Evaluating the Unaccounted Cost of Distraction of Display Ads to the Users

Kamal Jain, Yang Song, Li-wei He, and Mary Czerwinski


Displaying advertisements is the primary business model for most of the content and services on the web. The ads provide free web services to a user in return for an advertising distraction cost. Understanding this distraction cost of ads may be essential in order to further improve and streamline the user-experience and business model of the web.

In this paper, we address the issue of evaluating the cost of distraction from display ads to users. Our study is divided into two stages, the latter stage being the primary focus of the paper. In the first stage, we summarize the results of an extensive user-survey. This survey provided a qualitative understanding of the user pain points with today‟s ads and their delivery. The survey pointed to us that it is not the ads themselves, but their effect on webpage navigation, which is considered a major inconvenience by the users. Based on this survey, we designed the second stage which allowed us to provide some preliminary quantification of the inconvenience of the ads to the users.

In the second stage of our research, we conducted a between-subjects user study where two groups of users are given the same tasks to find answers from popular web sites: one group with the ads displayed and the other without them. The task of finding answers from the web resembles an information way finding task. The results showed that the user navigation times were significantly longer when display ads are present. We also discovered that the number of images on a page is the most significant variable to determine the amount of navigation time increase. In conclusion, both the subjective survey and objective measurements obtained suggested that display ads have a negative impact to users. Design factors most egregious to navigation will be described.


Publication typeInproceedings
Published inWeb Science Conference 2010 (WebSci 2010)
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery, Inc.
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