Expanding on https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/products/engagement-ads.html -- is anybody aware of any research that covers usability vs. profitability in hover-to-expand ads (aka. engagement ads) vs. regular click ads on desktop?

I've heard some complaints but only when there's not a few seconds of delay to prevent accidental expansions, with a clear indication of what's about to happen, ie. via a progress bar.

The way I see it, expand on hover is a no-no for layout elements such as nav menus and such. As for ads, however, users are way less likely to click on those, so auto-expansion might prove beneficial to ones livelihood if done right.

What do you guys reckon?

  • What do you mean by "usability vs profitability"?
    – JonW
    Apr 13, 2015 at 12:33
  • 6
    Is that what they're calling those horrible things? "Engagement Ads captivate consumers with rich, creative messages." Or, from the users' perspective, "Engagement Ads get in my way when I'm trying to accomplish something else." Apr 13, 2015 at 12:49
  • @JonW like how usable they are vs. how much money they make.
    – Morten Ås
    Apr 13, 2015 at 13:19
  • @KenMohnkern even when there's a few seconds of delay to prevent accidental expansions?
    – Morten Ås
    Apr 13, 2015 at 13:23
  • KenMohnkern is very correct in saying these are horrible for the user experience. It is very easy to 'hover' or anything without the want for the ad to interact with you. How would this be handled on mobile and touch panels? Apr 13, 2015 at 13:41

3 Answers 3


I've worked for several media and newspaper companies in London... top of the list would be Guardian, Daily Mail, Metro and Local World. Their digital newspapers thrive on the revenue from Ads and they do invest and spend quite a bit of money into getting these Ads into their web pages.

At one of these newspapers, I had to put my foot down and scream some sense into the people approving and demanding these Ads. Some of these Ads were threatening to both the readers and the engineers who build the pages.

Look at bristol post and metro some of the readers protested not to read the pages unless certain ads were removed or taken off. What ads you ask? Engaging Ads. Ads that play videos when you interact at a hotspot and Ads that take over your entire screen and flash bright colors in your face. While the engineers struggled to keep the integrity of the layout (which is a decade old poorly written html mark up. No one wanted to or was ready to overhaul this beast.

So why do sites allow Engaging Ads? They're big money. On an average, these Ads were roping in about 5 times more revenue than all the other Ads combined. No free content publisher site is going to pass on that. And so they forced it to play somehow... using underhanded dirty tactics. It was a dark day in hell for my mouse cursor and my finger (on touch devices)

The solution I proposed was (since, you know... bureaucracy), to give the user a heads up about these Ads. These were some of the suggestions at the end of my research on Engagement Ads and several complaints and protests.

  • First was to move the engagement Ads away from the main content area and remove all booby traps
  • Give the user a notice on their next visit about the new Engagement Ads and ask for consent.
  • If they are against the Engagement Ads, we hi-light them on the screen and they could avoid them. (ofcourse removal was not an option)

With a little bit A/B testing I was able to produce some numbers for the big rats and send it for a vote. But it was rejected. (for the morbidly curious) I tendered my resignation later that evening.

  • Why do you think it was rejected? Was it rejected because they believe user would not give consent (which is probably true...) ?
    – CleverNode
    Jul 13, 2015 at 16:35
  • 1
    The numbers from A/B testing showed 37% loss in revenue, while the user satisfaction increased by 17%. The proposal was rejected because, the media did not like the idea to give a choice to the user. Their conclusion was "sure, they will protest. They can't sue us and it will be forgotten in a week." There was also the fear of initiating the consent; you know if you do it for one they might want it for all.
    – Rayraegah
    Jul 13, 2015 at 17:34
  • Well... 37% is over a third of their revenue.... so that's probably a big reason to just go "screw it". If the numbers were reversed, say 17% loss, over 37% user satisfaction, they may have gone along with it (but 17% in actual numbers may translate into millions, so they will have to figure out how to get those millions back)
    – CleverNode
    Jul 13, 2015 at 17:46

So your motivation to go for engagement ads is the off-chance the user doesn't notice they put their mouse on the ad?

Putting things like 'negative influence on the user experience' and 'banner blindness' aside:
Engagement ads, like the name says, ask for more engaged users. The interaction needed is more profound compared to the click needed by your traditional ads. So based on that I would say usability is lower than with a clickable ad.

Making more revenue out of ads is more about effectiveness rather than usability. Placing it in the right spot and providing the right information within the right context.

  • The motivation is incase the user hovers the ad and sees the progress loader and gets curious thinking "oh well, since I'm first here I might as well see what the fuss is all about" (assuming she already finds the initial content interesting). She might also be thinking "this looks like something that will expand - at least I won't be taken to another page like with the other ads".
    – Morten Ås
    Apr 14, 2015 at 23:03

All forms of hover over (except for minor effects) are considered bad usability these days. Increasingly people are accessing the internet with touch screen devices where a hover over is impossible.

As for advertising...with the rise of ad blockers and people just plain becoming used to ads on the internet big flashy tricks to draw them in are no longer the way to go. Good online advertising is low key and relevant.

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