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Advertising on the Internet: Dos and Don’ts

26 April 2017

I think it’s fair to argue that the reputation of advertising on the internet is located somewhere in the Mariana Trench. For decades, the quality of advertising on any site was usually rock-bottom, with ads for phishing scams dressed up as browser games, malware targeted at the uninformed, risqué ads for otherwise normal products appearing on normal sites and so on. Some ads go beyond simply attracting the eye and take over the page the user is on, or redirects them to a bigger version of the ad without the user’s consent.

Even then, more conservative banner ads and static advertisements for actual services or products rarely get clicked on, due to the inherent distrust from years of fake, malicious and ridiculous advertising that stuck on the internet like an inoperable tumour. As a result, many internet users have taken to using ad-blocking software on their browsers. This varies from having trustworthy sites whitelisted entirely to an entire website’s ad selection blocked. Obviously, the latter is beneficial for the end user as ads require bandwidth usage and lengthen page load times considerably, whereas it’s a constant burden on the website as their sponsor’s ads don’t get clicked on.

Convincing internet users to whitelist a site is notoriously difficult, with some companies handling the issue very poorly, such as comparing ad blocking to software piracy. Sometimes the best approach is to showcase that the content your website produces is supported primarily by adverts, and adblockers indirectly harm the website. So long as your ads aren’t dangerous or a bandwidth drain, you’ll find that most considerate people will turn it off to ‘do their part’ in keeping the website rolling. On a related note, websites that have boxes pop up asking for subscriptions or a survey response, occasionally blocking the user from actually exploring the website, will do nothing for you and will likely make first time users leave and never come back, harming your search rankings.

Once that’s sorted out, it’s time to figure out what ads are acceptable to your audience. A business site would do well to show business related ads, such as a webinar broadcast or a business report rather than the pseudo-Flash game ads for a free mobile phone or tablet. An ad that isn’t relevant won’t get clicked on outside of an accident or morbid curiosity.

Make sure your ads don’t get in the way of flowing text. Make sure they’re eye catching but not obnoxious: a general rule is that animated advertisements, or ads that autorun sound and video would be put in that ‘obnoxious’ pile. Make sure these ads aren’t a bandwidth hog and for God’s sake, don’t allow ads to run on your website that are trying to dupe the naïve or uninformed into clicking them (the ancient Windows XP/98/95 “X Unread Messages” ads, designed to look like part of the OS, being emblematic of duplicitous and illegal advertising common on the internet).

Nobody actually wants to see an ad on the internet, due to inherent distrust, slowing page load times and generally being obnoxious or unpleasant for viewing. But for a lot of websites, ads are the only things keeping them afloat, along with subscriptions or, god forbid, a sponsorship deal which can affect the impartiality of the content on the site and the integrity of its writers. Ads are, charitably putting it, the least worst option for running a website, but by maintaining good advertising standards and establishing a trustworthy ad system, you can get people to tolerate them and avoid begging for subscriptions or deal-with-the-devil situations.

Ryan Shotton