Publishers like to talk about their commitment to user experience. But not all users are alike. Like any consumer business, publishers have their high-value customers. They’re the people who visit the site regularly, are registered users and receive email newsletters. They might even be paying subscribers or members. Their reward is a clean, user-friendly site.
People who come through search or social typically pay little or nothing, either in the form of direct revenue, attention or information about themselves, and their experience may be riddled with come-ons to subscribe, more spammy ads and more intrusive ads, including autoplay video. Even the hallowed New York Times serves autoplay ads to some readers who come in through search and occasionally others.
“Everybody does it,” one publishing exec quipped.
One product exec at a publisher described how the publisher grouped readers into four tiers based on their value to the company. At the top of the food chain are people who pay directly. At the bottom are readers who come through social media links the publisher paid for. The exec (who asked to be anonymous because some of these decisions haven’t been made) said non-paying readers are shown in-stream ads that paying readers don’t see and that the publisher was considering cramming more ads and intrusive newsletter sign-up messages on pages seen by readers who come through paid social.
“There are lines you won’t cross with your loyal audience that you’ll cross with your fly-by-night audience,’’ the exec said. “We’re less concerned with ruining the user relationship because we don’t have a user relationship. We’re going to be as aggressive as we can about turning that into a longer relationship.’’
As PG read the OP, he was reminded how stupid some decision-making management can be.
How do you obtain new customers? By giving them a poor experience when they first arrive at your website/store/office?
When someone arrives at a website they haven’t visited before (often via Google), he/she will form an opinion about that website, including whether they want to visit again, within a few seconds. If those few seconds are a bad experience, they’re gone. If they remember the website at all, it will be cast in a negative light. “I don’t know why Janice likes that site. It’s a mess.”
PG understands his reactions to websites he hasn’t seen before are not the same as everyone’s reactions, but when he is hit by a barrage of popups, ads, etc., he almost immediately leaves and whatever prompted him to visit in the first place goes into the huge internet bucket of broken promises (in part because he uses an ad-blocker and any site that engineers ads to avoid his ad-blocker is not a site he wants to visit for a lot of reasons having nothing to do with its unique content).
“There are lines you won’t cross with your loyal audience that you’ll cross with your fly-by-night audience” assumes your loyal audience is pretty much maxed out, so you need to get a fraction of a cent from everybody else via an ad impression, etc., because they’re all fly-by-night.
But in the standard course of operations for most commercial web sites, you’re leaking customers, high-value visitors, etc., on a regular basis but not working on replacing them in an intelligent manner.