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Many news sites are struggling to make any money from this whole internet thing, so it's natural that some are looking to maximise income wherever they can. 

Unfortunately, while perhaps they should be looking to ecommerce channels and elsewhere, adding more ads is the natural reaction, and this has drawbacks for the user experience. 

I regularly see ad formats which should have died years ago, as they interrupt the user experience and may drive many to ad blockers, or just to abandon the site. 

Here are a few examples... 

Slow loading pages

The independent now takes ages to load, to the extent where I rarely visit the site anymore.

This is the page a second or so in. You can see from the blank space the number of ad slots waiting to load. Problem is, until they load, I can't read the rest of the article. 

The Indy needs to prioritise the loading of content over ads. If people have to wait that long to read articles, they won't be seeing the ads at all. 

Retargeting

This isn't necessarily the fault of Metro, but though retargeting can be a useful tactic, people can become irritated when they are chased around the internet by products, even more so when they have already bought them. 

In this case, I already visited the LinkResearchTools site to read an article on a site which received a Google penalty. However, I'm now seeing ads for it elsewhere.

I've read the article, I don't need to see these ads. Likewise, if you have bought a pair of shoes already, retargeting isn't necessary. 

Overpowering ads

These takeover ads are everywhere now. Some are reasonably subtle, but here's an extreme example: 

They aren't always that bad but some ads, especially with moving elements, can be a distraction when trying to read the article.

Yes, banner ads can have very low response rates as people tune out (as low as 0.01% according to Hubspot), but is the best solution to just create even bigger ads?

Video ads 

I think people are accustomed to pre-roll video ads, and the ability to skip after a few seconds is welcome. However, making people site through whole ads is risky, and can easily turn them off. 

Here on The Guardian you need to watch 20 seconds of ad before seeing the actual video you wanted: 

This is a bit much, especially in some cases where the video is less than a minute long, and it does deter me from watching them at all. 

News sites should consider capping the number of ads users see on videos, as YouTube does, reducing the time before skipping is allowed, and other formats such as overlay and clickable hotspots. 

Paying to skip ads

I saw this on Mashable recently when trying to view a video, and it strikes me as very odd. This service asks you to pay to skip ads. Seriously? 

To do this, you first have to register and fill in a captcha, by which time the ad would be finished anyway. A more likely response would be to hit the back button... 

Pagination

This is a way of inflating page views and therefore ad income, as foolish media buyers rely on pageviews. 

Take this example from Information Week. It splits an article titled '10 iPad Problems, Solved' over 12 pages:

Pagination like this is rubbish. It provides no added value to advertisers, and spoils the experience for users. 

Interstitials

A regular tactic used by Forbes.com and others. Just show me the article...

Overlays

Here's one from the Liverpool Echo - I've probably rolled over the ad by accident to activate this, but it's still horrible: 

Can't see article for ads

I think it's fair to saw that some sites overdo it. Here, I can barely see any news content on The Denver Post website. Ads dominate the majority of the page. And it doesn't get much better when you scroll down. 

OK, news sites need some ads, but you've got to remember to promote your own content as well. 

Automatic audio

Automatically playing audio is an appalling thing to do to your users, yet sites continue to do so.

Unfortunately, this practice has crept back into mainstream news sites in the past year or so, and the Independent is one such culprit. 

On the right of the article, video with audio starts playing the moment the page loads (which is quite a while as explained earlier). It even plays a pre-roll ad: 

§ 

To make matters worse, it isn't immediately obvious where the pause/mute button is. 

I often (and I'm sure I'm not alone)listen to services like Spotify online, and having an ad on a webpage suddenly blast out sound is a massive interruption, especially when you have the volume cranked up. 

Crappy related articles

This is a new one, and something Louis Gudema wrote about on this blog recently. Related article recommendations appear for third party sites at the foot of articles. 

Here, on Time.com, an article about Egypt's coup/revolution is followed by these not very relevant links: 

As Louis says - and this applies to many of the examples here - this is what happens when the money people on a site win out over the editorial and user experience people. 

Graham Charlton

Published 4 July, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (29)

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Stephen Kenwright

I like the irony of complaining about overpowering ads labelled "First World Problems".

...but still, completely agree!

over 2 years ago

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Rob Mansfield

My personal bugbear is getting a 'subscribe/create an account' pop-up ad before I've even read the article.

This is more common on US sites, but strikes me as ludicrous. How do I know if I want to subscribe when I haven't even read your content yet?!

over 2 years ago

Adam Tudor

Adam Tudor, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at The Black Hole

It's unfortunate that these sites aren't thinking about the visitor experience a little more.

Not only are they turning visitors off their site and content, but there's no doubt they'll be driving more to explore ad blocking options (which would solve almost all of the issues you raise).

