Watch Out: Seven Shady Advertiser Tactics
By Michael Moncur (November 16, 2004)
Internet advertising, sadly, seems to be one of those fields that attracts shady characters. While most advertisers and ad networks are responsible and honest, there are many bad apples, and even the best companies use questionable tactics at times.
The following are the seven of the most common sneaky techniques used by advertisers and ad networks. While some just annoy users or make your site look bad, others can cost you money.
Flashing or animated banners are becoming increasingly common. While it's a good way to draw attention to the ads, it also draws attention away from your content. Some of the most extreme ads make it hard to read the content at all.
My recommendation: Consider these on a case-by-case basis. Some aren't too bad. Even the worst of them may be acceptable for an online game or other flashy site, while sites with lots of readable content may want to avoid them entirely.
Alert Box and "Winner" Ads
Some ads go beyond simply flashing to outright deception: they mimic a system error message, or claim that you've won a prize of some sort.
My recommendation: I will run "alert box" ads as long as there's some indication that they're ads. If my feedback is to be believed, most users aren't fooled by these.
On the other hand, I avoid "Winner" ads. They make my site look unprofessional, and worse, I get emails from unhappy users demanding their prizes.
CPC Ads that Discourage Clicks
While you might expect that the idea of a CPC (cost-per-click) ad campaign is to get as many clicks as possible, some ads are designed to discourage clicks. They just state the advertiser's name and slogan, and avoid using language like "Click Here" to encourage visitors.
Why? One of the most important concepts in advertising is branding. This refers to advertisements that build name recognition and reputation for the advertiser, without necessarily generating sales. An ad like this is designed for branding rather than attracting visitors—and if it's priced per click, you're giving the advertiser free branding.
My recommendation: Insist on CPM (cost per impression) pricing for this type of ad. If you are running a CPC ad that doesn't generate many clicks—either because it's a branding ad or simply because your audience isn't interested—turn it off.
CPM Ads that Encourage Clicks
On the other end of the spectrum, you've undoubtedly seen flashing "Click Here" or "You've Won" ads that grab your attention and encourage clicks. These ads come from advertisers that want as many clicks as possible.
Of course, the ideal situation for the advertiser is to get lots of clicks and not pay for them, so these ads often pay a low CPM price. You'll usually make less with these than with a similarly-designed CPC ad.
My recommendation: It's hard to avoid running these ads, they're often one of the few available choices. But be aware that the high click-through rate is sending visitors away from your site—so don't accept these ads unless the price is right.
There's nothing a shady advertiser likes more than paying less than an ad is worth. One of the most despicable tricks is an advertisement that is sold as a banner ad and unexpectedly produces a pop-up.
This tactic is becoming more and more common. Sometimes an advertiser will even run an ordinary banner for a few days, wait until the weekend when the ad network's staff isn't in, and then switch it to generate a pop-under.
My recommendation: If this happens, let your ad network know you won't stand for it, and avoid accepting that advertiser again. If your ad network lets you communicate with other Webmasters in a forum, you can often find out when this happens and disable the ad quickly.
If you've spent much time surfing, you've seen the worst type of deceptive ad: ads that prompt you to download or install software. You may have even inadvertently installed some of them.
Most of these programs are spyware—software that runs in the background and tracks which sites you visit, usually using this data to display advertisements.
Spyware is particularly bad for webmasters because it can prevent your ads from being shown, replace them with different ads, or even alter the appearance of your site. If your users complain about pop-up ads and you don't run any, chances are spyware is involved.
My recommendation: Don't run these ads. Your users will thank you for it. If you think you may have spyware installed on your computer, there are various utilities to check and remove them. PC Pitstop has an online spyware checker.
Untrustworthy Advertisers and Networks
You can show all of the right ads, keep your users happy, and earn money—but it's all a waste of time if you don't get paid. The Web ad market is littered with the remains of ad networks that have gone out of business, and there are many unscrupulous advertisers out there.
My recommendation: Don't use an ad network or advertiser without checking their reputation on webmaster forums. Divide your income between several networks in case one of them goes bust. If you deal with small advertisers directly, ask for payment up front.
Don't let this article scare you away from Web advertising, but do spend the time to make sure you're running ads that won't drive your users away, and dealing with advertisers you can trust.
(c) 2003-2005 by Michael Moncur. All rights reserved. No content may be reproduced without explicit consent.