Focus on the Long-Term: It's better for Users and Business


Over the past 10+ years, online companies large and small have adopted widespread A/B testing as a robust data-based method for evaluating potential product improvements. In online experimentation, it is straightforward to measure the short-term effect, i.e., the impact observed during the experiment. However, the short-term effect is not always predictive of the long-term effect, i.e., the final impact once the product has fully launched and users have changed their behavior in response. Thus, the challenge is how to determine the long-term user impact while still being able to make decisions in a timely manner.

We tackle that challenge in this paper by first developing experiment methodology for quantifying long-term user learning. We then apply this methodology to ads shown on Google search, more specifically, to determine and quantify the drivers of ads blindness and sightedness, the phenomenon of users changing their inherent propensity to click on or interact with ads.

We use these results to create a model that uses metrics measurable in the short-term to predict the long-term. We learn that user satisfaction is paramount: ads blindness and sightedness are driven by the quality of previously viewed or clicked ads, as measured by both ad relevance and landing page quality. Focusing on user satisfaction both ensures happier users but also makes business sense, as our results illustrate. We describe two major applications of our findings: a conceptual change to our search ads auction that further increased the importance of ads quality, and a 50% reduction of the ad load on Google’s mobile search interface.

The results presented in this paper are generalizable in two major ways. First, the methodology may be used to quantify user learning effects and to evaluate online experiments in contexts other than ads. Second, the ads blindness/sightedness results indicate that a focus on user satisfaction could help to reduce the ad load on the internet at large with long-term neutral, or even positive, business impact.