Commentary

Want A Faster Web? Speed Up The Ads

Page load times are a problem for some online media companies -- for good reason -- given the  heavy content, with video, high-res images and features jammed in.  (Let's set aside the separate problem of content/feature bloat, and assume for a second that it's a good thing to have all that content and all those features.)

IGN sites need to load much faster -- and we're down to 6 seconds or so on a typical site, from 7.5 seconds a year ago.  But it still takes too long to enjoy the site.

But as much as we improve our content and features, about 40% of the load time for IGN.com is still in the ads -- although the ads take up less than one-fifth of the real estate on the page.

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We introduced an open-source JavaScript library to call ads simultaneously and ensure content loads, but there is much more we need to do.

Why are ads slow?  First, the creative is getting better, and so it takes longer to load.  Ten years ago, online ads were mostly just flat images and everything else was called "rich" media -- anything animated, interactive and, therefore heavier.  Last year, two-thirds of the display ads on the Internet were rich -- so rich is the new standard.

The delivery of online ads is a complicated handoff from third-party ad servers to creative agencies to clients and to publishers.  Add in targeting services and a daisy chain of ad networks and the delays stretch longer.  This relay race happens under constant deadlines, and creative is often discarded after a campaign is over.

There is less reuse of code and tools than there should be, and a lot of invention on the fly.

Advertisers can't solve this alone.  Advertisers don't spend their time focusing on shaving tenths of a second from load times, but publishers do.  

Online publishers need to help advertisers by making it easier to speed up ads.  We need to not make ad calls when ads are unsold, we need to treat it like a shared issue -- not like someone else's problem.

This is an opportunity for advertisers -- users would enjoy their marketing campaigns, and probably pay more attention to them (although we need to do the research on that), if they only loaded faster.  In fact, online ad -blocking tools promote how much faster it is to surf the Web if you're not looking at the ads.

The advertisers still need to have a full palette of creative choices: explosions, video, animations, all that stuff.  We need to apply all the tools of speeding up the Web -- compressing files, minifying, reducing requests.  Imagine a toolkit creative agencies could use that would create faster ads out of the box.  We should see how far we can get.

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