Branko’s First Law of Web Dynamics

Branko’s First Law of Web Dynamics is: “The less relevant a part of a web page is to the page’s subject, the less prominence it should have on that web page.”

Or, to put it differently: relevancy first!

Odd, that no-one should have formulated this law before. (Well, not that I know of anyway.)

I was thinking about this in the context of advertising on the web. Did you ever notice how the most annoying ads on the web often are the least relevant to what you were looking for? Is this because the ads are so annoying, that any relevance they might have had immediately dissipates? Or is it because the advertisers realize that this particular ad is so irrelevant that it is not going to bag them eyeballs, unless they display them over anything else? Or (my favourite) is it because the sort of advertiser that would place irrelevant ads on a website, is also the sort of advertiser that would use annoying (read: prominence-boosting) techniques? Or (equally likely) is it because annoying ads appear on high-traffic websites, where a tiny percentage of conversion is still better than a large percentage of conversion on a small website?

The oddest thing is of course that there are irrelevant ads in the first place. If I were head of a marketing department, I would be making sure that all my minions spent the bulk of their time ensuring that ads are targeted at readers who are interested in them.

2 responses to “Branko’s First Law of Web Dynamics”

  1. Reinder says:

    I’m not sure this is correct, or at least, I’m not sure that this is the full picture. There are at least two other factors that make up annoyance (aside from the obvious ones that we no longer even talk about: sound and focus-stealing. Those are annoying regardless of relevance or any of the other factors involved, and everyone knows that.

    The other factors are ubiquity and the impression of profitability. Rewind the clock a few years to when Google ads were introduced. There was a lot of goodwill towards them, partly because they didn’t do the obviously annoying things, partly because they were (promised to be) based on Google’s Extensive Knowledge of Everything and therefore relevant to visitors of the sites they were hosted on, but also because nobody had them, and because the buzz around them was that they brought in money for the site creators.

    These days, the damned things are everywhere. Their relevance has declined because so many of them are cheaply-bought ads that go to link farms, and also because the Google’s Extensive Knowledge of Everything wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. That magical algorhythm isn’t all that hot. And, in part because of the ubiquity and the reduced relevance, but also due to word getting out about their underperformance on quite a few sites, people are less likely to go “oh well, it brings in much-needed cash for Reinder, can’t very well argue with that, can I” (I still use them, and will be until I find something better to sign on to). All these things together have pushed Google ads over the annoyance threshold, and people now complain about them. This is likely to get worse in the next few months.

  2. brankl says:

    You may well be right. This is the first time I hear of anybody being annoyed by those Google ads. The few times I have seen these ads cause minor irritiations is because what’s in them. Userfriendly had a cartoon the other day where your Gmail spam box would cause ads about spam to be displayed, stuff like that.

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