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Why Display Ads are the Lifeblood of Online Publishing




There’s an interesting debate going on about a potential new feature for Adblock Plus–a Firefox plugin that automatically blocks web site ads from displaying.

I’m not so much interested in the proposed new feature–it would allow webmasters to ask for permission to display their ads, in case you care–but the discussion that followed in the comments.

The majority of commenters reacted negatively and really opened my eyes to the sentiment many people have towards online ads. Comments included…

I use Ad Block Plus because I don’t want to see adverts, any adverts at any time. I will never click on them, I will always be annoyed by them. The tiny minority of a tiny minority (ad block users of firefox users) don’t want to see them either. If ad block plus starts allowing ads or constantly nagging me then it will be forked – because it’s defeating its whole purpose – and I’ll use the fork.

And…

I use Adblock because I don’t want to see ads. Ever. Seeing ads is a bug, getting content is a feature.

Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and the right to customize the web to ensure their own pleasurable experience, but do these people understand what they’re wishing for?

They’re basically wishing for a web without any advertising. No banner ads, no text ads, no ads period! OK, so we all come across annoying ads now and then, but ads are often the only reason we get to enjoy the content we enjoy reading.

Do you think your local newspaper exists purely for the benefit of the community?

Do you think Wired magazine is published purely out of a love for technology?

Do these people take a pair of scissors to their issue of Fast Company and don’t read a single article until they’ve cut-out every advertisement?

(At this point, about half of you are still reading this post. The other half have either moved on to another post–out of boredom–or have already jumped to the comments-weighing in, while only reading the first few lines of this post.)

The majority of quality published content exists because it is ad supported. Let me tell you, Marketing Pilgrim would likely either not exist or be severely reduced, if it weren’t for our advertising revenue stream. While I love writing about marketing, I don’t love it enough to dedicate hours each day without any return.

Maybe you could live without us–we’re just one site, after all–but remove advertising from the web, and you’ll lose many, many great sites.

What’s even more disturbing is the lack of alternatives. Studies have shown that you won’t pay to read Marketing Pilgrim, so there’s really no alternative but to display ads.

I guess my point is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Maybe the comment “Seeing ads is a bug, getting content is a feature” is just one person’s extreme viewpoint, but I suspect that there are many more web users that feel the same way. The web is full of rich, valuable content. Like anything in life, things of value need compensating. Get rid of the compensation (advertising) and you get rid of the value (content).

I’d ask you how you feel about display ads, but you’re all marketers! :-) So, instead, I’d love to know if you have any thoughts on how to monetize a content site, without display ads. Is it even possible?

  • http://byrneseyeview.tumblr.com Byrne

    People are clearly very opposed to banner ads. And yet, very few people object to reading a news story that was more or less planted by PR people. I suspect that the future of advertising is news and entertainment in which the ads are “baked in”. So, in a few years, you won’t get Viagra spam — you’ll get forwarded Viagra jokes with a link in the punchline.

    Byrne’s last blog post..“The widow Mrs. Howard T. Cassan came to the circus in her flimsy brown dress and her low shoes and…”

  • Brad Hill

    It’s an age-old debate. I believe the “all content must be free” crowd is a vocal minority. Mainstream audiences don’t know how, and won’t bother learning how, to block ads.

    The real problem with all advertising in all media is irrelevancy. Hence: Google’s success. If online display ads are ever going to become more relevant to the individual user, hence more interesting to the user and effective to the advertiser, relevance tracking must be deployed thoroughly and effectively. Those initiatives always run headlong against privacy issues.

    So the “have cake and eat it too” conundrum is really about that Catch-22. If you want ads that serve your interests, you have to give up a little privacy. Keep strict privacy shields, and you’re stuck with irrelevant and annoying ads. Perhaps the future involves opt-in to being tracked and served personalized ads.

    @BradHill

  • http://budurl.com/zq9v Christopher Drinkut

    Wow. Monetize the content site without ads…hmm (thinking). Nope, can’t do it. There are some folks that use a delayed response approach ~ maybe a soft sales approach to enacting the deal.

