On Newspaper Sites, Ad Spam, and Lack of User Experience Foresight

We all know the dire straits the newspaper industry is in. It’s understandable, with online newspaper ad revenue growth dwindling, that these sites want to monetize with as many ads as they can. But some seem to forget user experience.

The fact is digital media is their future and if they can’t get the user experience right, nobody’s going to visit their sites. And if nobody visits their sites, well, they’re screwed.

Here’s what prompted this rant. I just read a really interesting Washington Times article about the new “Che” flick and how its star, Benicio Del Toro, walked out of an interview with the Times reporter (even though the guacamole at the restaurant was really good). The article even includes a supplementary video conversation with the reporter and lots of absorbing user comments.

Great! They get it — they’re taking advantage of multimedia and social media. These are two very important elements that could help newspaper sites succeed.

But, man, was the user experience bad.

First off, I’m served an ad I’ve seen around the Web a lot lately that I find pretty repulsive, and I’m probably not the only one. You know, the ad with a woman’s flabby “before” gut beside a flat “after” one? It’s for one of those acai berry diet products. I decided to include it here — sorry.
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Ad networks and publishers: why are you accepting this crap? Maybe if everybody rejected more terrible ad creative we wouldn’t have to be confronted with so much of it. Maybe it could actually improve user experience.

Not only do I have that image in my peripheral vision as I read what is — again — good content that should be treated with more respect, I’m served an ad in the video. The ad, like the display ads on the page, has zero contextual relevance nor behavioral relevance for that matter (unless someone’s been browsing diet sites on my computer when I’m away from my desk). It’s in an obnoxious format, too: an overlay text ad for — you guessed it — the berry diet. But the overlay obscures the reporter in the video and won’t disappear until I click the magic “X.”

The article is what I’d call of short feature length, about 1,200 words. But I have to click through to two new pages to get through it. The Washington Times certainly isn’t the only site that uses this approach, but it’s apparent the only purpose for this is to generate more pageviews. It’s of no value to the user and to me is a turnoff.

But that’s not all! After I closed my browser window, guess what appeared? Yep, two or three pop-unders. The only other site I frequent that does this is Mets.com (and they shouldn’t be doing it either).

Again, I realize it’s tough for newspapers and their Web sites right now, but bombarding users with one annoying experience after another is no way to build a loyal readership.

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