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Archive for November 28th, 2007

Shooting my (future) self in the foot with ad blocks?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

I am a horrible person. No really.

I understand the economics of newspaper publishing. I understand that the number of inches in my story is at the least indirectly related to the number of ads our reps can sell. I know that though we’re certainly not making a killing with our online advertising, anything we can do to draw more visitors’ eyeballs is much appreciated by our ad staff, who can hawk those page views to the highest bidder.

I don’t dwell on these things, but I do know they pay my salary, however meager it may seem. (It’s really not that low.)

And yet, I am a horrible person.

Why? Because the addition of one more set of ads was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. The in-text Vibrant Media ads (featured on, or rather within, news stories here, here, and here, to name a few) has pushed me to a place I’d long considered but held off on precisely because I know the the indirect correlation between these ads and my financial bottom line and therefore to my future.

But I couldn’t take it anymore. I put up an ad blocker on Firefox that means I’ll never see green again. Or at least, not until those pesky advertisers figure out a new way to annoy, err trick, me into seeing their wares.

There’s a lengthy Wall Street Journal story from Tuesday and shorter Business Week article this week discussing the green in-text ads that drove me to the ad blocker.

For an interesting take on this trend, read this blog post, which details the issue at the Indy Star. The comments are particularly interesting. He also has a follow-up post that’s equally worth your time. From the follow-up:

When online (Big Corporate Media) opts for the short-term revenue bump that these kinds of ads promise to provide, they’re being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Annoying readers is not a good way to increase traffic over the long run. Undermining the credibility of the news they provide diminishes the only product news organizations have to offer. And bilking advertisers with borderline click-fraud doesn’t seem likely to appeal to those advertisers in the long run either.

And all this says nothing of the ethics, which Paul Conley has more than beat dead in posts deriding the practice among B2B publishers.

For me, I’m less concerned about how these in-text ads might influence editorial copy (at least here, I’m confident the answer is it won’t). I am deeply concerned, however, with how this will impact the user experience.

First, it is annoying. It annoys and frustrates me when I highlight a paragraph and end up with a box blocking half the text I want to read or when an ad forces me to interact with it to shut off annoying sounds, animation or to get it out of my way. Though I surely spend more time with news Web sites than the average consumer, I also have a higher tolerance for these ads precisely because of what I said in my introduction, these pay my salary and salaries of my peers. I can’t imagine an annoyed reader is a happy reader, and unhappy readers will likely move on to another site that is less annoying.

Second, not all readers can tell the difference between these advertiser links and intentional links endorsed by the writer/news organization. Sure a green link with a double underline is obviously not the norm for a link, and the blue box does clearly indicate advertisement. But it’s still misleading. This also leaves out the potential for actual meaningful in-copy links, a la NYTimes linking to archived stories on major news topics or companies.

All of this isn’t to say advertising doesn’t have its place. It obviously does, both from my selfish desire to be paid to the need for businesses to reach customers and for consumers to find the items and services they need and want.

Online, I’m a huge fan of the Google text ads precisely because they are unobtrusive and usually relevant, neither of which the Vibrant Media ads can claim. I also don’t mind banner ads that fit in their rightful place, so to speak, stripped across the top, bottom or side of the page — as long as they don’t talk to me without asking first or send me into near seizures. To be honest, even video pre-roll ads and those splash-screen ads that jump up between links I click and stories I want to read don’t bother me, as long as they’re infrequent (maybe one per five or more stories?), and the larger display and captive audience on that page are probably more effective anyway.

I do wonder whether my turning to ad blocking programs is an ominous sign and yet another unneeded hurdle for newspapers to jump in the new media game. It’s so simple to do, why shouldn’t Web users install these ad blockers? If you annoy them enough or push them to their limits, they will.

It took about one minute for me to find the appropriate extension to nix the offending ads. I didn’t want to, but for my sanity — both as an annoyed reader and writer — I had to do it.

For my future? I hope the Internet and I, or more importantly other users, can come to some sort of understanding whereby advertisements and tolerance for them can peacefully and profitably co-exist. I just don’t think these in-text ads help that cause. If anything, they are giving it the middle finger.