An increase in ad blocking use simply causes more problems to them and the industry as a whole as more visitors get their content for 'free'.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Rob the membership roll-up? It is supposed to appear when you get to the foot of the page. Apologies if it interrupted the article for you.

over 2 years ago

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Scott

I think someone forgot to hit F7 before publishing.. SO MANY TYPOS!

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Scott - there was a lowercase i which should have been a capital, but not sure what else you're referring to.

We do check all articles, but sometimes things are overlooked. If there's anything else, let me know, but I can't see it.

over 2 years ago

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Natalie Khoo

Thanks Graham for this great article. It reminds me of a blog post one of my clients recently published called "How does advertising affect UX?" (If you're interested in reading it, you can click on my name on the right.)

The article came about from testing whether ads would interfere with task completion on the Bureau of Meteorology website (the first ever Australian government site to introduce paid advertising) so you can imagine it was crucial for them to get it right! Cheers - loving your UX related stories, so thank you!

over 2 years ago

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Stephen Moyers

Graham thanks for the wonderful article. You have provided with some nice examples of crappy UX of news sites. I am really fed up with lots of ads when reading any news on news sites. But I don't know why Google is not penalizing them with a page layout algorithm for a bad user experience.

over 2 years ago

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Rob Mansfield

Sorry, Graham, that wasn't a dig, it's a genuine annoyance that I'm starting to see more and more :)

over 2 years ago

Ann Druce

Ann Druce, Content marketer, copywriter, marketing strategist at Octarine

There is also great irony in that the advertisers don't appear interested in the UX either.

I'm always amazed that best practice of traditional advertising is, so often, completely ignored in online advertising. The "editorial environment" of print publications is critical in tradtional media planning, and should be in this format too. After all, a good UX will enhance the value/ impact of the ads.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Rob - now worries, I know what you mean. I thought you were referring to a roll-up here. We did used to have one but I think it's gone now.

@ Natalie - sounds an interesting study, I'll look into it.

over 2 years ago

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Ricardo Molina, Director at BrightBull B2B Marketing

Brilliant blog. A first for me spotting an ad for "not seeing ads".

over 2 years ago

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James Edwards

Great article, but was mesmorised by the ads from Oracle, Festival of marketing and Gt Ormand St job ad (at the top of the piece) that were doing a splendid job of taking my eye away from the content.

over 2 years ago

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Will Becker

Graham,

As you rightly say, they're all finding it difficult to make money online.
You appear to disapprove of any ad that's intrusive and obviously it's preferable as a user to have ads that don't get in the way of enjoying the content. But that's probably very closely correlated with completely ineffective advertising.

What do you think is the optimal solution? I note you suggest a focus on ecommerce but consumers don't go to newspapers for ecommerce since much better versions are available from dedicated ecommerce and vertical search players.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Will it is a conundrum, and ultimately newspapers will struggle to match the offline ad income they used to enjoy. So , some ads are necessary, but if they come at the price of spoiling the user experience and deterring readers, then they are self-defeating.

@James like newspapers, we too need to use ads to increase revenue. I would argue that ours aren't excessive.

over 2 years ago

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Jon Ewing

These companies are between a rock and a hard place.

Some newspapers jumped on the internet bandwagon pretty late - the Mail, for instance, had a terrible website until relatively recently, but has been hugely successful thanks to the prurient interests of its readers - and most publishers cannot make up their minds how the internet should generate income.

Once upon a time it seemed like the web was a good way to sell some ad space. The papers already had the articles. All they had to do was hit "publish" and slap an ad at the top.

Fast forward a few years and the likes of The Times are effectively creating a brand new multimedia application every day at a massively inflated cost.

The public is placing increasingly less and less value on news content because news is available free everywhere you look. Much of it is produced by people who never leave their desk regurgitating press releases and wire reports.

Those readers who are too young to have regularly read a hard-copy newspaper will be unaware of the added value you get from a quality paper produced by an international team of specialist journalists, so they are unlikely to subscribe. They literally don't know what they're missing.

Subscription models will never reliably generate large returns until *everyone* charges - and that's unlikely to happen.

So the solution is massive, in-your-face video ads that start playing before you can find the mute button.

It's awful, but the bigger question is: what else should they be doing?

over 2 years ago

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Joey Barker, Sr. iStrategist at ALSAC

Example #12:
Getting the same bad info on new tab vs. same tab as every other lackluster web design and content strategy hack - and employing it.

If I wanted to leave this article to read another one - be it elsewhere referenced OR one of your own - I would leave. Don't hyperlink with Anchor Text an internal article and expect someone not to bounce when you remove the user from this one in the process.

The reason I didn't? To post this comment and hopefully improve our ROI from paying for you guys as a service when I've known, since day one of the invoice, that your competition is stronger, more modern, and more relevant to today's T-shaped, young and agile marketer.

