Two months ago, in “Become a TidBITS Member and Banish Banner Ads from Our Site” (7 December 2015), I proposed that if TidBITS membership revenues could increase by roughly $5,000, we’d eliminate graphical banner ads from our Web site for everyone. The December numbers were ever so slightly lower (“TidBITS Membership Ad-Removal Challenge Update,” 4 January 2016), and although we’re pleased that the January numbers were up, it wasn’t enough.
TidBITS picked up about 50 more memberships in January compared to last year, and some members renewed at a higher level, for an overall increase of about $1,900. Plus, we were surprised and honored to receive an anonymous $500 donation. Even so, because the funds received were a bit less than half the challenge amount, we’ll continue with our current approach, which is to remove ad banners from the site only for logged-in TidBITS members.
I’m pondering a few reasons that might explain the results of this challenge:
This was a “greater good” situation, in that the people who paid to become TidBITS members in support of the challenge did so to help everyone who comes to our Web site, not specifically to derive benefit for themselves (although personal benefit was the effective outcome, given that members don’t see the banner ads). People may not have been sufficiently interested in bolstering the greater good in this way.
Along those lines, it’s possible that most regular TidBITS readers aren’t that perturbed by the ads on our site. The current design has only two slots — a leaderboard at the top and a rectangle on the right, and they may not be obtrusive enough to drive people to action.
Taking that line of reasoning further, it’s conceivable that TidBITS readers see low-key advertising as a business model to support, and feel that it’s better to have sites like TidBITS displaying ads as a positive example of how to integrate advertising into a site. Of course, the logical conclusion in that case would be to click the banner ads whenever you see them, since we earn money only when they’re clicked.
Could the rise of ad blockers have played a role? For those using an ad blocker, hiding ads might not have seemed important in the decision of whether or not to become a TidBITS member. I have no sense of how many of our readers use ad blockers.
Regardless, we’re moving ahead with a full site redesign, and while it will have space to show banner ads to those who aren’t TidBITS members, it won’t be one of those designs where ads are more important than content.