Our generation is lucky enough to be experiencing some incredible changes in the way that we interact with each other. More and more people are spending more and more time online consuming information.
We use the Internet to catch up with friends and family, do our shopping, book our holidays and find out how big the latest aftershock was.
The Internet is also becoming more of a primary source for news. For those of us familiar with social media channels like Twitter, we often even find out the news before the traditional news channels. In fact, many large news corporations in New Zealand use Twitter as their own news source and regularly quote updates from Twitter users in their own news articles. Even I have been quoted in a 3News article about the earthquake.
However, news websites still receive a large amount of traffic. Typically through three sources:
- Direct traffic – people typing the website address into the browser
- Search traffic – people searching for news stories in search engines (like Google) and finding news articles in the results
- Social media – through the social media channels of news websites, including Facebook and Twitter
With more of us getting our news from the web, it’s fair to say that less of us are paying for newspapers. If you have any stats, feel free to post them in the comments (I’m a lazy blog writer!).
How do news providers make their money?
With less of us paying for newspapers, news corporations look to online advertising placed on their website in order to generate revenue from their visitors.
Revenue from online advertising tends to come from two main channels:
- Specifically placed advertising – often arranged through advertising agencies.
- Google adverts – in the form of ‘Google Adsense’ or ‘Google AdChoices’. These are automatically generated based on other keywords that display on the page in order to display the adverts most relevant to the article’s readers (or their own search history and personal recommendations, but that’s another story).
Depending on what I’ve been playing with recently, it’s likely that you’ll see Google Adsense adverts within this blog post. Click on the ads and I get a wee bit of money which goes some way towards the upkeep of this website. The ads that display try hard to fit with the article in order to relate to the reader, but often they can appear a little odd!
This Google Adsense ad has taken the word ‘joke’ from the title and automatically placed it as the title of an advert. Although, the advert is actually to do with Trade Me jobs. Perhaps the ad has confused ‘joke’ with ‘job’?? Or maybe office jobs are a joke?
While Google adverts in text format have reasonably strict regulations to determine how they are displayed, news websites can basically do what they like when it comes to other forms of advertising.
The trick is the balance between encouraging visitors to click on adverts and the need to provide visitors with the news stories they’re after without them getting annoyed by excessive advertising.
Excessive news website advertising?
I left the question mark on this heading as not all people use the web in the same way and not everyone gets frustrated by the same type of advertising.
Also, to some extent it’s hard to define what is excessive. If you see a large advert that stops you seeing the news article that you’re after for a few seconds, but you then read the article and come back to the website again for further news, it could be said that the advertising hasn’t been excessive enough to stop you visiting the website again and, in the eyes of the advertiser and the news website, the advertising has been a success.
However, some advertising is pretty over the top, no matter which way you look at it. Sometimes you visit a news website to find an important story and you’re greeted by an an animated advert which takes over your screen and prevents you from accessing the article until it’s finished.
Over the past few months, I’ve been compiling examples of news website advertising in order to write this blog post. While I could go on collecting screenshots, I decided I needed a break from writing about the earthquake!
Examples of News Website Advertising
I tend to visit a few websites to satisfy my own need for the latest news. Although, as mentioned, I often find my news through Twitter so it can depend on which news website those in my Twitter network have linked to.
For the purposes of this article, I’ve mostly been jumping between the big players when it comes to online news – and it might be worth noting that I’m based in Christchurch and not particularly familiar with local news sources around the country.
Three of the big news websites are:
I visited the 3News website to provide a point of comparison but it seemed that 3News didn’t go in for online advertising in the same way that Stuff and NZ Herald did. But then again, 3News is based on television advertising while Stuff and NZ Herald are traditionally printed newspapers.
Many of the larger adverts on these websites are either adverts that take over the entire window, adverts that have a box but then ‘jump’ out of the box’s boundaries to get the visitors attention, and adverts that take over the background and header of a website.
While for some adverts it’s the level of obstruction that can cause offense or frustration, for others it can actually be the content of the advert itself.
Check out this first advert for KFC. This displayed on the home page of the Stuff website on 5th March 2011. As the home page loaded, a series of images grew out of the advert placeholder and filled the screen.
Visit the website just before lunch and there’s a chance that you’ll feel hungry and head off to KFC. However, if you’re a vegetarian, an animal rights activist or both, chances are you may find this quite offensive.
This ad encouraged some viewers to visit Stuff on Facebook and post their feedback on the Stuff Facebook Page. This particular complaint received 4 immediate likes and a supporting comment from another user.
To be fair to Stuff, their Facebook team responded to the complaint.
Similar to the KFC advertising although less likely to offend was the advertising by TV1. This took on the same format that TVNZ displayed on their own website.
Like the KFC advertising, the One advert at first appeared small but images then rose from the advert and took over the page.
This is a similar style to other ads on both Stuff and NZ Herald whereby the advert appears at first to stick to its box and then animates to take over content on the page.
The above advert for Westpac took over a portion of the NZ Herald website but actually took over the entire Westpac website, as seen below. Quite frustrating for those just trying to log in to their internet banking. Particularly as the advert was for an app that could only be used by iPhone users and so not relevant to many of the website’s visitors.
Some pop-out advertising is much larger than others and when the advert appears on multiple news websites, it’s easy to imagine that the advertiser invested a lot of money in placing their adverts.
The following ad for the ‘What’s my number?’ campaign appeared on the NZ Herald website on the 7th June and then on the Stuff website on 9th June.
While some adverts pop-out of boxes on a page, others can appear as the website’s background. While not usually animated, some of these adverts can still be quite distracting and take over the page. To some extent, the news website’s own branding can be lost and it can be easy to think that you’ve visited the wrong website.
The difference with a lot of background advertising is that it can display on every page of the website, rather than just the home page. Background advertising often works hand-in-hand with on-page advertising. In many of these examples you can see that the background advertising is the same as the advertising in the main ad-block on the page.
The Award for the Most Intrusive Online Advertising
Of these examples of online advertising, I’ve saved the best for last. While Jeep placed a smaller pop-out advert on the Stuff website (above) on 17th February, Toyota was busy invading the NZ Herald website.
On 16th February, NZ Herald placed an advert for Toyota which dominated the page. Visitors to the home page were intercepted by a Toyota that drove across the page, distorting the NZ Herald’s top stories as it went:
The Flip Side
Looking at these examples, it’s very easy to point the finger at news websites and complain that they are selling out to big corporations by allowing their clients to call the shots when it comes to displaying content.
However, are we being too harsh? News providers have professional journalists and photographers to pay, along with copywriters and web developers and hosting costs and are making less revenue when it comes to printed newspaper sales (and so less revenue from advertising in printed newspapers).
In this world of mass Internet consumption, do we expect too much for free? Many of us use online resources that are entirely unpaid and yet provide us with a great deal of functionality – Google search, YouTube, Facebook, email and many more.
We visit news websites to read stories provided by experienced reporters and yet we often consume the information and leave the website without having parted with any cash.
While some websites, like the NBR, approach this by hiding some content behind locked doors that is only accessible to those with a paid subscription, mainstream news websites tackle this through online advertising.
Without online advertising, it’s likely that Stuff, NZ Herald and other news sources would also become subscription based, only available to those that pay.
In comparison, let’s not forget news on free-to-air television whereby news broadcasts are interrupted by minutes of loud and flashy adverts with no simple ‘close’ button. And few people complain every time they see an ad for KFC on TV.
Also, if you have any feedback on an advert that appears on the Stuff website, you’ll usually find a convenient ‘Ad Feedback’ link which takes you straight to a form allowing you to rate the advert and give your feedback.