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  • Web Sites Tell Customers to Take a Hike

    July 5th, 2016

    My daily surfing appetite is satisfied by dozens of sites. Some are news-oriented, others entertainment, some not so easy to categorize. Most of them have ads of one sort or another, and that makes sense. You shouldn’t expect to get all this free content without someone else paying the bills. Just as you will encounter ads on radio and TV shows — except for some premium cable channels and SiriusXM satellite radio music channels — online publishers have to pay the bills.

    The traditional way is just to display banners. Some might be animated, but unless those animations are extreme, they don’t really get in your way. If the site isn’t overwhelmed with ads, it’s not hard to get at the content you want to read.

    But some sites take it too far, autoplaying an audio or video presentation. It’s not just putting a Play button in front of you, but forcing the issue. Some recent browser updates, such as Safari, make it possible to silence the unwanted audio, so it’s not as bad as it might otherwise be.

    These aren’t unknown sites either. I’ve seen and heard unwanted video presentations at such well-known web portals as USA Today and CNN, and you’d think their web teams would understand that customers should not be driven away. Macworld’s site also sometimes puts up a large ad when you click on an article. It’s the sort of thing where the ad will vanish after a period of time, or you can click or tap a “Skip” option of some sort. But some sites won’t let you dismiss the ads until a short period of time, usually 30 seconds, have elapsed.

    Yet another offender is RealClearPolitics, a site that posts the averages of recent polls, plus a crosssection of articles from different publications. The usual scheme is to first display the site, redirect to the ad, and redirect you back to the content after 30 seconds. You still have the option of skipping the ads without a delay, but sometimes it’s done with an “X” button that isn’t always visible without scrolling around a little.

    I’m sure you can provide similar war stories.

    Now we accept ads to help cover our costs. I try not to make them intrusive, so I omit extreme animation or audio and video from the ad networks to which I subscribe. Sometimes I get caught flat-footed — the ad network tosses in something that is more extreme than I would like — but I do my best to keep the focus on the content.

    If you do see an ad about a product or service that might interest you, I’d like you to check it out. That helps encourage the advertiser or network to renew or increase our monthly commissions.

    Unfortunately, online advertising has become more difficult in recent years. The repeat offenders have simply turned off people to their presence, and thus any ad, however innocuous, is considered an annoyance. That’s why many people use ad blockers. Out of sight, out of mind, and there won’t be ad pop-ups or unwanted audio or video commercials to intrude on your privacy.

    There are ad blocker services that allow a site to register with them, but it often comes at a price. That’s how the free services earn money, so if your site or advertisement is accepted, you won’t find yourself blocked. I have another word for the practice that contains six letters starting with the letter “r,” or another with nine letters starting with an “e.”

    In other words, I don’t want to be put in a position where I have to pay off someone to stay in business.

    On all my sites, I use anti-ad blocker plug in. It puts up a message explaining that we depend on advertising to help pay the bills, so please disable your ad blocker on my sites. Most ad blockers do have a way to selectively exclude sites, and I hope you will.

    My two radio shows also have ads. But they are all placed within a defined ad block. You can fast forward through them if you like, as many do with TV shows. The network gives us a small number of ad slots in which to put our own ads, which is the sole source of direct income from the radio shows. If you don’t want to fast forward, you can also subscribe to The Tech Night Owl+ and The Paracast+ so you’ll be able to download commercial-free versions of the shows. No fast-forwarding necessary. For The Paracast+, your subscription fee also gets you some value-added extras, including an extra radio show, After The Paracast, show transcripts and other great content.

    I just hope, in the desperation to force ads on visitors, the entire online advertising system isn’t damaged beyond repair. Already Google is earning lower bids for their targeted ads. I’ve also had to cut the rates to attract business, and it’s still difficult. Some sites simply put everything, beyond a few teasers or a small number of free articles, behind a pay wall. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal are examples. We’re not large enough to move in that direction and, besides, I do think the best web content ought to be free.

    But we have to have the ads to help put food on the table, and, as some of you know, ad revenue is already insufficient.



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