(yes, all of them - even SmartInsights, HubSpot, and DemandMetric - all entry level players in the big game hunt, regardless of talent)

over 2 years ago

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hero

You're right to point out that some ad integration could be improved, but your article kind of insinuates "advertising is bad user experience" when that's not the case. It's all about how the ads are integrated and their visuals that you're criticising here, yet branding all ads intrusive and not useful. Also, quite a few of your examples are 3rd party tools fulfilling the adslots on behalf of the publishers, so putting it all down to "greedy money people" is inaccurate. Obviously, each publisher has control over what appears on their site, so they can go block things, but it is usually a reactive action rather than proactive. Additionally, context is something of a big debate - notice how little relevancy Google's ads have to the actual content of the page? That's because they serve you behavioural ads. And those perform better

Let's look at UX for sites that are ad-free, bet they're all amazing, aren't they?

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Joey I think that best practice on links is still very much up for debate. In fact, we did canvas opinion on this recently and the majority view was to let people control their own browser.

I'm not saying this is the definitive 'best' way to do it, but at least this way we leave people to make the decision for themselves. In fact, I've had many more people complain about links opening in new tabs/windows than the reverse.

I'm sorry that you feel that way about your subscription. We'd be interested to hear more detailed feedback from you.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@ hero I'm not saying that all advertising a bad user experience at all. I'm saying that, in these examples, these particular ads are intrusive and risk deterring users, which is the opposite of what these free news sites want.

Also, whether these are third party tools or not is of no consequence. The publishers in question decide to use them, and can decide not to if they feel they are affecting the user experience.

over 2 years ago

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Ryan Skinner

The editorial/sales divide used to concern influence over content. Now it concerns UX.

The monetization people (as monetization people are wont to do) look primarily at numbers that give a very short-term focus on the business. They want to meet this month's numbers, so everyone gets a paycheck. But if they're not kept in check by someone with long-term focus on the value of the site (customer experience), then they're burning their long-term viability.

The market should be screaming for people who can tread that fine line (aligning commercial proposition with editorial proposition for short- and long-term value), but I don't think we're there yet. The divide is still there.

over 2 years ago

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Daniel Almond

There are varying degrees of offensiveness in the examples you've given but I would argue that the worst are those that come prior to the content that you visited the page for. If I click to read/watch something then I am not inclined to allow something to get in the way of that.

If I allow something to distract me half way through digesting the content, then surely it could be argued that the content itself isn't engaging enough?

over 2 years ago

Gareth James

Gareth James, Freelance SEO Consultant at SEO Doctor

My pet hate is auto play video ads, especially when you have your volume set loud and crap yourself when they start to play.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Gareth That's about the worst thing. It's so intrusive. I see it more and more now though, which is a shame.

over 2 years ago

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hero

I maintain that in a lot of the instances these "distractions" and "intrusions" are personal assessments and preferences rather than solidly substantiated facts. UX people just don't like the ads,no matter how integrated or "passive" looking, most of them are not commercial at all to even mildly appreciate their importance to the bottom line and they refuse to believe their own MVTs showing the addition of these ads (ok, NOT all of the above examples, granted) makes no difference to how users consume content or otherwise interact with the page. And when pushed on that point, they retort "well, that shows visitors ignore the ads, so why do we need them if they offer nothing to the user and slows down page load" blah blah blah

The holy grail is to find the balance between ads and content - UX people are kidding themselves if they think great content and design will get users to ignore paywalls which in turn will pay their salaries in the longrun.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@hero I think some are definite distractions for most users - auto audio is possibly the worst, but slow loading, overlays, interstitials and ad overkill are all up there.

I would also posit that many clicks recorded on such ads are mistakes as users attempt to avoid/close these ads.

No-one likes ads that much, but I do appreciate that publishers have to find ways to monetise their traffic (we have ads ourselves) . I would argue that, though ads have a part to play, they are not the total solution in the long run.

There is a balance to be struck between monetising traffic and harming the user experience, and some of the site mentioned here have got the balance wrong.

Also, great content (especially) and design has to be a big part of it.

over 2 years ago

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Jehanne Bowen

I totally agree with the Pagination point!

It drives me insane! I view most of my content on my iPhone or iPad. By page 2 I am so irritated and drop off the site, it is not worth the wait for the next page of ads to load with one picture and a paragraph of copy.

Huffington Post is guilty of this and their site takes so long to load because of all their ads.

over 2 years ago

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Gareth

Try reading the Guardian website on an iPad browser - it moves all the time! It's loading so many adverts and readjusting itself that by the time you decide on what link you're going to tap, it's moved, and you end up on another page.
Appalling user experience.

over 2 years ago

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Manuel da Costa

The manchester evening news ipad app recently had an update which spoilt the whole experience. Now every 2-3 swipes you get a full advert popup which is so annoying.

Who clicks on these ads?

I personally use an ad-blocker in chrome so I can avoid all these pointless ads (banner ads, youtube ads and 4od adverts)

over 2 years ago

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