    Eating cake too. Evolutions in the way we use the web are going to happen. (*Disclosure: I work for this group) My guess is users will develop an understanding and an acceptance of “complements” through using new technologies and monetization strategies (http://www.netspray.com/go)

    As these new strategies evolve we’ll see one of two things acceptance or rejection. While Jeremiah Owyang points out ultimate acceptance of affiliate links on blogs, there are suggestions that an even more ample amount of Internet users will influence brand positioning and offering – ultimately though its like you say, the Internet will either find a way to monetize or be abandoned. My bet is on monetize. .. **Subscriptions might be an answer – pay for an ad free web anyone?

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Brad – good point about the privacy issue!

  • http://www.ashbuckles.com Ash Buckles

    I agree with @brad about the “vocal minority.” Furthermore, persuasion (advertising) will always follow content and I’d rather see ads clearly marked (or content with disclosures) than wonder if the content I’m reading is truly an advertisement; as @byrne eludes to.

    Ash Buckles’s last blog post..FavFollow Twitter Meme Announcement

  • http://www.seowoman.com/ Adrienne Doss

    I recently listened to a copywriting podcast by Naomi over at Itty Biz, and one thing she and her co-host really tried to emphasize is that some people will NEVER be sold to. Instead of trying harder to capture those people, you should focus your efforts on people that are more receptive to your pitch.

    This is what came to mind instantly when I read this comment: “I use Ad Block Plus because I don’t want to see adverts, any adverts at any time. I will never click on them, I will always be annoyed by them. The tiny minority of a tiny minority (ad block users of firefox users) don’t want to see them either.”

    In other words, don’t worry about the tiny minority of a tiny minority. They aren’t your customers, and any attempt to force them to see your ads will only drive them further away.

    Adrienne Doss’s last blog post..You Don’t Have to Be a Computer Whiz to Improve Your E-Commerce Rankings

  • http://www.articlesnatch.com/ Matt

    Running a website that is funded on advertising revenue as well as an avid web surfer, I end up with a different opinion.

    I don’t mind ads on sites, in fact several sites do it so tastefully it really ads to the sites. But other sites have ads that are filled with spyware, popups, popunders, etc. The other ones that annoy are ads that play audio automatically — like the annoying smilely download banners that infected myspace.

    Facebook’s attempt to show relevant ads on the right hand side of whatever your doing works to some degree — but again they do a terrible job of filtering out irrelevant ads as well as the down right scams — click here to get your obama stimulus check!

    I do a lot of surfing in chrome as well — so no ad block even available here.

    Overall my take on the situation is — someone who goes about to specifically block ads, is not too likely to have clicked on them (just like users from digg and stumbleupon are not likely either). But they still would have been there for the display ads paid on a CPM basis.

    Matt’s last blog post..4 Negative Vitamin Deficiency Symptoms

  • http://www.MemberCon.com Tim Bourquin

    There will always be people that want everything for free and the best thing to do is just ignore them because they will always be the most vocal.

    The people who understand that content must be paid for, in one way or another, are your real market and the ones we need to be catering to.

    The “I never want to see ads ever” will never buy so don’t waste your time. If they don’t come to your site because you sell something or have ads, then BE GLAD. They are wasting your bandwidth anyway.

    Tim Bourquin’s last blog post..Membership Site Software Compared

  • http://www.MemberCon.com Tim Bourquin

    And by the way Andy, I could have told you how that “Will you pay?” survey was going to come out before you had the results.

    Typically, only the people that won’t pay will tell you. The people who will pay just whip out their credit card number type it in.

    Tim Bourquin’s last blog post..Membership Site Software Compared

  • Bjorn Larsen

    “But they still would have been there for the display ads paid on a CPM basis.”

    So, in other words, Matt, you’re bemoaning the fact you can’t charge your advertisers to force people who expressly hate banner ads to see banner ads. Gee, I’d sure love to be one of your advertisers.

    This kind of logic is why people hate marketing/advertising in the first place.

    And I have two words for Andy’s original post: boo hoo.

  • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

    Andy,

    I made it all the way to the part where you said that about half of your readers had left already. I then got distracted by an ad on the blog and decided to check out a sponsor or two. I really wish those darn ads weren’t there. What did the rest of the post say?

    Seriously though, ads are a part of life and if there are those that are SO offended by capitalism that they have to block those annoying ads then so be it. Would I not watch Game 6 of the Canes-Bruins series tonight because of those pesky ads along the boards at the RBC Center? Nope. If my ADHD is that bad that I can’t focus on a message or action due to some way for the provider of the service to make money to continue operations then I should just read a book or something.

