Imagine opening your Sunday paper, turning to the front page, and then having a subscription form fly in out of nowhere to block all items on the page from view. Imagine opening your favorite magazine, only to have a television ad suddenly start blaring at you, weighing the magazine down and making it twice as heavy.
You’re reading this in a web browser, so you know exactly what I’m talking about: the annoying, ever-present and dominate web ads and hidden analytics scripts that we must now fight through on many sites just to get to the content that we came to the site for in the first place.
Hot Air is one of my favorite blogs on the Internet, but their new owner, Townhall, has ruined the experience of going there with huge page takeover ads attempting to get you to sign up for newsletters or subscribe to their magazine. A competitor, the Huffington Post, crushes their pages under the weigh of social media widgets and poorly-optimized analytics.
From ESPN to the Christian Science Monitor to hundreds of thousands of other web sites large and small, page take-overs, pop-unders, pop-ups, auto-playing ads, and poorly written analytics scripts are destroying the user’s experience on web sites, and in many cases, hang or crash the browser entirely.
I get “why,” as much as anyone does.
Marketers have never had solid user data to pour over with television and print ads despite their best efforts. This “fuzziness” has allowed advertising sales teams to justify exorbitant rates based on little more than notions for decades.
Web analytics, however, allow marketers and advertisers to view an unprecedented amount of data about users, from their favorite links and favorite kinks and everything in between. What’s more, they can track users over time, and can get a good idea of the ad you clicked on three weeks ago is the reason you bought a product last week or today.
As a result of knowing what their web ads are really worth, advertisers have been able to more effectively narrow-cast their ads, while driving down the cost of advertising. We’ve hit a point where for-profit web sites aren’t just providing the content users want, but are also having to support analytics for both advertisers and themselves, plus find ways to get users to interact more with the site in order to justify cost-per-click advertising.
The end result is what we see today, with grossly over-weight pages full of buggy code presenting us web sites that are the digital equivalent of junk mail and infomercials… if infomercials could crash your television.
There needs to be a sane balance.
Web sites that overwhelm the content the users want with intrusive sales pitches (“subscribe to our ___ and get ___!”), jarring, annoying, or content-obscuring gimmick ads, and poorly-optimized, buggy and conflicting scripts aren’t getting ahead in the game. They’re encouraging users to find site that provide the equivalent content without all the headaches, and losing their customers in the process.