Having too many ads is the fastest way to kill your website’s traffic; slow load times and security warnings came in at #2 and #3.

People hate ads. HATE ads. Nobody wants to be sold to. It doesn’t matter how good a mood you’re in, there’s an element of most marketing that grates on people. Whether it’s a disingenuous sales pitch or simply the fact someone is encroaching on your free time and asking you for money – but aside from the people making them there’s not a whole lot of love for ads.

Especially online advertisements. Part of that has been just how unscrupulous a lot of advertisers have historically been on the internet. Things like pop-up ads, interstitial ads, time delayed ads, pop-ins, auto-play videos, re-directs, etc. have done major damage to the reputation of online advertising. And for good reason. These things are all annoying and detract from the browsing experience. This isn’t what you signed up for.

And nothing, absolutely nothing kills a website’s traffic like having too many advertisements on it.

This is the conclusion of a study we performed recently. We asked 350 web users what single website sin makes them leave a domain the fastest. Spoiler alert: it’s ads. It’s ads by a nearly a 3-1 margin.

Survey results: what makes you leave a website

Hands down the best answer was a write-in stating that the user leaves a website when it tries to get them to take a survey. They did at least bother to complete the survey before leaving though. So, thanks for the data point – sorry to have inconvenienced you!

And that’s really what it comes down to. We have, as a species, begun to prioritize convenience over other things – namely security. Think about all the privacy and security you sacrifice for convenience. It’s convenient as anything that Google can tell you how long your commute will be before you leave work for the day – but that also means Google knows your location and day-to-day schedule well enough to make that suggestion in the first place. You’ve willingly traded that privacy for convenience.

When far more people are leaving websites for having too many ads than say for, generating browser error messages or not using HTTPS – it demonstrates that convenience and a seamless browsing experience are valued above privacy and security.

That being said, if you’re a website owner, make sure your website is fast and secure — clearly at least a few people care about those things!

So, how many ads is too many ads?

Well, according to one study it varies by how you acquired the traffic. Social media is already loaded with advertisements. The old adage is if the product is free then you’re the product. I’m not sure if that was invented for social media but I’m not sure there has ever been a concept that it was more true of. While social media is a way for us to connect with friends or like-minded people – or to hurl obscenities at celebrities and politicians, whatever floats your boat – it’s also a way for companies and organizations to direct targeted ads your way.

As you’d expect, people have a much higher threshold for what they’ll tolerate on social media, ad-wise. But if you get people via organic traffic, meaning from search – because of your SEO – that threshold is considerably lower, with one study pegging the number at 2.

What kinds of ads are the most problematic?

Here’s a good rule of thumb, and this applies to all UX – not just when it comes to ads. Don’t ever interrupt the user’s experience unless there’s a very important reason to do so (like a critical security warning). Just like tightrope walkers, as soon as you break their attention, you risk frustrating and/or losing them.

That means any ad that pops up or pops in or obscures part of the screen or remains static and follows them down the page is a potential point of irritation.

Getting someone to your page because they accidentally clicked and advertisement is a good way to turn them off and sour the relationship before it ever gets started. Especially if you wait until they’ve already started consuming the content to interrupt them. Ever start reading a news story only to have a subscription ad pop up a few paragraphs in and block you from finishing the article? Does that make you want to continue coming to that website?

People are generally willing to put up with non-intrusive ads in the margins or running as banners – but start interrupting them and they head for the exits.

There’s nothing wrong with selling a few ads. (There’s no truly free lunch, after all.) Just don’t overdo it.

As soon as you give that indication, evidence shows your bounce rate is going to soar.

Don’t let your bounce rate soar.