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Are pop up ads on the way out? Advertising trends 2002/03

Ask a hundred web surfers if they like pop-up ads, and I'm sure the overall response will be to the negative. Pop up advertising has been one of the more maligned aspects of cruising the web.

Pop-ups had their place, many merchants and advertisers have generated healthy revenue through this advertising medium, but it seems that the surfer has spoken and some very big names are listening.

AOL & Ask Jeeves setting the trend?

In the last few weeks of October 2002, Ask Jeeves and AOL have announced that they will be suspending the use of pop up advertising.  This is no small decision, especially when you consider that AOL will lose in the vicinity of a reported US30 million dollars during the next 12 months in lost pop up advertising revenue.

So why are they doing it? It's my view that AOL have finally figured out that they are losing in excess of that amount in subscription fee profits - and there's a clear and present danger of them losing more. Customers have been discontinuing the service because of the intrusive ads. 

It's quite understandable that people became angry in the case of AOL, after all, they are paying for the Internet access service already - why should they have to endure the pop-ups?

As for Ask Jeeves, the risk in losing the pop ups is bigger; but it's a real catch-22 situation.  With Google continuing its "all will be assimilated" winning streak, search engine users are a prime commodity. The natural gravitation of searchers towards Google's superior service is obviously being further fueled by people being unduly distracted from their Ask Jeeves search results by pop-ups. In their frustration, they've been seeking a more "friendly" place to search for resources.

Don't be mistaken, Google isn't a non-profit organization. Google still makes a lot of money from paid ads - they've just been more careful in the implementation. 

In the Ask Jeeves scenario, there would have been much sweating and biting of nails when the decision was made - a brand that's already losing money, and to knowingly lose even more money in the short term by ridding itself of pop up revenue.... well, that's a gutsy move..

Added to this, pop-up killers plugins have been available on the market for some time now, and their usage by surfers is on the increase. But, like anything else, an anti-pop-up killer is available for webmasters to install on their sites (for details, see the end of this article) to ensure that the ads are seen - that is unless the site visitor is quick with the mouse button and closes the window before it has a chance to load. Attack, counter-attack, attack, counter-attack, thrust, parry - sigh, it all gets a little much doesn't it?

What about the "small time" site owners?

What does all this mean for the average site-owner - especially for the owners of sites who provide free resources and depend solely upon advertising to survive? Should we all be pulling down our pop-ups? It all depends....

If your site offers something that is free and not found extensively on the web, then you are probably pretty safe - bombard your visitors (if you dare) at least until another site in your genre starts doing a better job than you ;0).  For the rest of us, it is probably getting on to the time that we reassess the way we advertise - before the decision is made for us and our sites become Cyberias.  The only other avenue is to turn our sites into paid subscription services to compensate for the blood, sweat and tears that we put into our online resources.... an even bigger risk.

From the merchants point of view, they'll also take heed of the AOL and Ask Jeeves move - many merchants will see this as an indication that pop-up advertising is not a viable option any more. Then the laws of supply and demand will kick in - more webmasters chasing the pop up revenue from a dwindling supply of (quality) merchants can only mean one thing - less money for advertiser sites.

Life after pop-ups..

So, what are the options? - Okay, we've all come to terms with the fact that pop-up advertising is evil (in the eyes of our visitors) and multi pop ads are the darkest evil of all.  I've even seen the popup concept go one step further recently with the introduction of Flash presentations that sit above the text you really want to read for a pre-determined length of time - and there's no way to minimize them until they've run their course - Good advertising? Perhaps - good for site visitor relations - definitely not! While I'm not up to date on the terminology for this bleeding edge technology, I've named it FlashTrash StickOns/Hovers...

Another concept that's not so "in your face" are the windows that load soon after the page has loaded by smoothly sliding into view. Annoying, yes, but not as annoying as the traditional pop-up that can trigger heart attacks or the latest FlashTrash StickOn ad trend. 

Popovers - a new strategy?

Since publishing this article, another new technology has presented itself - the Popover. To learn more about popover advertising strategies, view this article:

http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles3/popup-popover.htm 

Banner advertising

Banners will continue to be a source of income for many of us, albeit not anywhere near the levels of 4 years ago. The banner ad is not dead yet, and don't let anyone convince you that it is - we've seen clickthrough rates of up to 10% on some ads (although this is rare - 1-2% now constitutes a successful campaign). To learn more about making money through having banner advertising on your site:

http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles2/best-banner-networks.htm 

Text links are always a good option too, and well thought out descriptive text links can also increase your search engine visibility...

Pop-under ads ... the gentle touch

Still one of the best methods of delivering ad content is a pop-under - but not just any pop-under. The best kinds are fast loading, geographic/theme specific and only pop once per session. The advertiser gets a fair view, the visitor doesn't see the advertising until they have finished viewing and we as webmasters can attract some pretty good rates from merchants for this kind of exposure. 

For further information about pop under advertising and the best networks to join, view:

http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles2/pop-under-ads.htm 

If you do intend to continue the use of pop-ups, my advice is to ensure they load quickly and that you only use one per visitor session - so make it a good one.

The masses have spoken, but are we going to listen? That lure of the fast buck is mighty loud as well. 

After reading about the AOL move on a site that allows for readers to post their comments (and judging from the notes that were left at the end of the article) - the general consensus was "good move AOL, but you annoyed us so much - we ain't coming back" - I think there's something in those comments for all of us... including Ask Jeeves as they've got a long hard road ahead....  good luck AJ, we're watching..

"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change"

Charles Darwin 

Further learning resources:

The great web advertising debate:

http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/webadvertising.htm 

Protecting commissions with improved linking methods:
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles3/affiliate-revenue.htm

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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