Banner Ads: Bane of the Web Experience
On very rare occasions, I have clicked on a banner advertisement on a Web page. But never have I purchased anything this way.
Web sites that host banner advertising get paid according to the number of “click-throughs” the advertiser receives. Or Web sites may get a percentage of the advertiser's sales received through the banner ad they host. At present, banner advertising is just not working.
“Online advertising remains mired in a slump, as evidenced by earnings reports from DoubleClick and Yahoo, both of which said they don't see things turning around anytime soon,” explains Margaret Kane of ZDNet News.
The only notable exceptions are the banner ads placed on search engines.
There are two reasons for this, according to Jakob Nielsen, principal and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, an Internet user-advocacy concern. First, search engines are the only type of sites that users visit with the explicit intention of finding somewhere else to go as quickly as possible. And second, search engines target ads according to a user's current navigation goals.
Now, since many non-search-engine sites rely on the revenue from banner advertising to make money, some have turned to a more aggressive approach. When you click on one of their links, you are directed to a page with only the banner advertisement on it. You can't miss it! To get past this page, I usually hit the refresh button on my browser; the page I originally intended to see comes up. I must admit I find this new aggressive banner advertising annoying at best. And this certainly does not endear me to the advertiser on the banner. But I would bet that some people click on the banner ad because they see no other options for proceeding to the page they originally intended to go to.
Adware is another form of aggressive advertising. If Gator.com's adware is on your computer, it will cover banner ads on a Web site that you are viewing with ads from its clients. So basically it overwrites banner ads on Web sites without your knowledge. Even worse, the program sends periodic reports back to Gator about the sites you visit and the banner ads you've clicked on.
You think that's bad? How about Ezula.com's TopText adware? If this program is on your computer, it overlays links onto whatever Web page you are viewing by keywords it finds in the text. For example, if the word “aspirin” appears in the text of one of my Web pages, TopText would turn that word into a link to their aspirin advertiser. When the unsuspecting user puts his mouse over “aspirin,” TopText highlights the link in yellow and a box appears with some words explaining the benefits of the aspirin being advertised. If the user clicks on “aspirin,” he will go to Ezula's advertiser for aspirin. If I have a link for “aspirin” when a user clicks on it, TopText will have a box appear that gives the option to follow the original link or go to the advertiser's page.
For all intents and purposes, these adware programs are hijacking Web sites to promote their advertising.
Here's how Ezula pitches its adware to advertisers: “Imagine how powerful it could be to widen the effectiveness of search engine keyword advertising to the entire Web. This will enable you to reach millions of qualified users from every Web page that contextually matches your campaign objective and your product or service keywords, anywhere on the Web.”
Ezula and Gator say that their advertisers are very pleased with the results, and they claim millions of PCs have loaded the software. Why would anyone download adware? Nobody knowingly would. This adware is bundled with dozens of popular programs when you download them. C/Net's download.com offers the new KaZaa system of programs to make copies of MP3 music files and share them. KaZaa has been downloaded over 7 million times. Included among KaZaa's programs is TopText, which doesn't relate to MP3 at all but still installs itself with the other KaZaa programs.
To see if you or someone in your family has downloaded adware, go to scumware.com and look at the top of the “Web Surfers” column. There you will find a little gray box that tells you whether or not adware was detected on your computer, along with instructions for removing it if it resides on your computer. Another place for help is lavasoftusa.com.
Gator CEO Jeff McFadden says users aren't “tricked” into downloading his adware software because adware programs are listed in the terms-of-service contracts users must accept before downloading free software. Now how many of you read the entire contract in all its glorious detail before clicking the “I Accept” button? Given this situation, however, I would recommend using the Find function under Edit on your browser menu to search for “adware” in user agreements before accepting them.
Spedia.com bundled a program like TopText with its SurfPlus software. Consumer complaints made them stop this practice. By complaining to advertisers of the above methods or the companies distributing it, we can help form the type of advertising promoted on the Internet and end abuses of it.
Brother John Raymond, co-founder of the Monks of Adoration, writes from Venice, Florida.
- November 18-24, 2001