[ March 8th, 2013 ]
AD-vancing the Enemy
I have noticed a disturbing trend throughout the online web design and development community that seems to be getting worse. And that is the number of sites dedicated to the web design community and those working in said community, undermining the very industry by allowing their advertising space to be populated by services that demean and devalue the fields as a whole.
I know you have probably seen some of these offenses being carried out by some of the biggest sites in the field, where banners leap from their content or sit idly beside it beckoning any one who wants a free website designed to click on them. Now this is certainly an issue with many layers, so I will attempt to lay out my argument against AD-vancing the ‘enemy’ this way, while addressing all of these concerns.
Because this is a conversation that we need to be having in the community.
Does It Really Matter?
First and foremost, we will address the big question. Does it even matter? Here’s a sneak peek at the answer…Yes! It matters a lot! But we will get to that. Some would argue that this is a meaningless point to discuss because: 1) Those who would use such services wouldn’t pay a web designer anyway 2) So many people don’t pay any attention to the ads on a site 3) Because it provides an option for those who would otherwise be without it 4) It is no different from offering design related freebies. All of which, are wrong.
Sorry, if you feel like this post is coming from a closed minded position, but I have my reasons for believing this way, and I know I am not alone in this. Here’s why those arguments don’t hold water.
1) You assume only those who wouldn’t hire a designer direct would use such a service, but the numbers we need to look at are those who would potentially hire a designer were it not for seeing these ads for free sites all over. Therein lies the conversion rate worth noting. We know we are not going to get those already decided. This is about those undecideds in the middle…sounds like election season, but is important to think of.
2) But some people do pay attention. And it is these that we need to be concerned with. It is their impression we are impacting. But again, we will get to that.
3) True, but why is it our responsibility to direct them there. If we were at a car dealership, we wouldn’t expect the salesperson to direct us to a car dealer who would sell us vehicles cheaper than they would. Yet, this somehow falls on us?
4) It is actually quite different. Design freebies are elements to use within a design and are usually collected by the professionals working in the field to use for their clients. Not grabbed by the clients as a means for skirting the cost of a design.
Now that we have taken on those points, let us look deeper at some of the other reasons sites in the field may want to rethink their advertising approach.
Guilt By Association
We already talked about those who will never see the ads. Whose focused approach to browsing allows them to not be distracted from the content they are there to consume. But when it is noticed, what is it saying to the user? We have to remember that to so many, promoting equals endorsing. So suddenly, our brand is being associated with this type of cookie-cutter approach that cheapens the value of the work being done in the field. Guilt by association is something that not many people consider in these cases, but it’s applicable.
When services are seen as devaluing the web design field, and major web design blogs are proudly advertising them, then those blogs are in turn devaluing the field they are meant to strengthen and promote. With so many competing brands, why take any chances of casting your brand in a disparaging light by associating it with this type of web design service? When you have a brand synonymous with highlighting the very best and most innovative developments in the field, simultaneously advertising for lesser aspects of the field can send mixed signals.
Yes, obviously there is a market that exists within the field for such a service, but just as you wouldn’t expect to see an ad for a fast food chain on a fine dining restaurant site, why would you expect to find these types of web design models showing up on all of these major design sites.
Counting on Ad-Blocking
There are probably those among the sites who don’t really consider what kinds of ads they have on the site because they know many users have ad-block of some sort engaged on their browsers. But even if only a third of users would even see the ad, that is still a third of your audience making that brand association. And given that word of mouth is such a powerful marketing tool, putting that out there to even a third of your users can be a very bad idea.
And as a general rule of thumb, if you are putting something up on your site that you are actively hoping any segment of your user base will not see, you probably shouldn’t be allowing it to be up on your site to begin with. Why roll those dice when you do not have to?
It’s all Dollars, No Sense
That leads us to probably the biggest motivator for placing these ads on any site, the money. That’s what this all boils down to. Money. Advertising is an easy way for these sites to monetize their efforts, and that is certainly their right and for some it is a requirement that they do so. Without the advertising revenues they would not be able to maintain their site the way their audience or they have come to expect. But why do we never consider what impression these ads are sending users away with? Is the money really all that matters?
Does that approach or mentality make sense? Is it not about the field as a whole and what we can all do to improve the overall perception of the field? Isn’t that really why we all work so hard to put our absolute best foot forward? Because we are trying to showcase the best the web design community has to offer. So why also allow ads to be sitting next to the highlights, that tend to represent some of the opposite end of the field spectrum? Why are sites not being more selective and careful with what ads they allow on their site?
The only thing I can come up with, is it’s all because of the money. What kind of impression does that give people?
Keeping Up Appearances
This could easily paint the situation with a brush of greed. Making people believe that those who run the site care less about the industry they claim to promote, and more about the money they can make off of advertisers through this promoting of the industry. It can be perceived that you care more about making money off of the industry, the expertise and hard work of those in the field, and through them than you actually do about the field of web design.
This is quite a negative lens through which your brand can be viewed, and it is one where we are effectively holding the lens up in front of our users eyes. Perhaps it is time we ask ourselves, if that is something our brand really needs. If it is something that our industry needs? Perception is key to keeping your brand and keeping the industry thriving. Perhaps it is time we started paying more attention to what perception we are putting out there.