New mobile ads for logged-out readers on Ask March 20, 2015 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Just a heads up: we're testing out a new ad provider for logged-out, mobile site readers in Ask Metafilter threads.

A whole lot of Metafilter's revenue comes from Adsense ads served to non-members who reach the site via google results. And that works pretty well in the case of people coming to the site on traditional desktop/laptop devices, but not nearly so well with visitors on phone-sized mobile devices, where the difference in screen size and layout leads to far lower click-through rates on Adsense units. Which is frustrating given that a lot of our google traffic is from mobile visitors.

And so one thing we're trying starting today is serving a new ad type, from a different ad network, for mobile, logged-out readers of Ask threads; it's a small lower banner that's not initially visible on page load but scrolls up from below when a reader moves down into a thread. It's a little more visually busy than the badly underperforming Adsense units but in testing looks like it's reasonably small and easily dismissible; for folks who are already generally coming to the site blind and mostly never returning, this feels like an okay balance to strike.

We'll have to see how it performs in testing, but the hope here is that this will mean a significant increase in monthly ad revenue for this chunk of traffic, which would make a big difference for the site financially as far as the kind of breathing room we have for building savings and, in the long-term best case, potentially increasing moderation resources.

We've been pretty satisfied with the mix of ads we've seen in testing, but as always if you come across something you think is actively problematic you can drop us a line at the contact form with the destination url of the ad so we can follow up with the ad folks.
posted by cortex (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 12:08 PM (46 comments total)

No, really, that TruCoatcoconut oil!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:39 PM on March 20, 2015

Geez, cortex is acting like... dare I say it... a Manager!!
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:47 PM on March 20, 2015

Wait, you can log out?

posted by nevercalm at 12:49 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Geez, cortex is acting like... dare I say it... a Manager!!

Yeah, I kind of like it. Guess that makes me a cortexifan. *When universes collide!*

/nerd callback
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:51 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

Geez, cortex is acting like... dare I say it... a Manager!!

Now, now: there's no need to be insulting.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:06 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

So is this oil for my torso? Just curious.
posted by selfnoise at 1:24 PM on March 20, 2015


Excellent joke. Let's make some LSD.
posted by zarq at 1:28 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

So is this oil for my torso? Just curious.

My understanding is that the CPM is more or less unaffected by the bodily region to which you apply the coconut oil.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:30 PM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

Pony Cow Request: The site could really use a mascot named Gene.
posted by zarq at 1:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I figured coconut oil was oil for coconuts. When you're stranded on a desert island, the ridiculous contraptions you create to crudely approximate modern technology life will run more smoothly and quietly, and will last longer, if you properly lubricate the coconut bearings.
posted by aubilenon at 1:46 PM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

posted by Chrysostom at 1:58 PM on March 20, 2015

Also, red vines.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 2:53 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by clavdivs at 3:05 PM on March 20, 2015

I know people have already made related jokes, but seriously, how many people had the same "wait, why is cortex making this announcement; this really seems like more of a mathowie thing... oh yeah." reaction I did?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:16 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, is it just me who now, when I see cortex punning it up on Twitter, thinks "hey shouldn't you be working?"

(There have been some terrible puns this afternoon.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:20 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

The trouble with t'rrible puns is how quickly they reproduce.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:26 PM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]

The ad with Miley Cyrus grimacing at me is disturbing, if not actively problematic.
posted by wallabear at 4:47 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by clavdivs at 5:54 PM on March 20, 2015

Munching Langolier: "So I keep getting this ad promising that coconut oil will change my life."

I don't know about changing your life, but it will transform your popcorn if you pop it in coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. Black Jewell popcorn, popped in coconut oil with real butter and sea salt is truly sublime. I live in corn country. We know about these things.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:24 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I usually don't log in on my mobile device and honestly, I found those ads super annoying. They got in the way of reading and I couldn't get them to close- after clicking several times the site for the advertised product opened up or nothing happened. My mobile device is set not to save passwords so I usually don't log in. So I understand the need for revenue but since there is a thread about it, I'm putting in my opinion that I am not a Fan of these ads.
posted by bearette at 7:53 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

bearette: You know what will help you with that? Coconut oil.

Or so I hear.
posted by el io at 1:10 AM on March 21, 2015

I get where coconut oil comes from, but where does baby oil come from?
posted by 724A at 7:12 AM on March 21, 2015

so, it comes from woims?
posted by taz (staff) at 8:19 AM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

The ad with Miley Cyrus grimacing at me is disturbing, if not actively problematic.

