With a slump of 5 percent in online advertising in the first quarter in comparison to last year’s numbers, news sites seem to be trying new forms on the Web to increase revenue. One of the things I have noticed is more sites incorporating in-text ads that appear as links and expand when a reader hovers over them. But does this form of advertising ruin the reader’s experience? Moreover, does it cross ethical boundaries?
FORTUNE Tech Daily reported in February that the leading company in the field, Vibrant Media, was seeing twice as many bookings as the same time the previous year. The New York-based company also reported a 30 percent increase in spending this quarter from the struggling auto industry.
How it works
Advertisers buy keywords to have their ad display when a reader hovers over a linked word within the text of the story. Advertisers pay $1 to $5 per click, instead of impressions from viewers, which is the way most display advertising functions. The company says this is more effective for the advertisers because they have a better sense of how many people really saw the ad, and it likely brings in more dollars for the company selling the advertising. The ad can appear as a headline link with a description, a photo with description or an interactive video with links, and disappears when you aren’t hovering over the keyword. You may have come across the frustrating things when navigating sites like MSNBC or FoxNews. I noticed it when reading a story in the Detroit News and have even been approached to using this form of advertising when I was an editor at the Minnesota Daily.
Blurring the line between content and advertising
Here is where things get fuzzy. More and more news sites are starting to link within their articles to other parts of the site as resources for additional information. The New York Times is a great example of offering users more resources to learn about the topic within the news and keep readers longer on their site. What if the links within this very post were actually advertisements? Would that bother you?
Now, to be fair, the in-text ad links do look a bit different than the standard reference links that most news sites use. They come in the form of a double underline and the box expands as soon as you hover over the link. Plus, the ads are supposed to be more targeted since they only appear for specific keywords. Vibrant Media even has an Editorial policy that includes identifying advertisements. However, coming across the things, often times a video would start playing from the ad and wouldn’t stop for several seconds even though my mouse wasn’t hovering over it anymore. The point I am getting at is that it could be a nausence to readers and a reason to drive them away.
Also, Vibrant Media offers news sites an option to include links to their own related content, which could be potentially mixed in with advertisements. Though that has the potential to create more interlinking on the site and result in higher pageviews, it would make the line between content and advertising far too blurry.
Not all bad
The idea behind this form of advertising is not all bad. In fact, there are some innovations that websites can take away from this company. The biggest being that it provides a small box showing you what the keyword is advertising. What if all hyperlinks showed a preview of the site in a small box before you clicked on it. Now that is a good idea.