The constant battle between revenue and usability

I am definitely the first one to understand that there is no free lunch on the web.  At the end of the day, someone has to pay for all of the great services and content out there.  To boot, I am a big believer in the ad-driven model of content.  To this point, there is a battle being fought at every web content company on a daily basis between product manangement, engineering, and ad sales.  What is clear on the web is that every little change can make a huge impact in terms of usability, traffic, and revenue.  The more you err on one side vs. the other can help companies make or break their numbers.  It is this battle between usability (simple and clean) vs. revenue (balance between getting what you want vs. being cluttered) that is constantly fought behind the scenes. 

Take as an example.  I have always liked the content but over the last 6 months I have basically stopped going to their site or any link that someone sends me from Forbes.  Why?  I cannot stand the in-your-face advertising and the clutter.  First, it starts with a big-ass splash page before getting you to the site and once there a video clip starts with a pre-roll ad.  Once I click on another page, I am confronted with another video ad that starts right away.  Once again, I like the writers but honestly this site has become too revenue focused and consequently too cluttered.  As a user, I feel like I am spending more time dealing with turning off video and audio ads and skipping splash screens rather than reading content.  I am sure the business folks have done their analysis between lost unique visitors versus more revenue per page, but in the long run striking the right balance between usability and revenue is key.  And as I sit down with my portfolio companies, it is also this balance that we all seek to achieve because we understand that what we may gain in short-term revenue increases may hurt us in the long run if our audience base declines over time.

Published by Ed Sim

founder boldstart ventures, over 20 years experience seeding and leading first rounds in enterprise startups, @boldstartvc, googlization of IT, SaaS 3.0, security, smart data; cherish family time + enjoy lacrosse + hockey

6 comments on “The constant battle between revenue and usability”

  1. Firefox and Flashbock.

    In Firefox type about:config
    Scroll down to image.animation_mode and set it to none.

    You can whitelist Flash sites like YouTube or click on the F to see the flash.

    I will only tolerate adds that don’t move and don’t talk. Those two options will stop all motion ads.

    If you switch to Firefox you’ll probably like the plug in too.

  2. @1:

    blocking flash gets harder as ‘good flash’ keeps on getting more and more integrated into more and more sites.

    also, i wouldn’t be surprised if beyondvc has in fact heard of ff, adblock, etc.

  3. I think there will be a movement to more personable marketing on websites. The flash is getting a little spammy and as hits start to decrease you begin to see a change.

  4. way to state the obvious! there’s is always a conflict between 2 forces-i can reread my elementary physics book for that info.

    the key question to ask is how to we go about solving the problem? What is the best solution that can be achieved at present? There are plenty of band aid solutions as evidenced by the comments-however when it comes down to the bottom-line a company has to implement ads in order to survive. Once they are in the black then they can play cute strategic games like-do we want to cuddle or squeeze our customers this quarter!

  5. Actually, I’m going to disagree with the basic assumption that the two “forces” are in a battle, and that they always are (of course, this may be swayed somewhat by the fact that I’m a veteran interaction designer and usability practitioner). Very simply stated, the more usable you make something (web site, application, toaster), the more customers will use it, enjoy it, tell others about it and buy it again, and increase your revenue.

    High usability = high revenue.

    Here’s one such experience: There’s lots more.

    In the case, they seem to have sacrificed usability, which I would expect will eventually have a negative impact on revenue (re-emphasizing Ed’s assessment “what we may gain in short-term revenue increases may hurt us in the long run”).

    Bottom line: If your website is having a “battle” between usability and revenue, you’re probably losing money.

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