No one likes ads.

Just ask the 75% of gamers who run ad block. Or ask any web designer who grumbles about ads interfering with pretty site designs. Or ask any developer who has had to deal with slow page load times.

But at the same time… we all kind of like ads because we understand that they help keep websites free. And that’s worth a lot.

People don’t mind ads unless…

When ads on a site start to get out of control, people notice. I wanted to quantify this, so I ran a survey to gather people’s opinions about ads. I know, it’s probably not surprising to most of you – we’re data driven – even when it comes to ads!

The survey showed that 93% of people agreed ads were important to help keep sites up and running, even if they really dislike ads.

“Knowledge is power and should not be gated based on ability to pay.”
-survey response

However, there is a very low tolerance for annoying ad practices. So low that the majority of people actively avoid sites that do them.

Most people also have a low tolerance for the number of ads on a page. 65% of people think that more than 2 ads per page is excessive and the other 35% don’t think it’s excessive until you get to 5 ads or more per page.

Why sites do ‘annoying’ things:

Most sites aren’t being greedy and trying to get rich off you by spamming you with ads. The average gaming site makes $1-5 per year off each power user through ads, or $0.10 – $0.50 a year for someone who visits once a week.

But here’s how the annoying ad practices started: these days, 75% of gamers use ad block, which has a lot of consequences for ad revenue. Let’s say a site normally would only want to run 2 ads per page, because anything else is excessive. But if only a quarter of the people will see them (because those are the only people who don’t have an ad blocker), the site now has to run 8 ads per page or split that page into 4 separate ones with just 2 ads on each.

Adblock usage is driven by specific problems with the delivery of online advertising, and is not a rejection of digital advertising itself.
-PageFair ad block usage report

I’m also not trying to make you feel bad by running an ad blocker. People run ad blocker for 2 main reasons based on industry research: the number of ads per page get out of control or are otherwise disrupting, and to protect against the increasing number of ads with malware. Those are both very good reasons.

The state of ads on Ask Mr. Robot

This cycle is only going to get worse. More adblock = more ads = more ad block = more ads.

We’ve already resisted getting caught up in this cycle. Despite increased ad block rates, we’ve always had 2 ads per page, at most. Some parts of the site we’ve actually never had ads on, for philosophical reasons.

For example, we’ve never had ads on our forums because we use them mostly for support and we don’t think we should make money off your support questions. We’ve never had ads on the blog because we don’t think we should make money from you when you’re reading a tutorial.

The simulator, while being a completely free tool, has also never had ads. While it would be perfectly reasonable to support it with ads, we didn’t want to put distractions on an already data-dense tool.

That only leaves us with ads on one part of the site: the optimizer. In Legion, we condensed the gear tools into 1 page that you scroll through, reducing the pageviews in favor of a better user experience. And now for BfA, we’ve decided to remove ads from the optimizer, making the entire site ad-free, even for free users.

Why remove ads at all?

We don’t think ads are evil, and people understand (and appreciate) that ads help keep sites free.

For us, a lot of it honestly comes down to designing the user experience.

Our site is a very data-dense tool. Putting ads on it has always been difficult to make sure they don’t interfere with the tools and filters and settings needed to optimize your gear.

Picture a Google docs spreadsheet – where would you put an ad? The only place I can think of would be at the very top or very bottom, or the user experience would be heavily impacted. Our site suffers from the same problem.

With our BfA redesign, we decided to remove ads in order to have more freedom when designing the tools. One major advantage is being able to make full use of wider screens. With advertising, if you want a ‘skin’ (the product backgrounds that take over a site), there’s a set width you need to adhere to.

Advertisers also pay more for ads at the top of the page, which pushes all of the tools & settings lower. And that darn rectangle ad is so out of place on a site like ours where we don’t have a ‘side column’ to place it in, like you see on blogs.

We take pride in our tools and strive to offer the best user experience that we can. We also want to make sure that you know the free things are still going to be free, and premium’s price remains unchanged (at $12 a year, or $2 a month).

Enjoy the new UI!