You're browsing the Internet and you see a link to an article or video that interests you. So you click on it, but instead of getting the content you wanted, the site begins loading a video ad. What do you do? Chances are you immediately start looking for the link that reads "Click here to skip this ad."

More than half the respondents in a BurstMedia survey say they stop watching an online video if they encounter an ad, and 15 percent say they immediately navigate away from the site altogether. The message is clear: users don't like "pre-roll" video ads. Why do so many big companies continue using them?

Fifteen and 30-second pre-rolls are a holdover from television advertising, according to Glenn Pingul, vice president of marketing at the online video advertising company Mixpo. "That was taken from broadcast, where ads originally were 60 seconds, but then were cut down to 30 and 15 seconds to make them more affordable."

But whether or not these ads are effective on television, they rarely are on the Internet, Pingul says. "Just taking a 15-second commercial and repurposing it for the Internet doesn't take advantage of the benefits online video can offer."

Smarter than the big guys

The fact that so many big companies are stuck on 15 or 30 second pre-rolls means there's an opportunity for smaller and smarter companies to use online video more effectively than their larger competitors, even if their budgets are tiny by comparison.

What's the best way to take advantage of this opportunity? Begin by creating ads that are low on glitz and high on content, offering real information about your product or your company rather than high production values.

That's what Li Read did when she needed to use the Internet to reach potential customers who were mostly very far away. Read is managing broker of RE/MAX Salt Spring on Salt Spring Island near Vancouver, but 80 percent of the home buyers there come from outside Canada. "My buyers for the last seven or eight years have been 100 percent non-local," she says. Advertising in local papers and radio stations is obviously useless, so instead she uses online video ads both to create a slide show "walk-through" of homes for sale, and to help customers get to know her. Read also uses a video ad in which she talks about herself and her home-buying philosophy.

"It's my signature to the world," she explains. "Ninety percent of people start their property search on the Internet, but does that mean the old values of loyalty and connecting with customers have no value? If you're displaying who you are, that you know the inventory and you love what you do, I do think that can make them see you're trustworthy."

The video ads are fairly new, and Read can't say for sure whether they've led to any specific sales. However, 0.58 percent of people who see an ad for her properties click on it to play the video, and 1.69 percent of those who see the ad about herself do so. This compares with a traditional online advertising conversion rate of 0.1 percent, according to Pingul.

Give the user control

Another way to beat out the big guys is to give the user control over the video ad experience, and thus avoid the resentment that pre-rolls often inspire. With this in mind, Pingul favors "in-banner" video ads that run in one section of the page, rather than taking the user away to another page. "In our platform, advertisers can set video ads to auto-play when a page is loaded," Pingul says. "They can play video and audio, video only, or they can be click-to-play," Pingul says. "We test all three options, and we don't recommend autoplay with audio on. Users shouldn't be forced to consume something unless they've asked for it."

Giving the user options also allows you to test many aspects of your ad's performance -- something every successful online video advertiser must do, according to Pingul. Ideally, you should be able to measure everything, including how many people click to play the ad (if click-to-play) or deliberately turn on the audio, how much of the ad they watch, how many of them share the ad by sending a link to someone else, and how many take an action suggested in the ad, such as clicking a link to send an email requesting more information.

Ask them to do something

That call to action should be an element of every online video ad, according to Pingul. "That's the most important point about online video advertising," he says. "The key is to determine what you want the video to accomplish -- to drive leads or create actual sales. Whatever it is should be front and center in the video."

What if you just want to build visibility for your company or your brand? "You can do that too," he says. But he still thinks it's important to have a specific idea of what you want your ad to accomplish, and specific actions you want your viewers to take. "There should always be some direct response you're asking for," he says. "Don't create an ad that doesn't have a goal."