Steven and Winnie (winniewong) wrote in lj_design,
Steven and Winnie

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It's been a while since we've posted because we've been pretty busy with the Sponsored+ launch.

There were a bunch of us here that were holding our breath. It was a big launch for us, and forced us to get more infrastructure in place that will help us ship things faster in the future. I for one am pretty happy that we've launched it because even though I get a permanent account because I work here, my main squeeze did not. And the Basic feature set just wasn't that interesting to him. He wasn't in the mood to pay. (Why should he since I work here?) and I thought it presumtuous to ask for 2 *gasp* perm accounts.

But enough about me and my man. Let's talk about what part the design team played in this...

The team needed a crash course in how the advertisintg world works, and the advertising team needed a crash course in how LJ works. So pmmarcov created a lj_ads to talk directly to the LJ community and talked a lot with the LJ crew. Meanwhile, the Design team was learning the ins and outs of the world of advertising. Some things we learned (sometimes the had way)...

  • The IAB is the organization that sets the advertising standards. So when everyone agrees what the standard sizes and rules for advertising are, advertising agencies and companies create ads that meet those specs, and then sell them on a bunch of different sites (like LJ).
  • Even though there are a lot of ad formats, there's really only 3 main ones. And if we didn't provide a nice balance of the three main ones, we wouldn't be able to take on the variety of ads we would want. The three main ones are skyscrapers (160x600),  leaderboards (728x90), and the infamous box ads (300x250).That last one is really hard to work in without being obnoxious. There are different positions that make the ad more valuable. Advertisers usually are willing to pay the most for the box ad, and if the ad sits "Above the Fold" it's even more valuable.
  • There are other ways to get ads on a site. Special deals and sponsorship. But for the first release of Sponsored+ we needed to get out there fast, and the fastest way would be to use the main 3 formats.

So while pmmarcov's team was busy working on who would be good enough to advertise on LJ, and setting up the ad server stuff, the Design team wrote up an ad placement style guide for how ads should be placed across the site.

Usability testing?
Nope. Not this time. Because, mostly when we ask people what they think of ads, they say they hate them. But then when you get out into the real world, they almost always seem to prefer ads to paying. So this was the kind of project where market research and focus groups do a better job. Instead of running usability, we designed in feedback links so that LJers could directly tell us what they thought.

After the launch
Lots of breath holding. We were all watching very closely, anxious about how the community would react. We got complaints, we got compliments, and we got reports of bugs. :) Our Support team has been giving us regular reports on what users are saying. We let things sit for about a week so that we could match the stats with the user feedback and figure out how we were doing.

The good news and the bad news...
So the good news was that people were upgrading, and liking it. The bad news was that not enough people were signing up. And here came our 4th lesson in the world of advertising. We need enough people willing to see ads on LJ to make it a big enough audience for advertisers to even be interested. For example, if we don't get enough people interested in computers to sign up for Sponsored+, then we won't be very interesting to any cool computer advertisers.

But there was a bright side to the bad news. Mostly people were not upgrading to Sponsored+ because they had never heard of it, not because they didn't like it. So we had to think of a way to get the news in front of people. Brad thought this was a problem for a lot of LJ's features. For example, veroz's Navigation Strip is fantastic, and changes the way I use LJ is a good way. But hardly anyone knows about it. So Brad made a feature that tells LJers what feature they have access to, but aren't using. He called the project CProd. I called it Frank the Clippy. You'll probably see him around the site, exposing features to you in a non-intrusive way. One of his tips is that Sponsored+ exists.

We got our stats in on Friday, and CProd / Frank the Clippey is working!

So what next?

Bugs first. Lots of problems with how user's S1 customizations were broken by the ad level, so they had to drop back to Basic. There were also a bunch of ideas we had for giving users more flexibility in ad display that didn't make the launch. We're working on getting some of those things done too. But the bugs are first.

I hope this post was enlightening. If there's any part of the process that you're curious about, leave a comment, and I'll try to answer them.
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