What Goes Up (Slowly), Must Come Down (Quickly)

Readers are quick to click away from webpages that don’t load in a timely manner, and advertising contributes to that latency. But what if advertisers got taxed for heavy ads that delay publishers’ page-load speeds?Ad-quality issues delay page loads by an average of 4.3 seconds, costing ad-supported sites $400,000 in revenue a year, according to ad tech firm Ad Lightning, which helps publishers identify ads that hurt their site performance.Slapping fines on heavy ads would shift the responsibility for sluggish sites onto advertisers and their creative shops, where the blame often lies.

“Some advertisers hold publishers accountable for viewability yet use creatives that sometimes take 10 seconds to load,” says Spande. “Beyond viewability, lighter ads with less animation just perform better.”

The idea has some support among agencies. Publishers are already being “taxed” by Google’s algorithm, which pushes slow sites further down in search results, among hundreds of other signals it uses to rank results. So if an advertiser wants to use heavy ads, should they also pay a premium cost?

Enforcement challenges
Enforcing an ad surcharge would be tricky, though. It’s hard for publishers to prove which ad creative is slowing down their pages, especially when programmatic comes into play. Even if the publisher could prove that certain ads slow down page-load time, that cost would be eventually passed on to the advertiser, which might cause backlash from brands. It’d be hard for publishers to impose such taxes on their own because advertisers can just pull their spending from a site if they don’t like the publisher’s policy.

Then, there’s the question of who would tax the advertisers.  Google DoubleClick and other ad servers are in the best position to do the work because the ad server owns data around file sizes and the number of ad tags, and it’s the only place where an ad could change.

Why Its Hot:

In order for this to work, an ad tax would need broad enforcement. Publishers would need to rely on Google and trade groups like the IAB to tax advertisers, says a publishing executive, speaking on condition of anonymity. Similar to when Chrome decided to block ads that don’t meet certain standards, Google had the power that prompted lots of creative agencies to take notice.

There’s hope that market forces correct the problem before it gets to the level of an ad tax. Ad servers, supply-side platforms and  DSPs that work in publishers’ interests will be rewarded by getting publishers’ business. If creative agencies are told in the brief stage that their ads should meet certain ad specifications, they will do so to avoid penalties and to get better campaign performance.

Why does there have to be a loser?

If we all work towards the best user-experience, we all win.