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Is YouTube Allowing Accidental Ad Clicks By Design?

By January 13, 2013November 24th, 2013Reviews

Like many creatures of the web, I’ve been known to watch YouTube videos every now and then. For the last year or so, I’ve noticed something strange going on with Google’s advertising approach within YouTube. Initially, I just thought I was witnessing a mistake that their developers made, and I waited to see when they’d fix the issue. To my surprise, that day never came – so today, I’m going to describe the problem, as I perceive it. Let’s start with a screenshot:

One of YouTube's preroll ads. A countdown can be seen in the bottom right.

An example of the pre-roll ads that appear on YouTube, with a countdown.

Notice the message to the bottom right? It says “you can skip to video in,” and then has a countdown, in seconds. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach – in fact, it allows me to move my mouse to where I’ll have to click. When the countdown ends, here’s how the message box changes:

The same pre-roll as above, but this time the button allows the user to skip the advertisement.

The same ad, but the countdown has elapsed.

Do you notice anything different? The “Skip Ad” button is smaller, vertically. Why does this matter, you ask? Well, here’s the thing: sometimes, when I go to click the “Skip Ad” button, I find that I accidentally click the ad – not the button. How? Well, when the message changes to “you can skip to video,” I, as a user, usually move my mouse over the box, and eagerly await the moment it becomes clickable. The first few times I did this, I hovered my mouse pointer over it, and proceeded to click the box repeatedly, in anticipation. When it actually became clickable, it turned out that my mouse was hovering over the part that disappeared, and before I knew it, I had accidentally clicked the ad. If you’re doubting the significance of the box’s transformation, consider this comparison:

The two previous images stacked on top of each other with transparency, allowing an easy comparison between the box sizes.

We’re not talking a minor difference here. A good ~40% of the “you can skip to video” box is lost, and instead the ad gains that territory. At first, I saw it as an attempt by Google to get more clicks – even though those clicks were most probably low in value. After all, if I click something accidentally, it’s extremely unlikely that I will be interested in the result of that click. And if it wasn’t about getting more clicks, then why did the box change size? As a company who (understandably) seems to put so much value into its advertisers, why would they do this? It was definitely an interesting question, to me, as it even had an impact on YouTube’s usability.

So I looked into it, and discovered that YouTube ads of that variety (Standard InStream Ads) were not being charged per click (CPC), and thus, the problem I noted above wasn’t as severe as it could have been. Still, I wondered why Google would make a design choice that would open the door to accidental clicks? After all, isn’t the amount of a clicks an important metric in the performance of an ad? Their documentation certainly brings attention to it (emphasis added):

Reporting Metrics

  • Video Impressions
  • Video Click Through
  • 50% Midpoint Plays
  • 100% Complete Plays

But, in the end, I’m certainly not an expert in Google’s advertising practices – so I could be wrong about this being a negative thing. Still, I’ll continue to wonder … so if anyone out there knows the truth, do let me know – I’m really curious. Oh, and you know what’s particularly interesting about this? YouTube’s new iOS app doesn’t have this problem – see the screenshots below. Could it have something to do with a mouse being more precise than touch? Fascinating question, in my opinion.

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