The Acceptable Ads Standard ensures that ads do not interfere negatively with users’ web experience. In order to suggest changes to the Standard, the Acceptable Ads Committee (AAC) is required to base the changes on data about users’ perceptions of new types of ads, or evolving perceptions of existing types of ads.
During the AAC’s research meeting on February 16, 2021, the AAC decided to investigate and gather data regarding ad-blocking users’ perspectives on ads placed within the primary content of a desktop webpage (in-content ads). This was done for the following reasons:
- In-content advertisement has never been closely investigated and the exclusion of this type of advertisement from the Standard is based on data dating from 2015.
- In-content advertisements are of substantial significance to the online advertising industry. A recent examination of the top 1,000 ranking Tranco domains showed that around 57% of publishers with classical editorial content for end users use such ad placements.
- The AAC’s primary goal is to create an ad standard that respects the user experience while delivering real value to content publishers and online advertisers. As these types of ads are significant to the industry, and given the lack of current insight as to their impact on users, a close investigation of in-content ad formats is an important step for the development of the Acceptable Ads Standard.
2. How can the Acceptable Ads Standard be changed?
In order to protect the integrity of the Acceptable Ads Standard and, more importantly, the user experience, any changes have to be in accordance with the AAC’s bylaws.
The process is outlined as follows:
- In the ideation phase, representatives of the AAC gather ideas on how to improve the Standard by e.g. evaluating industry developments, reviewing ideas generated by the different representatives, or analyzing feedback from ad-blocking users. All proposed changes in this phase need to be based on neutrally derived data. This data was collected within the in-content ads study referenced here.
- All representatives of the AAC have the opportunity to comment and outline their ideas/concerns regarding the suggested changes to the criteria of the Acceptable Ads Standard. It is expected that during this phase the idea(s) generated in the previous phase will be discussed. The discussion for in-content ads took place on November 30, 2021 during the AAC Research meeting.
- In order to collect further user feedback, a proposal outlining the suggested changes must be published on the AAC’s website (acceptableadscommittee.org) for the period of one month. The following chapters of this document outline the current proposal.
After all feedback has been collected, the AAC will reach a final vote to accept, amend or disregard the following proposal.
3. User perception of Acceptable Ads¹
This study was distributed to 9,076 ad-blocking and ad-filtering users to collect data on users’ acceptance of ads placed within the primary content of a desktop webpage.
Results show there is a clear negative impact on users’ perceptions when in-content advertisements are larger than 840×150, when advertisements are placed in the middle of a slideshow of an image gallery, or when advertisements contain animations.
In-content advertisements smaller than 840×150 or advertisements placed at the end of an image gallery slideshow do not perform² as well as the existing Standard; however, they still meet the necessary data requirements to be considered for the Acceptable Ads Standard.
¹Please note that the detailed report on users perception of in-content ads can be accessed here.
² The term “(ad) performance” within this report is used strictly in reference to the survey participants’ ratings of an ad format on the metrics studied, i.e. disruption, intrusiveness, annoyance and enjoyment. It does not refer to the revenue performance of the ad format to a publisher, nor to the performance of the ad format from an advertiser’s perspective, e.g. clickthrough, viewthrough, etc.
A. Presentation of data
Figure 1 demonstrates the level of disruptiveness of all advertising formats tested within the survey, which, according to the AAC bylaws, is the minimum requirement to determine the acceptability of an ad. More specifically: “The maximum level of acceptable annoyance shall initially be equivalent to 35 on the ‘Level of Disruption scale’(…)”
Figure 1: Disruptiveness ratings for all tested ad formats:
Additional analysis was conducted to investigate not only the level of disruption, but overall ratings of these ad formats on the other metrics analyzed as well, i.e. intrusiveness, annoyance, enjoyment. The additional analysis can be taken from Figure 2.
Figure 2: Wasserstein distance metric for the ECDF between ad types and the theoretical best ad
The confidence interval is a 95% confidence interval
Lastly, the Committee looked at the ratings for each ad format by age cohort, since younger participants tend to rate any given format more negatively than older participants. Given that ad-blocking and ad-filtering users tend to be younger, the Committee wanted to avoid the situation where it approves a format as acceptable that otherwise wouldn’t meet the acceptability threshold among younger users.
Figure 3: Wasserstein distance metric for the ECDF between ad types and the theoretical best ad grouped by age.
