Blogs/Listicles

Carousell could have official editors/bloggers who post content regularly - individual editors could target specific user personas. Some special ads would get a listing featured in an editor's vlog or listicle as a review or recommendation, or a deal to watch out for. Being featured by an editor would guarantee the seller a lot of visibility and attention for the listing.
Gamification concept 1:  Guess the price

In this concept, the user is engaged with the ad in a challenge to guess price that the seller has listed. If the user guessed the correct price, the call to action button shows the new discounted price for the purchase.

If the user guesses a wrong price, the seller could choose still to give a slightly smaller discount. This would surprise the user and make the user happy.
Gamification concept 2: Slide to unlock

When the user drags the slider the discounted price of the item is revealed. The buyer has a finite amount to time in which to make the purchase to get the item at the discounted price.

This concept will help seller by closing deal quicker, as the buyer will have to decide quickly. The buyer of the bargain seeker and shopaholic persona will be an ideal target for this ad format.
Better placements for Google Ads

Google asks designers to design ads for mobile phones in the following sizes - 
320 x 100
320 x 50
250 x 250
200 x 200

In the following design layouts and placements, the ads can be placed as in without any need to scale the ad from google, hence will display as intended by the designer of the ad. Hence it will be more likely to get clicks and engagement.

Scenario 1

In the current design, in every listing card random google ads are placed. It ruins the user experience when one sees a pizza ad while looking at clothes/bags etc. To increase relevance of ads placed, we could have listings from carousell of a particular category clustered together. Then we could place relevant ads matching that category though 'matched content' from google adwords.
Scenario 2

After a user has scrolled several listings or scrolled through all available listings, but not interacted to see any detailed listing. 

Or if a user has scrolled through all the listings available for that particular search.

Or when a user searches a keyword but it shows no results.

(Please note: I am not sure if it is against adsense rules to display ads in such cases, but it could increase our revenue if it is allowed. As we can display as many ads as we like in these cases, and it won't affect the UX negatively at all, as these ads aren't intrusive at all)

If we take feed back if the ad is relevant or not, useful or not, we can use that information to improve our ad targeting.
Another concept for layout of listings and ads  - Pinterest style masonary grid

This concept design could be isotopic in nature. This would allow us to accommodate multiple sizes from google. However, we need to then figure out content on the website to be of a few sizes as well to make it look more natural. 

The implementation could be like this: https://isotope.metafizzy.co/layout-modes.html

Advantages:

Since on carousell, users upload images, which can be any size/orientation/quality, pinterest style grid would work beautifully to display content. Images could be shot in landscape or portrait, could be any background, and the display will still look clean! The cards will adjust automatically to content - whether text description of individual listing is long or short, there won't be empty white space.

This layout can also accommodate lot of different ad sizes, which will enable us to display more ads, and they will blend easily with the listings, in a non-intrusive way.

Proposed design of listings and ads in masonary grid layout
Interactive designs:

We can allow the users to close the ads that they do not like. That way, the isotope will keep changing and we will be able to help increase the customer engagement on our site as well, while allowing us to show more ads to the same user and make the overall experience more fun.

Pros:
Entertainment
More user time on the site
More ad revenue as we show more.

Cons:
Might take away the user from actually using the site for business we created it for. Google adwords should not take more limelight than our core business.

Suggestion: 
Allow interaction only a few times, to get the best of both worlds
Stakeholder and user validation and shortlisting features

Got some feedback from users that were available on these concepts, and created high fidelity prototypes with selected ad formats.
Here are some mock ups of the new ads experience.
4. Design validation, monitoring and continuous improvement

There is value in showcasing a few design concepts to potential personas and get some insights. These insights are not as trustworthy in my opinion though. The reason being, it is different when you ask someone "if you would buy if you were shown an ad like this" vs asking him to put his hands in his pocket and make the purchase.

True validation of the design would happen in production. I recommend launching the design in phases if possible and putting in the time to determine and configure the parameters to track that will give us actual insights about user behavior.

Ads and User Experience
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Ads and User Experience

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