The folks over at CNet News have an article up about how online advertisers are coming up with pop-up ads that bypass pop-up blockers. Pop-up ads, annoying as they are, still result in the best click-through rates of the various types of web advertising, not to mention revenues for sites that host them, and it’s estimated that around 30% of folks browsing the web make use of pop-up blockers. With the upcoming release of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, which will include a pop-up blocker as part of Internet Explorer, that percentage is expected to shoot up considerably. As a result some advertisers are working hard at coming up with new ways to deliver pop-up ads that bypass ad blockers.
Blocking software typically suppresses a new window. It detects a command known as “openwin” for opening a new window, which would be written into the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) of a Web page. That command calls on a third-party server to deliver the pop-up or pop-under.
Some new pop-up techniques simply avoid that command, thus subverting blockers that rely on suppressing it. For example, some advertisers are sending pop-ups through a “user initiated command” triggered when people mouse over an object on the page, according to ad executives familiar with the technique.
Adam raises a point that I think is lost on a lot of the people out there trying to bypass those of us who use ad blocking software: Forcing us to view your ads is just going to piss us off. I used to read the video game websites at IGN.com with a religious-like devotion because I thought the folks there tended to like the same video games I tend to and as such I could trust their reviews to point me to a good game, but it’s rare that I ever bother to visit any of the IGN sites anymore for one simple reason: their heavy use of those friggin’ full-page interstitial ads that randomly show up when you click a link to read an article.
IGN started making use of these things when the pop-up blockers got to be all the rage and what they basically do is every so often when you click a link before you’re taken to the page you requested you’re diverted to a page that is nothing but a full-page ad and if you’re not interested in whatever is being advertised you have to click on yet another link to be taken to the article you wanted to read. This probably wouldn’t bother me that much if it weren’t for two facts: 1) the rate of frequency the ads appear seems to be randomly determined so some days you get a lot of these ads and some days you’re lucky to see one of them and 2) it’s not at all uncommon for the very first thing you see when you go to an IGN site is a friggin’ full-page ad instead of the main page of whatever friggin’ site you were trying to get to. Even that might not bother me all that much if it weren’t for the fact that the site remains saturated with every other kind of web advertising including horizontal banner ads, vertical banner ads, square insert ads in the article content and the occasional flash pop-up ad that sits over top of whatever you’re trying to read until you can figure out where the hell they put the damned close button on it. When ALL of them are for the same exact friggin’ product and all of them make noise it really puts my patience to the test. So, instead of merely losing out on some small amount of revenue because I happen to block pop-up ads the folks at IGN.com have lost me as a reader pretty much altogether at this point including any chance I might have clicked on one of the lesser-offensive ads on their sites. How is that at all an intelligent thing for them to do?
Look, I know first hand that you can’t run a popular website without some form of revenue stream coming in and I have no problems with sites having banner ads and such scattered around their pages. For that matter, I don’t have a problem with most of the different forms of advertisements employed by websites as long as they’re not too intrusive on my browsing experience. Banner ads and ads mixed in with the content of a page don’t bother me and there’s even occasionally something that’ll catch my interest enough to click on. Pop-unders piss me off less than pop-overs, but I still have to close a window I didn’t ask to open in the first place so I do block those sorts of ads, but I leave pretty much everything else alone even though there are software packages out there that would block those ads as well. If sites are going to start forcing pop-ups on me, though, they’re quickly going to find that I’ll be visiting less often which won’t do their new technology any fucking good if enough of us get pissed off and stop coming by at all. It doesn’t behoove a website to go nuts with different types of ads like the folks at IGN.com did.
Now I get most of my video game news from two websites: Blues News and ShackNews for the simple reason that they’re very conscious of what sort of advertising they allow and how much it interferes with what people came there for. I’ll visit GameSpot every so often, but don’t make it habit because A) it’s a bit confusing to navigate and B) the really good reviews tend to be in video format which forces you to sit through a GameSpot logo telling you there’s an ad coming up and then the ad itself before it ever gets to the friggin’ content. Hey morons! We’re probably going to assume there’s going to be an ad before the content so why bother wasting more time telling us about it over an unnecessary GameSpot logo animation?? We know what friggin’ site we’re at! Give us the fucking commercial and then get to the fucking content.
Part of the problem is that advertisers want the web to work like television. Part of the reason that most TV shows suck so hard is because the network’s real goal is to sell advertising time to sponsors so they’ll fill up the 7-8 minutes between commercial spots with any piece of crap they think will hold the public’s attention long enough to make it to the next commercial. HBO, Show Time and such have the really good shows because they don’t have to worry about selling commercial time as you’ve already paid for the service. At the same time they damned well better make it worth the money you’ve paid out so they are motivated to provide quality shows. The web doesn’t work like TV in part because most of the time that folks go to a website it’s less often for entertainment than it is for information. Even when it is largely for entertainment, though, anything that intrudes too much on that entertainment is going to leave a bad taste in their mouths. Both the people who operate these websites and the folks who advertise on them would do well to consider what their visitors come there looking for and develop advertising that not only matches the content, but doesn’t intrude onto it more than the site’s visitors are willing to put up with. The more intrusive a particular type of ad is the less often it should be inflicted on a site’s readers.
The guys at BluesNews understand this very well. If you go there with Internet Explorer the first page you will see will be a full-page ad similar to what IGN.com shows their visitors. This only happens on the first visit to the site in a day and there’s always a link and a count down timer to go to the main page. I believe under IE there are also occasional pop-up ads, but again these are limited in number per day and they make a point not to allow ads that make noise. If you visit the site using Mozilla or FireFox then both the pop-ups and the initial full page ad display never occur. Beyond that there’s a banner ad on the top of the page and a square ad mixed in the content at the top right corner of each day’s listing of news. There is also a rather big ad (some might say obnoxiously big) inserted between one day’s content and the next in the middle of the page and that’s about it. When a noisy pop-up ad makes it through to the site the readers complain a little and the folks at the site take steps to prevent it from showing up again. I have no idea if the site makes its owners a lot of money or not. I imagine it probably makes less than it could if they were to take the approach that IGN.com takes with their ads, but it has a pretty devoted following as a result that might make up for their willingness to forego the more profitable forms of web advertising. It must be worth the effort as they’ve been at this for many years now and seem to be doing OK. It’s certainly one of the sites I make a habit of visiting every single day along with the aforementioned ShackNews which seems to be able to make do with a single horizontal banner ad at the top of the page and two vertical ads on either side of the page.
OK, I’m done ranting about web advertising for the day. I suppose now would be a bad time to mention I was kicking around the idea of putting Google’s AdWords on SEB?