Never log off the boat. Never log off the boat.

our mission was to head upthread and take out Colonel Cortex, who'd set himself up as some sort of mod like figure to the commenters
posted by Ghidorah at 8:20 AM on March 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is this the moment where I is this the moment where I think cortex has gone too has gone too far?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:44 AM on March 21, 2015

Re: Miley Cyrus: with all of our advertising things, if there is a gross ad, let us know. We usually can't preview all the ads, so we're not approving them individually -- so if you see a gross one, you're doing us a favor if you grab its URL and give us a heads up.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:05 PM on March 21, 2015

So long as it's not cortex on a wrecking ball, I think we're good.
posted by arcticseal at 4:00 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would log out to see that.
posted by ctmf at 7:25 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

LM - two things I noticed testing these ads on my phone.

- the banner makes the dismissal "x" really, really hard to hit without going to the ad, so trying to dismiss the ad is difficult. I guess that's intrinsic to the beast....

- but more concerningly, if you do dismiss the ad, then keep scrolling down, in a page or two it pops right back up! I haven't seen that before and it's an offputting behaviour.

The ads are mostly slightly skeevy (10 celebs pictured falling on their faces! Kim Kardashian didn't really lose all that belly fat!) but par for the territory I guess.

I'm on an old iPhone 4 / ios 6, so maybe that is part of my problem.

Overall, despite these comments, I totally support putting these ads in, especially if it has a lot of potential to stabilize the financial situation around here.
posted by Rumple at 10:21 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

but more concerningly, if you do dismiss the ad, then keep scrolling down, in a page or two it pops right back up! I haven't seen that before and it's an offputting behaviour.

Man, that's annoying and I hadn't noticed that behavior myself in testing. I'll ask about it when I follow up with the ad folks; would be nice to just have it be a one-and-done thing for any given thread view.

The ads are mostly slightly skeevy (10 celebs pictured falling on their faces! Kim Kardashian didn't really lose all that belly fat!) but par for the territory I guess.

Yeah, this is one of the tricky things about it; we actually did some work up front with the ad folks to try and narrow the scope of what could come through, because if you've seen ad boxes all over the web you know there's a lot of super gross celeb exploitation stuff in the mix and I didn't want that stuff showing up on the site. So as much as I'm kind of ugh about pratfalls and bellyfat gossip, I'm glad that's the far end of the spectrum more or less rather than the midpoint on the road to some of the grosser stuff that's out there. But it's something we'll try and keep an eye on and keep tuning.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:26 AM on March 22, 2015

"Inner Dialogue that Sabotages Weight Loss"

"These 10 Hairstyles Will Change Your Life"

"Is It a Big Deal That the Actor Playing the Flash Isn't Str..."

That was looking at three threads in two minutes, just to see the ads. These are not helpful, at all. I totally appreciate what you're trying to accomplish here, but any click-thrus will be accidental (and incredibly annoying), and while my comment about Miley Cyrus was sorta-joking, these are the worst of the worst. "Skeevy" is a good word.

There must be ads you can serve that are helpful in some way. I don't log in on mobile as I rarely use it. Doctor's office, that sort of thing. I'm fine dealing with ads -- the presentation isn't all that bad -- so I guess I can just eye-roll and move on. That's not a good value for nonmembers, though, and I wonder if the revenue these current ads might produce is enough to overcome the skeeve factor.

"Popular White Actors With Their Black Spouses" what the fuck?
posted by wallabear at 6:20 PM on March 22, 2015

"See the Before and After of 10 Celebs Who Have Fake Teeth"

"The Most Unfortunate Photos Ever Taken" (picture of a woman in a coat and tights with her behind circled)

Ad about Google banning sexually explicit content (ok) with an image of a naked woman with "censored" tape barely making her "not naked"

Miley Cyrus is ridiculous ad

I appreciate that you want to keep these sorts of ads filtered out but obviously more fine tuning is needed. These were in questions about Shakespeare, plays, home finance etc. so I don't see how this is going to increase relevant click-throughs. On the plus side I clicked two ads while trying to close them so maybe overall you'll see increased clicks, albeit accidental ones.

Along with these I had ads about iPads, toner, hairstyles, printing on canvas, coconut oil, etc. so they are not all horrible. It was about 50/50.

Honestly, I think the types of ads being called out here reflect poorly on the site. There is a news site I like(d) that does great reporting and investigations, but now they are serving those horrible joomla ads under every story and honestly it makes me hesitant to go there/click on stories.

But I'm no ad expert and I guess one reason these ads spread everywhere is because people click them. Please do report back on how these ads perform - I am genuinely curious.
posted by mikepop at 5:52 AM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Again, totally okay to send us the landing pages for these; the url for where the ad goes is more useful than just the text of the ad, since we can hand that directly to the ad folks and say "this site's ads are a problem" instead of just "also try and find the one about teeth", etc.

