Online ads: The good, the bad and the terrifying

Online ads run the gamut from innocuous to annoying. Before you begin to curse an online ad on a news site, remember they are the bread and butter of a news industry that’s still searching for a substantive way to generate revenue from their content (paywalls anyone?).

Most news sites have forgone the flashy, blinky ads of yesteryear and opted for static image and text ads. But there are a few that are crowding advertising in every area of the site, in the middle of news stories, tacked to the beginning and end of online video and sometimes completely blanketing the entire content. Several news sites are making use of rollover ads and annoying site visitors in the process. Instead of clicking on a link to another part of the site, users are unintentionally clicking on rollover ads that are sometimes deceptively hard to close.

Other offenders include ads with self starting audio, heavy flash animation and a few holdouts who still use pop up advertising, though a large number of sophisticated users have integrated pop up blockers into their browsers. The last thing any site should want is for the user’s experience to be frustrating.

Unlike a newspaper or magazine, online ads have only a few pixels to sell the message. On the plus side, there is less likelihood of a website visitor to tune out the message, as is often the case in television and radio, because the advertisement is staring them directly in the face. Online advertising is a very lucrative business and there are people right now working on the next generation of online ads.

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Ad overload

As annoying as advertising can be for the casual visitor, on the opposite end of the spectrum is ad blindness, which for those on the business side, is a terrifying reality. Web surfers are beginning to tune out ads that are integrated or stand alongside news content. Google Adsense text ads are found on millions of webpages and as such are easily fading into the background.

A recent study found most people do not click on ads, and 99 percent of Web users do not click on ads on a monthly basis.

So who is clicking the ads? Mostly middle-aged women from the Midwest, according to AOL Executive Vice President Dave Morgan. And because online ads are still prevalent there have to be a great number of people clicking them, right?

There are some things your site can do to create more dynamic advertising. Every internet user by now is used to seeing banner ads. Try experimenting with the size and shape to create something more unusual that viewers will be drawn to. Ads should be intriguing and/or fun and make the user want to click the ad and not the “close” button.” Stason.org has more great design tips on how to combat ad blindness.

As a personal aside, I absolutely loved travel website Orbitz’ online ad campaign (which is now defunct, I think) because the ads were well-designed and incorporated games that were actually fun to play. Unlike those “Is George Bush a good president?” or “Push this button to win an iPod ads,” they actually required some skill.

And if I find myself annoyed at bad ads, I just remind myself that those ads are the reason I have a paycheck.