A post today on Slashdot got me thinking about advertising. Specifically advertising on the internet, but also advertising in general.

The article linked off the Slashdot post was written by a man named Jim Lynch, a long time writer in technology media both digital and print. Mr. Lynch is apparently annoyed by a new feature in Apple's just-released Safari 5 web browser called Reader. Reader is a feature that, when selected by the user, attempts to detect "article" content on a web page and display it in a simple format which is larger and often easier to read than the normal web site layout. It also attempts to detect multi-page articles and automatically display further pages as you scroll down, effectively creating a "print" view for sites which may lack such things.

What bothers Mr. Lynch basically comes down to advertising. When using Reader, if it works properly all ads are stripped out of the content. More importantly for some, the automatic loading of the next page means cost-per-impression ads get many less views as they would only show on the first page before the user clicked the Reader button.

I understand the key point behind his complaint, web sites cost money to run and that has to come from somewhere. This site costs me about $275 a year between domain registration and server space, and it's fairly low volume (understatement of the century, I average less than 40 pageviews a day not counting spiders). I pay this out of pocket, since for my use the domain is for my email and the VPS is just a place for me to experiment. As far as I'm concerned I'd be paying for them both anyways, so why not put something there? Obviously that reasoning doesn't tend to apply outside the range of personal blogs and the costs are much higher when you start talking real traffic levels requiring real servers rather than a virtual slice of one.

Unfortunately, I can't help but not feel the slightest bit of sorrow for advertisers and those running advertising when they complain about their ads being blocked. They've for the most part brought this on themselves, by designing their ads to be as intrusive and annoying as possible. Web publishers have been just as badly a part of the problem, injecting ads as if they were content, allowing nuisance ads with autoplay audio/video or various popup/under/over windows, and in some particularly annoying cases using the content as the ad with IntelliTXT and the like.

We've already seen what the ability to skip ads has done to the television industry. For years they thrived on annoyingly loud and repetitive ads which seemed to rely on the "any publicity is good publicity" theory. As soon as the DVR became common the ad market pretty much fell apart on anything people weren't watching live. Now that extensions like Adblock for Firefox and Apple's new Reader are making it easy for the average user to dodge ads (rather than us geeks who have been doing it for years) the internet ad community fears the same thing happening.

All I have to say is that the internet ad industry needs to learn from the successful television ad campaigns.

First and foremost, DO NOT PISS OFF YOUR POTENTIAL CUSTOMER!!!!!!!!!
If an overly loud and annoying ad comes on the radio or TV, I'll turn the volume down or change the channel if I don't really care for what's on while making a mental note to avoid the advertiser if possible. The same applies to internet ads. If your ad stretches over the content I'm trying to read, starts playing audio out of nowhere, makes half the words on the page pop up product links, or otherwise interferes with my reading of the content I will go out of my way to avoid your product where possible. If ad blocking is available, I'll turn it on immediately when any of those happen and may make a note to avoid the site where it was seen as well.

Second, draw my eye the right way. You do not have to be loud, either literally with audio or figuratively with bright/flashing colors. Use your space to make me interested in what you have, then if I actively click on it you can load your content of choice. This is more for advertiser rather than publishers, but due to point one publishers would do well to enforce point two.

Third, be relevant. If I'm reading a site about cars, an ad for purse built to carry small dogs is most likely irrelevant. Again this is for both publishers and advertisers. Ad networks which do not target based on content are outdated and should be dropped immediately from both sides.

Fourth, don't try to shove too many ads in my face. I myself start getting annoyed when there's more than 3-5 ads on the screen at one time, depending on the amount of content and such. Sites that split articles in to a huge number of short pages in order to increase impressions for ad purposes fall in to the same category (and I believe these sites are the greatest reason for the Reader feature). Dividing articles in to multiple pages is fine, but don't do it unless you have at least as much information on a page as an average magazine. Two paragraphs and a few pictures are not a page.

The short version is provide ads that don't annoy the reader and preferably are something they might actually want and you won't have as many blocking them. If the relevance goes up, more people will click on them too. As for the rest, those who have already decided to install full ad blockers, those are gone already. You won't get them back, it's just too nice. Download Firefox, install Adblock Plus, and subscribe to one of the popular filter lists like Easylist. Now turn it off and browse to a few popular news sites. Turn it back on and reload those pages. If you don't agree that this is a much cleaner and more enjoyable way to browse the internet you're blind.