One of the open questions for me is how effectively we can filter this stuff preemptively vs. on a catch-as-catch-can basis; I'd hope for the former because having to chase stuff down on the regular is a frustrating thing, but with a new ad network and new process that's part of what we're testing out.

There must be ads you can serve that are helpful in some way.

I sort of hear you in spirit, but as much as I have complicated feelings about the new ad units, I think this is getting into pretty unrealistic territory. The Adsense ads we've already been running and which have substantially paid for the site aren't particularly helpful either; they're not there to be helpful, as much as the idea of advertising as an endeavor to connect people who need X with people who provide X will sometimes come up as a defense of the industry. They're there because they generate revenue for us; they do that because advertisers believe (rationally or otherwise, correctly or otherwise) that it'll pay off for them to pay google to pay us for the clicks they get.

If I had to answer the question "why do people click on Adsense ads", I'd say it's because a lot of people are just actually really pretty bad at the internet, bad at search, bad at navigating search results, bad at evaluating the utility of stuff on a page, and so most of the time they click on an ad because their first attempt to find what they wanted didn't work and that seems like a valid second move that's ready to hand. That's not all ad clicks—I'm sure there's intentionality, curiosity, irony, and a bit of actual happenstance appropriateness in there too—but the volume of it has always been bizarre to me, as is the fact that we function as a site off the percentage we get for it, because I've been looking at those ads for years and what Google has accomplished is mostly making their generally unhelpful ads be nominally more topic-specific in their unhelpfulness than traditional smaller-scale ad networks can manage. Even when I see an ad that catches my interest, it's almost never advertising what I was looking for; it's advertising something that I independently think "oh, hmm, that's sorta interesting" in a changing-the-subject sort of way.

I suspect the most actually helpful thing we could do is dump ads entirely from the site, and if it wouldn't be financially catastrophic that's what I'd do on pure aesthetic fiat anyway, because, ads, ech. But it's also precisely what pays most of the bills, and all else aside Adsense on mobile has basically not been doing that part at all, and so we've been running unhelpful ads that aren't even helpful to us. So keeping tuning the new ones for content and seeing what they actual performance is like after they've been running a while seems like the way to go, even if it's not something that we ultimately decide is the best long-term solution.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:53 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll get URLs next time. Do you want a running list in this thread by everyone, or URLs via the contact form, or some other way?
posted by mikepop at 1:09 PM on March 23, 2015

Contact form is best, IMO, and is a method that will be valid always.

And yes - for the truly gross ones (eg naked lady "censored") - please do send us the URLs. We do want to filter out the worst stuff as much as possible, and this is the way it gets done.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:13 PM on March 23, 2015

So while I'd be happy if these ads produce enough new revenue to staff up moderation again, I'd also be wholeheartedly supportive if the next staffing announcement is that a business development person has joined the team. Someone to help sort out the tough questions about raising revenue in a way that reflects well on MeFi.

I'm thinking here about a certain niche newspaper that used to serve a tight-knit community. The owner felt obligated to the community to pump new revenue into improved content, instead of better operations and ad sales to help stabilize the business. And so I don't want cortex (or anyone else on staff) to feel obligated to prioritize moderation above other spending that might be better for MeFi's long-term stability.

None of this is to impugn the business decisions so far. Just to recognize that this stuff really is hard, and that it's okay to spend money to make money.
posted by Banknote of the year at 10:06 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a frequent visitor, longtime member, and supporter, and nothing before this tweak has ever affected my use of MeFi as this has. I don't save password information on my phone for privacy reasons, and I never minded the in-line ads, but these new ones are so intrusive and skeevy, that I find I'm starting to curtail my visits. I'm just N=1, but I hate these ads, their appearance and behavior, and I hope you remove them. It makes the site look like click-bait for those of us who can't stay logged in all the time. No other sites I visit regularly on my phone (which, these days is about 80% of my web use) uses this aggressive an ad model. If I stumbled on a new site that threw up these little banners with their deceptive close-buttons, I'd leave it and never return.
posted by itstheclamsname at 9:29 AM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

I am also having a lot of trouble hitting the x to close the ads, and end up clicking on them and opening them instead. I'm on an ipod 5g with ios 6. It's really frustrating, and I (irrationally) feel like the the ads are intentionally designed to be deceptive about the option to close them. Itstheclamsname pretty well summed up my feelings otherwise. I understand the need for ad-generated revenue. It's the functionality and content of these particular ads that are off-putting for me.
posted by tllaya at 10:12 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also a note: people most likely affected by these ads are non-members, and non-members cannot comment about it here or anywhere else. But I can imagine these ads turning non-members off the site and making them less likely to become members . So it might be useful to investigate whether the ads would eventually make this site lose money.

