Update: The ad collection posts on all of the sites listed below for the trial period have been posted. Submissions and voting will be open through August 2nd. Thank you for all the feedback — I tried to address most of it, and hope to be able to address some of the outstanding concerns (particularly surrounding ad rotation, etc.) after the trial is over.
It's now May, and if Community Promotion or Open Source Ads are something you care about, you may have noticed that there hasn't been a 2021 refresh yet. In case you missed this post, please check it out for some details about why the refresh was pushed back, and why a project around the rethinking of that initiative made its way into our roadmap for Q2 2021.
Here I'll focus mostly on the format for a new initiative that'll be broader so it can encompass the goals the Community Promotion and Open Source Ads initiatives tackled, along with a replacement for the Hot Network Questions Ads, and even some other types of ads that Nicolas has experimented with in the International SOs (like this, or ads that link to Meta posts like this). That means your communities can get three different types of ads for the price of one... which, by the way, is for free! ;)
Some of the goals of this initiative you may already be familiar with, since we're iterating on the existing Community Promotion and Open Source Ads initiatives. To put it simply, Stack Overflow's variant of Community Promotion Ads focuses on highlighting open source projects, whereas the rest of the network allows for promotion of basically anything that each specific community might find interesting or important.
In addition to that slight variation, we're introducing a new additional goal that applies to all the sites. This is the bit that comes in to replace the now-retired Hot Network Questions Ads, and is broad enough to allow for promoting main site and meta content specific to each community.
With that being said, the revised guidance/goals for the initiative reads:
Community Promotion Ads (all non-SO sites)
The goal of this initiative is for future visitors to find out about the stuff your community deems important. This also serves as a way to promote information and resources that are relevant to your own community's interests, both for those already in the community and those yet to join.
Open Source Ads (SO only)
The goal of this initiative is to promote advertisements soliciting the participation and contribution of programmers writing actual source code. This is not intended as a general purpose ad for consumer products which just happen to be open source. It's for finding programmers who will help contribute code or other programmery things (documentation, code review, bug fixes, etc.).
"Hot Network Questions"1 Ads (all sites)
This initiative has an added goal of providing your community with an opportunity to showcase exemplary questions from your main site, as well as frequently-linked-to guides from your Meta site. While the latter makes sense to be shown solely on this site, the former can be shown all across the network. These should avoid hot button topics, and instead focus more on evergreen questions that show what your community’s all about.
To clarify, and at the risk of repeating myself, all of these initiatives would be bundled into a single post, and the above guidance is a template split up only so it's easier to understand what bits replace the currently existing initiatives.
As is mentioned in the roadmap post, as well as my answer from a month ago, one of the reasons for reworking this initiative is the unmaintained old code that the current format relies on. Additionally, while having these ads be generated dynamically over the course of the year they run based on their fluctuating score is nice, it also produces overhead in terms of making sure the ads are compliant with our guidelines. The revised format will instead rely on an open collection period, at the end of which a "snapshot" of the ads that make the cut will be collected so they're run during the next year. We're proposing a single "submission season" at the beginning of the year, that runs for 1 month across all the sites where the initiative is run, after which all the posts with a minimum score of 6 will be selected and run for the coming year.
Obviously, all proposed ads need to abide by our Code of Conduct. Additionally, given we're trying to align this initiative with our Ad Team's regular ad campaigns' structure, our ad creative guidelines will also generally apply (note that the first 2 bullet points on the “Tracking” section do not apply, and a lot of the guidelines surrounding claims, comparisons, proof, etc., while still applicable, may not be particularly relevant for this initiative). Finally, ads can not be promoting products nor soliciting programmer time or resources for: knowledge sharing or collaboration tools for technologists, or for sites where ad buyers are primarily targeting technologists.
When the collection posts go out, they'll provide a detailed list of requirements surrounding file formatting names, sizes, clickthrough URLs, etc. For now, the two new bits worth highlighting are:
- Whereas the current initiatives only allow for right sidebar ads (300x250), the new initiative will also allow users to submit banner ads (728x90). We recognize that not all sites currently have banner ads, so it's possible that if the inventory to be displayed on a given site is too low, we'd need to put measures in place to ensure users aren't getting exposed to the same ad(s) over and over again.
- Whereas ads submitted in the current initiatives will only be displayed on the site where they're submitted (so, the MSO post will collect ads to display on SO, for instance), the new initiative will allow users to specify whether the ad should be displayed on the same site (mimicking the Community Promotion and Open Source Ads format), on all other sites (mimicking the Hot Network Questions Ads format), or on a subset of other sites (say, on all the tech sites). This'll also mean the CM team and the communities will need to work closely when defining their target audiences, to ensure the ads are relevant and not disruptive to the communities where they're being displayed.
One of the benefits of revising this initiative, as I'd explained here, would be that we'd be able to provide the communities with more detailed reporting of how your ads are performing. As I worked with our Ads team in this initiative, a few things came up as the bare minimum of what we can report back on:
- Line Item (Type of campaign, e.g.: "Hot Network Questions,"1 Open Source, Community Promotion)
We'd like to hear from you on whether there are any other things you'd like to see reported, bearing in mind that we can't promise to publicly share any that could potentially be used to reveal trade secrets to competitors.
Since we're approaching the middle of the year, we thought running a trial through the end of 2021 might be appropriate. Last year there was a low level of engagement on many of the sites where I posted these, so given that we're running a trial on the 34 sites where at least one ad made it to the minimum score of 6 in 2020:
- Android Enthusiasts
- Ask Ubuntu
- Code Golf & Coding Challenges
- Code Review
- Cross Validated
- Data Science
- English Language and Usage
- Information Security
- Mi Yodeya
- Movies & TV
- Music: Practice & Theory
- Role-playing Games
- Science Fiction & Fantasy
- Stack Overflow
- TeX - LaTeX
- Unix and Linux
In June I'll post a collection question with the guidance defined above for these sites, where the communities will be able to post proposed ads that fall under the Community Promotion Ads (or Open Source Ads on SO) guidance, and also the guidance for the bit of the initiative that replaces of the now defunct "HNQ" ads — all under a single collection question.
The list of sites above constitutes a good mix of topics, sizes, and levels of engagement with the initiative in 2020, so we're hoping they'll be able to give us a decent overview of how the network as a whole would engage with the proposed new initiative.
Once that's over, we'd provide the aforementioned report on how the ads did, and will also be looking at general engagement with the initiative as a whole. Additionally, given the new proposed targeting possibilities, we'll also be looking at the amount of ads getting reported since there's a possibility that some of the "Hot Network Questions"1 ads may actually turn out to be somewhat disruptive due to their off-topic-ness. Based on what we see, we'll determine next steps — though assuming all goes well, we can start doing these on an annual basis, and adjust if there's a call for a faster rotation of ads. Stack Overflow's may be refreshed twice a year, as has been customary. Depending on the level of engagement we see, we'll then decide on whether to expand these to more sites, and potentially revise the current policy of only doing this on non-beta sites.
If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please leave them as an answer below. Please see the section on reporting above, and leave feedback if there's stuff you'd like to see reporting on and is not listed there. I hope I can address most of it, but can't make any promises, as usual. Please leave any feedback by May 31st.
That's prolly plenty of words for now. I hope that you find value in this initiative, and am looking forward to (manually) posting all of these in the coming month!
1 I'm referring to these as Hot Network Questions throughout the post, but once we roll this out we may start calling them something else since... well, given the nature of the new initiative, we won't really be looking for "hot" posts. They're more like "popular" or "frequently asked" questions, really.