Do advertisers, developers need a new paradigm for mobile advertising?

New survey results reveal some startling facts about users and mobile ads including that most are clicked by accident.

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Mobile ads have become fairly commonplace on various platforms, particularly Android. Such ads are often used to create a revenue stream for free apps or as a way to create free versions of paid apps. This can be a win-win for both consumers and developers, particularly when it comes to free versions of paid apps since it allows users to truly gauge their interest in an app before buying but not in a feature-limited way.

While ad-supported apps may be good for both users and developers, they may not be as good for advertisers. That's among the findings in a recent survey conducted by Pontiflex.

The survey found that 61% of users reported tapping on a mobile ad by accident more often than tapping on one intentionally. The survey also found that 71% of users prefer ads that keep them in the ad-supported app as opposed to those that launch a web browser or app marketplace. Finally, the survey found that when users do intentionally click on ads, two thirds prefer ads that correspond to a coupon, deal, or company newsletter.

None of this information is really all that surprising. On devices as small as smartphones, tapping the wrong things isn't exactly difficult. And, it's pretty much assumed that you'd prefer to stay within an app when tapping an ad (intentionally or not), than be forced to leave the current to view further content. This is most obviously expected on platforms that offer limited multitasking capabilities (like Apple's iOS) or no multitasking (like Windows Phone 7), but it can also be a factor on fully multitasking OSes like Android because running multiple apps simultaneously can impact both overall performance and battery life.

The entire question of staying within an app was, after all, a big part of the premise for Apple's iAd platform. While iAd has enjoyed some success, however, it has had limited adoption, partly because of the stringent control Apple maintains over the platform and the ads is serves. Of course, iAd also suffers somewhat from being restricted to iOS devices while other platforms such as Greystripe and AdMob can be implemented on multiple platforms, giving advertisers a broader pool of potential customers.

All the findings should be considered by developers, advertisers, and ad program managers alike. While these aren't entirely surprising, they do show that simply borrowing from the traditional web advertising model isn't going to be the most effective way of selling ads or placing them inside apps. A traditional click-through rate (the metric most commonly used to buy and sell ads) doesn't hold up as being effective to advertisers if more than half the ads clicked are done so by accident. Similarly, ads that are clicked accidentally are more likely to irritate users if they automatically launch a different app. Obviously understanding the preferred types of ads and, where possible, tying them into location services is beneficial to everyone.

How ads can be re-conceived with this information is a bit of a tricky question. It seems clear that Apple is on the right track with its iAd approach to making ads essentially into mini-apps within apps. It may also be that ad networks and advertisers might want to consider a per-eyeball model (somewhat similar to television) rather than a click-through basis for payment, though that would be a big shift in ad sales perception. That change might be less warranted with rich content iAd-style ads because an ad network could track whether the user continues viewing ad content or returns to the host app more effectively. It may also be advisable to both developers and ad networks to clearly delineate ad content, though the effectiveness would vary from one app and/or ad network to another.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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