Study: Sites Trending Toward Aggressive Web Advertising

More sites are using new, intrusive ways to get their advertisers’ marketing messages across to consumers — a practice that could backfire, according to new research from Web analysts at Cyveillance.

The Arlington, Va.-based firm found that a growing number of Web sites are using pop-up or pop-under ads. What’s surprising is that the most popular sites are the biggest fans of the technology, with 30 percent of the top U.S. sites, and 20 percent of Europe’s most-visited sites, selling ads in spawned windows, which require users to at least look at an ad before they close the new browser. That’s compared to 12 percent of the overall Internet.

Additionally, Cyveillance found that “mouse-trapping” had also become prevalent on the Web, with about 5.2 percent of sites using the technique, which disables the user’s ability to go back, exit or close a Web page.

Aside from pop-up or pop-under ads and mouse-trapping, Cyveillance also reported a greater incidence of search engine optimization tactics like the hiding of invisible content on Web pages, the creation of fake pages filled to boost rankings in search engines, and typo-piracy (which registered misspelled brand names with search engines, in hopes of attracting visitors.) And some sites looking to boost traffic go so far as to embed the names of popular brands into their pages, even though those companies may be entirely unaffiliated.

According to the study, more than a quarter of all Web sites are using at least one of these tactics to divert and capture consumers’ attention — a number that’s likely to grow as the nation’s economy continues to sag.

“As the economic downturn drives companies to seek revenue by all available means, it is no surprise to see these innovative tactics emerge into the consumer mainstream,” said Cyveillance president and chief executive officer Panos Anastassiadis.

But while advertisers might benefit from increased, in-your-face exposure, there could be a downside over the long term. For one thing, the tactics are intentionally disruptive to consumers’ surfing experience — which could elicit Web surfers’ resentment, directed either at the advertiser or the publisher.

“There is undoubtedly a growing level of consumer frustration online that poses a threat to global brands,” said Cyveillance’s Brian Murray, who is senior director of client services.

That’s even more so the case when sites “hijack” misspelled brand names in search engines, or include the brands’ names themselves in their content, he wrote in the study.

“The use of these aggressive techniques is highly disruptive to the customer’s experience and highlights the shortsightedness, desperation and inexperience of some online ventures,” Murry wrote. “For companies with established brands, association with technological practices that frustrate shoppers can undermine brand equity. Left unmanaged, the abuse of popular brands can divert customers from their intended destination, wreaking havoc on the customer experience.”

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