One of the Internet’s most popular types of advertisement might be falling by the wayside.
You probably see this style of ad a dozen times a day: rows of links below an article that appear to link to other articles. There’s usually a heading like “Stories From Around The Web,” “You May Like,” or “Sponsored Content” with linked articles about celebrity gossip, “10 Things You Never Knew About…,” or “You’ll Never Believe What This 90s Child Celebrity Looks Like Now…” style content.
The majority of these ads are powered by Taboola, Outbrain, and other agencies that specialize in “Around the Web” advertising. Back in 2014, Taboola got in hot water with the Better Business Bureau because its ads made it too difficult to separate native advertising and actual editorial content. The BBB’s National Advertising Division said that Taboola’s ad disclosures “were not sufficiently clear and conspicuous, or easy to notice read and understand.”
But poor disclosures aren’t the only problems with this type of advertising. While these ads may be incredibly click-enticing (as one redditor recently pointed out), they often lead to web sites that aren’t exactly reputable. In many cases, they can lead to sites hawking questionable supplements or blogs that require registration to access their content, all with the purpose of getting your personal information. And that’s why some sites like Slate and The New Yorker have stopped running them.
A new study from ChangeAdvertising.org revealed that an incredible 82% of the top news sites (41 out of 50) utilize these ads, known as “content ads.” It’s also a popular way to make money blogging for smaller sites. For major news sites, content ads most of the time lead to a real advertisement or to actual quality content – an estimated 46% ads and 15% real content. But 26% percent led to nothing more than clickbait sites covered in even more ads (and likely not even the article you clicked on in the first place). Out of that 26% that was clickbait, almost 90% was from anonymously registered web sites. As a point of reference, only about 25% of real advertising web sites are registered this way.
When it takes a user just one click to get from a trusted news source to an anonymous site covered in nothing but ads, that casts a bad light on the news site in a reader’s eyes. Sometimes, things get even worse in that the ads aren’t just unrelated, but they’re actually insulting, like an article titled “Meet the Women Who Find Rape Jokes Funny” on an article about underage rape, or an article about “Tricks to Avoid Thankgsiving Weight Gain” on an article about eating disorders.
But with sites like Slate and The New Yorker ditching these ads and a growing number of readers expressing frustration with these types of ads, there’s hope that “Around the Web” clickbait is starting its death march.
All of this comes at a time when users are showing less tolerance for ads online than ever before. The use of ad blockers is increasing rapidly, and publishers are scrambling to save what they can of their diminishing ad revenue. (It is worth noting, however, that at this time Taboola ads and their like are allowed as “acceptable ads” by Adblock Plus.)
For what it’s worth, ChangeAdvertising.org didn’t necessarily recommended that publishers stop these ads entirely, but they did offer a few tips to help make the experience better for the user, like:
- Have a standard label for content ads, so readers clearly know they’re advertisements
- Ask the ad vendor for tools that let the publisher reject or approve every single ad
- Let consumers give feedback every ad, and give readers the option to stop ads from a specific advertiser being served
- Disclose any targeting or cookie data and letting users opt out
- Make a clear distinction between actual advertisers and secondary content
- Require that an ad headline lead to that article
Personalized ads are the new trend online, hopefully providing content that readers would like, but didn’t know about. And clickbait “content ads” don’t fit that profile.
These ads provide a large source of income, or they wouldn’t be running. But when it comes at the risk of your reputation, is it worth the cost? Advertisement can cause reader to quickly lose trust in a web site, and since ads are a necessary part of running a web site, it’s important to make sure they’re quality.
Hooking a reader with quality content and ads that aren’t too intrusive has a much higher payoff in the end (since that reader will likely be back) than getting a few short term clickbait clicks.
Check out our guide to learn how to start a blog and make money the right way.