Results of Ad Testing, and Navigation Changes

Quick summary for those who aren’t interested in the process…

  • The ad testing showed that big square or rectangular ads on the left do pretty well, and a ‘tower’ style ad on the right does ok too – together, they gave the best results.
  • We’ve got rid of the navigation on the right hand side of all but the front page. Once you’re actually on a content page now, you’ll need to click on ‘Home’ (or the top left title/logo) to get back to the front page, then jump to whatever you wanted. Or use the “Tracker” to get to recent stuff.

OK – that’s the quick version out of the way – if you carry on reading, I’ll assume you’re actually interested in my ramblings about what was good and bad, and why we’ve got rid of the navigation…

Split Testing of Ads

As I mentioned last week, I decided to do some real testing to find out what ads actually worked best. Sorry if any of the combinations bugged anybody during the week – we did try some that neither of us really liked, on the grounds that if they made enough money, we might be willing to make you look at them anyway – at least we could make an informed choice if we tried.

The things we tried, and the results – might be of interest if you’re trying to work out how to put ads on your site or blog. I won’t mention specific numbers here, but this is only for a week, so we’re not talking much money from any of them. Just about enough to be able to judge it, though. I’m talking here only about the ads at the top of the actual articles – just under the title, but at the very start of the text…

  • One large rectangle (336×280), floated on the left (‘floated’ means the content flows around it). This didn’t look too bad – fairly big and obvious, but easy to read around. This made the most money out of all the individual ads (some tests used combinations of two ads, and made more combined than this).
  • One small-ish square (250×250), floated left. Looked quite good, not too distracting. Made somewhere in the middle, but almost half of what the large rectangle made.
  • Skyscraper (160×600) floated left. Looked good, barely noticeable. Nobody noticed it, so it made very little – less than half of what the square above made.
  • Small rectangle (180×150) floated left, with a skyscraper floated right (just to the left of the navigation). Looked good. This was the only combination where the ad on the right made more than the one on the left – the small rectangle made almost nothing. Combined, they did ok. Slightly more than the small-ish square, but still quite a bit less than the large rectangle.
  • Small-ish square floated left, skyscraper floated right. The most profitable combination of all. The square on the left made almost as much as the large rectangle did (more than the same square on its own, which is a little odd), and the skyscraper on the right brought in more than the same skyscraper on its own on the left. It might be a bit of a fluke that this did quite so well, but I expected it to do fairly well.
  • Skyscraper floated left, small rectangle floated right. Reversed version of the one two up. Made a lot less – almost nothing combined.
  • Skyscraper floated left, small-ish square floated right – reversed combination of the one two up. Looked good, but didn’t make a lot. Somewhere in the middle – not actually bad.
  • Stacked – skyscraper floated left, with a small rectangle floated next to that. Looked terrible – made the text flow in jumps around the two. I expected this one to be very profitable, but it really wasn’t. Did very badly.
  • Stacked – skyscraper floated left, small-ish square floated next to it. Again, looked quite awful. Did a bit better than the one above, but still not good.

A few lessons were learned from this…

  • Kind of lucky – the really nasty-looking ones didn’t do well, so we didn’t have to test our morals by turning away money to keep the site pleasant to use 😉
  • As expected, the skyscraper on the left did badly – it doesn’t break up the text, so people just don’t see it.
  • Surprisingly, a skyscraper on the right did ok. This is unexpected, because conventional wisdom is that ads on the left always work better than ads on the right. I’ve seen Weblogs Inc criticised for using ads on the right when they don’t work, but it always seemed a bit odd to assume that they hadn’t tested. Presumably they have tested, and found what I’ve found. I think this may be because the navigation is further on the right, so eyes pass through the ads to get there. Anyway, they’re nicely out of the way, and they work reasonably well.
  • The bigger the square/rectangle, the better it does. Makes sense, really.

My conclusion from this was that the ideal thing would be a large rectangle floated left, but with a skyscraper floated right at the same time. The problem with this combination is that there’s already over 200 pixels taken up with the navigation bar on the right. We’re trying to make the site at least reasonably usable on 800×600 screens, so that leaves us with less than 600 pixels to play with. Chop 336 out of that for the rectangle, and 160 for the skyscraper, and the gap between them would be around 100 pixels – very narrow. Yes, we could make the text start after the rectangle, but then really large screens would have a lot of wasted space, and the text wouldn’t start until halfway down the screen.

Then I found myself thinking – how do I actually get around most sites? If I’ve started from the home page, I usually go to something else, then go back. Then to the next thing, and back home. If I land there through a Google search, and the content was good, the first thing I’d do after reading the page I landed on is to go to the home page. All of my navigation would be via the home page anyway. So why have all that navigation on other pages?

I called Sam and asked her how she navigated around new sites she’d landed at, and she said pretty much the same, except she usually chops the URL manually to get to the top level, then starts exploring from there.

So, I added a ‘Home’ link to the top of the page (in addition to the logo and title), and set all of the blocks to only appear on the home page. I then created a new block which just contains the skyscraper, to appear on the right, and changed the ad code to output a large rectangle floated left. It looks like a good balance to me, and removes a lot of clutter from content pages. I’ve also reworked the main navigation block so that it can be a bit narrower – so the right hand column is only 170 pixels now on all pages – gives a bit more space back to the content.

It’s possible it will reduce the number of people who arrive at one page through Google, and find their way to something else through the links on the side, but I doubt it will have much effect, and maybe a few of them will click an ad instead 😉

I guess we can only see how it goes, but hopefully it will bring in a little more than before, without making things any less usable or readable for anyone.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this in the comments – do you miss the navigation on other pages, or does it suit the way you tend to navigate anyway?

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