Based on this expanded analysis and taking, the scores of most ad formats analyzed did not meaningfully change, with one notable exception: the static 300×250 ad loaded between paragraphs moved concerningly close to the 35% threshold above which the AAC’s bylaws do not permit an ad to be deemed acceptable. Based on this further analysis, the committee decided to specifically exclude this format from the proposed changes to the Standard.
As such, the AAC proposes to include the following ad formats into the Standard:
Article Page Setting
In-content -728×90, between paragraph, static
In-content – 840×150, between paragraph, static
Gallery Page Setting
In-content ad – 300×250, end of images (page 4 of 4), static
In-content ad – 468×400, end of images (page 4 of 4), static
Further excluded from the Standard should be…
In an Article Page Setting
- In-content – 300×250, between paragraph, static (based on the extended analysis)
- In-content – 970×250, between paragraph, animated
- In-content – 970×250, between paragraph, static
In an Gallery Page Setting
- In-content ad – 468×400, between images (page 2 of 4), static
- In-content ad – 300×250, between images (page 2 of 4), static
- In-content ad – 468×400, between images (page 2 of 4), animated
B. Creating Criteria
The current Acceptable Ads Standard establishes four sets of criteria for acceptability:
- Placement of an ad.
- Ability to distinguish ads as such.
- The size of an ad.
- Specific criteria that complement the main criteria for specific advertisement types or placements.
In order for the above-mentioned advertising formats to be included in the Acceptable Ads Standard, the following changes need to be made to the placement criterion and the size criterion.
Ads should not disrupt the natural reading flow. They should be placed above, beside or below the primary content¹.
¹The ‘Primary Content’ is defined as (based on the WHATWG Specification’s description of the <main>HTML element): Content that is directly related to, or expands upon the central topic of a document or the central functionality of an application. This content should be unique to the document, excluding any content that is repeated across a set of documents such as sidebars, navigation links, copyright information, site logos, and search forms (unless, of course, the document’s main function is a search form).
Given that in-content advertisements would now be allowed, this criterion becomes redundant, with the precondition that in-content advertisements have a size limit.
Hence, the current size criterion should be amended by adding those size provisions into the criterion listed under the ‘Size’ heading:
There are strict sizes for individual ads, as well as the total space occupied by ads. All ads that are visible in the browser window when the page first loads must not collectively occupy more than 15% of the visible portion of the webpage. If placed lower on the page, ads must not collectively occupy more than 25% of the visible portion of the webpage.
Ads must also comply with size limitations, according to the ad position:
- Up to 200px high for ads above the Primary Content
- Up to 350px wide for ads adjacent to the Primary Content
- Up to 400px high for ads below the Primary Content
- Up to 150px high for ads within the Primary Content⁴
Ads must always leave sufficient space for the Primary Content on the common
screen size of 1366×768 for desktop, 360×640 for mobile devices and 768×1024 for tablets.¹²³
All ads that are placed above the fold (the portion of the webpage visible in the browser window when the page first loads under the common screen size) must not occupy in total more than 15 percent of the visible portion of the webpage. If placed below the fold, ads must not occupy in total more than 25 percent of the visible portion of the webpage.
¹ The ‘common screen size’ for desktop is 1366×768, based on data from StatCounter.
² The ‘common screen size’ for mobile is 360×640, based on data from StatCounter.
³ The ‘common screen size’ for tablets is 768×1024, based on data from StatCounter.
⁴ In the case of in-content advertising, the ad space must be pre-rendered so that the content the user consumes around it does not expand or move upon the rendering of the ad.
Changes to “Specific criteria”
For the inclusion of ads placed in the final position of a desktop carousel gallery, an addition to the section Specific criteria would be most appropriate:
06 Ads in a desktop carousel gallery
A carousel gallery is a sequence of content which the user can navigate through. Content is presented in a single image per slide style in a non-automated manner. Ads within a carousel gallery are only permitted under the following circumstances:
Ads may only be placed after all gallery content has been viewed. Ads must be placed as the final item of the carousel gallery.
Ads loaded in a carousel gallery must be static display ads with a maximum width of 468px and a maximum height of 400px.
Want to make your voice heard? Participate in the finalization of the criteria by submitting your feedback below or by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in shaping the Acceptable Ads Standard in general apply here to become a member of the Acceptable Ads Committee!