Anyone who visits a fair number and wide selection of newspaper websites can attest to what I’m about to say: Many newspaper websites are hurting themselves more than they’re helping with an overload of obnoxious advertisements.
It’s one thing to sell advertisements, and it’s another thing to annoy your visitors with them. Want to know the easiest way to get a reader to exit a webpage? Post an ad that detracts from your content and talks (or sings—true story), jumps in the way of the content, moves around so it can’t be closed, crashes browsers or floods users CPU with an abundance of pop-overs and -unders complete with seizure-inducing animation and headache-inducing jingles. Obviously, news site need to make money. Nobody’s against that. But if you want to make money, logic follows that you also don’t want to annoy readers into leaving/avoiding the site or into installing ad block software to cope, which undermines your site’s ability to make money and your journalistic mission to inform the community.
With that in mind, I arrived at these five annoying news site examples of bad advertising practices that annoy readers by thinking myself and asking friends what annoys them. I plan to follow this post with another this weekend on news site ads that work. So please, comment here or tweet @10000words with your advice on examples of sites that are the biggest ad offenders and which ones others can learn from. Now on to my top five…
Ad offender #5: Spoofs of real, local news stories
Why it’s bad: These are the net equivalent of the advertorial pages you come across in magazines and newspapers, where the font is slightly different and the content is just questionable enough to make you pause and think about it before noticing the tiny advertisement label. I’m talking about the links designed to look like news headlines that are often just spam disguised in a news wrapper, playing off the legitimacy of the news site. As you can see in this example, the site knows I’m in the city of Carmel, but the rest of the content is a miss (I’m 25 — hardly in need of botox. I currently have no home mortgage, and I haven’t shopped for car insurance since before I moved to this state nearly five years ago). This is bad because the proximity undermines your legitimate related stories. In this case, this box was below another box of actual headlines. That’s only a hop, skip and a jump away from believing the news organization endorses these sites.
Ad offender #4: Pop-ups, -unders, or -overs
Why its bad: It’s surprising this original annoying ad form hasn’t died off yet and has instead spawned equally annoying relatives. When was the last time you saw a pop-up ad that was for something legitimate that you’d want to click on? Personally, no matter how many times I go to close my browser and have to click an extra X to get rid of the annoying pop-under, I am not going to intentionally click on the ad. Ever. The same holds true whether it pops up over the browser or hides unsuspectingly behind the current window. The reality, is most users don’t see these because their browser has an automatic pop-up blocker, or they don’t notice them and when/if they do, they’re annoyed by them. How is that adding value for the user or the advertiser?
Ad offender #3: Move over content, look at me!!
Why it’s bad: Few things are more frustrating than waiting for a bogged down page to finally load and then going to click on your story link only to realize you missed your target because the content has shifted — thanks to that large ad that fell from the sky. Also in this category: Ad boxes that load over the content and grey out the site until you hit close on the corner, and anything you mouse over that reacts to the cursor tickle by jumping out like a genie from a bottle. Nobody comes to your site to look at your pretty ads. They can share some of the space with the valuable content, but — sorry ad reps — they shouldn’t dominate it.
Ad offender #2: Multimedia auto-player
Why it’s bad: Where is that noise coming from?! Let me turn off my music/podcast/whatever and flip through my tabs to find the offending one. Oh, right, it’s that animated flash advertisement on the side of the news story I just loaded to read. Ugh. Know the easiest way a visitor can make it stop when they can’t locate that teeny tiny, intentionally hard to find stop button? Here’s a hint: It involves closing the page and leaving your site.
Ad offender #1: Everything but the kitchen sink
Why it’s bad: See exhibit A. I wish I made this stuff up, but alas, I took that screenshot of a real, actively updated 2011 newspaper website. I counted a whopping seven animations on that homepage, and that doesn’t count the nifty page curl in the corner that unfurls itself when your cursor accidentally glides over it. Granted, yes, it’s a small town paper, but most newspapers are small, and that layout most reminded me of the blogs I see plenty of folks put up with every banner and ad they can stuff in the template. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you have more ads than content on your site, add some more content or pare down your ads. Also, never have more than one object moving on a single screen at a time — none is better than one. Most important, just say no to animated gifs.
Your turn now: What’s the most annoying ad you’ve ever encountered on a news site, and what was your reaction?