Also, I cannot for the life of me get the damn ads to close. (they usually just open up another browser and go straight to the site for the ad, super annoying.)
posted by bearette at 10:55 AM on March 25, 2015

I may be living in a weirdly specific over-trained place with my x-tapping, because for whatever reason it hasn't given me trouble but obviously it's doing so for others, yeah. Interesting. That's another thing I'll broach with 'em as I follow up on this.

But I can imagine these ads turning non-members off the site and making them less likely to become members .

It's a tricky balance. Because a big part of me feels you in spirit on this, the same part that's pretty "eh" on ads in general for that matter; in practice I'm suspicious of the idea that most of our new, engaged members come from search-directed trips into old askme threads rather than from more direct references from friends, notable posts elsewhere, social media chatter, having their work show up in a post, etc. But there's the flipside argument there that even if the vast majority of people who hit the site hit it via search and then bounce right off again (and our historical bounce rate for the Ask archives specifically is quite high), it still sucks if we harm the uptake rate of that tiny fraction that might in fact become interested new members via that path. So it's absolutely something we're thinking about.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:51 AM on March 25, 2015

Update: with more data on how the ads have performed the last few days, it's clear that they're not doing as well as estimated, so we've pulled them and restored the Adsense ad units that we'd been using up until now.

I've passed on all the feedback in here to the ad network: the functionality concerns regarding re-popping banners and the hard-to-hit closing target x, the specific problem-ad urls, and a reiteration of the general concerns about ad content and filtering. If that stuff is addressed well and the revenue performance of the ads somehow likewise seems improved, it's something we might revisit in the future, but for now it's back to making what we can of the status quo Adsense revenue.

Thanks everybody for your feedback and reporting those problem URLs, and for rolling with us while we tried this out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:14 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is there a way to put the new ads only on old closed threads?
posted by ctmf at 5:13 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't another banner at the top of the front page asking members to participate in a short-term fundraiser with a specific goal be more in tune with the site ethos? Is there a particular reason the site hasn't made that a semi-annual event?
posted by mediareport at 8:15 AM on March 26, 2015

Member support is absolutely important, and is a big reason why the site is still viable, but we're also trying to do what we can to increase revenue from ads too. At this point we need both.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:36 AM on March 26, 2015

another banner at the top of the front page asking members to participate in a short-term fundraiser with a specific goal

The question of specific extra-giving goal-based short-term stuff aside, we're planning on making the fundraising that's happened so far an ongoing/recurring thing, yeah, and the support so far these last ten months has been really amazing and helpful. It's something I very much want to maintain and give some visibility (and ongoing thanks) to.

That said, it's also a minority chunk of the site's income and something that pulls directly from user's pockets in a way that's a lot different from looking for improvements in our passive income from non-members. I continue to be blown away by the outpouring of generosity and ongoing support from folks here for the site, but I don't think we can practically or fairly expect to say "but now, uh, quintuple it" to people. And so ads remain a thing.

I'm not at all in love with these specific ads we were experimenting with and so the fact that they didn't produce a huge increase in revenue is enough for me to set them aside and say "nope" after that short test, and it was really useful to get a gut check on them from members as well as far as what we consider in the future, but in general I'm sure we'll keep looking at possible tweaks and alternatives with the ad stuff because that is the primary financial engine on which the site runs.

more in tune with the site ethos?

I'm not sure that ads in general have ever really been all that in tune with the site ethos, but it's practical compromise: the site has been able to exist and have that ethos all these years almost entirely because we run ads for logged-out readers. The ad market is unlikely to sit still indefinitely (it's been very up and very down for us over the last several years) and so part of keeping things on the stable-to-bullish side around here financially is continuing to look at and poke that stuff even if at the end of the day nobody really likes to think about the presence of ads on Metafilter as being part of what Metafilter is.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:37 AM on March 26, 2015

I was at the PPRUNE forum today reading about the unfortunate/freaky plane crash in France. They have a mobile view with fairly unobtrusive ads. The ads are anchored in place at the top and the bottom. You can't get rid of them but when you scroll out of range they are gone. There's a a larger ad in the middle of each page also. Anyway it might be a more palatable model, I found them unobtrusive and not annoying and generally well-targeted/ tasteful as well as "well behaved". Screenshot.
posted by Rumple at 6:34 PM on March 26, 2015

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