    Frank Reed’s last blog post..I am a Bloggin? Liar!

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Adrienne, @Tim – you’re probably right that they wouldn’t click ads anyway.

    @Bjorn – do you have a kleenex for me? ;-)

    @Frank – I was paying attention, until you mentioned hockey–now that’s all I am thinking about! ;-)

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  • http://grokodile.com/ Andrew

    Well, to address one of the questions posed, it is possible to earn revenue without display ads.

    I don’t know if it can be similar in scale, but there are things such as inline linking (not sure of the real name but they often have double underlines on key words), selling links if you want to risk annoying Google’s search engine and perhaps some other similar methods that might pass the ad blocker software.

    Obviously, as somebody showing ads, I certainly understand that many sites, mine included, would be gone if there was no hope of earning revenue from Adsense or display advertising.

    Those who only want content need to understand that the quality of the content is going to be directly related to how much incentive the people producing the content have. It takes time and effort to craft a message, package it nicely, and develop the expertise to provide useful insights.

    However, I don’t expect attitudes to change. Even if all the content on the web was reduced to made for adsense splogs I’m sure these people would just assume that lower quality content was even less worthy of displaying ads…

  • http://adblockplus.org/ Wladimir Palant

    Andy,

    the problem is that I cannot really tell whether these opinions are anywhere near representative, most likely they are not. The two sites most commenters came from are Reddit and Slashdot – and I guess you know what kind of audience that is. But I would really like to have some more useful numbers so I am thinking about asking a tiny percentage of Adblock Plus users to participate in a poll. If the extension itself does that rather than a blog post the results should be far more representative.

  • http://www.terryhoward.net/ Terry Howard

    “People are clearly very opposed to banner ads.”

    SOME people are, but CTR and conversion metrics by the ton prove otherwise. Funny, I’m reading Atlas Shrugged right now (and no I’m not some neo-con who fancies themselves valuable enough to make a difference if I “go Gault”) and the people who hate ads remind me so much of the whiny “looters” who attack commerce under some childish impulse disguised by notions of “for the people” and “freedom of content” who will later be unable to understand where all their free content went when the publishers can no longer support themselves.

    Luckily, it’s only a small mentally damaged portion of the population who suffer from this idiocy.

    Terry Howard’s last blog post..Social Media Marketing: Network Responsibly

  • http://gordonmattey.wordpress.com Gordon Mattey

    The heart of the problem is that ads are a nuisance cost to the viewer.

    Bad, irrelevant, poorly placed ads are even more of a nuisance.

    This isn’t about people hitting out against capitalism.

    This is about people reacting to the pain of using the internet.

    The internet is interactive, and advertisers keep treating it like TV or a newspaper, where ads are placed throughout the content, and not targetted at all. The ad industry has come up with all of these sly techniques of tracking and implicitly capturing user’s behaviour profiles to better place ads. Every ad network takes the position of forcing people to choose to opt out, not to opt in.

    Think about the other extreme?

    Why not actually ask users what ads they care about?

    Yes, ask them.

    Make sharing of preferences part of the experience. Be open. Be transparent. Say,

    “we can only survive with advertising, if you like the site, please tell use what you think about our ads?”.

    The relationshionship between visitors and advertisers doesn’t have to be adversarial. That’s the entire (yes everyone) approach of the industry today. except the ad blockers

    That’s the whole point of suggested approach with adblock plus.

    Start by being open with your visitors. Build up trust. Build a relationship. Advertising is your bread and butter. Don’t shy away from talking about it.

    Gordon Mattey’s last blog post..Why did Jaman fail?

  • http://gadgetsnall.co.uk/ T Bareham

    and i guess the vocal minority think the commercial breaks on TV are purely for them to fix a drink?

  • http://youhavebeenblogged.blogspot.com/ durty blogger

    Maybe the plugin should redirect the user to an alternative page that displays the message “you are a freeloader” when they try to install the plugin.

    Sorry, but if folk cant handle the advertising that supports a page, then they have two options as far i'm concerned. 1) move on 2) put up with it and get a good supply of fresh content.

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