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Online ads are toning down

Tired of those blaring banner ads? Those noisy little cars that go scooting across your screen? The layers of pop-ups that hawk everything from mortgages to peeping-Tom cameras?

Well, a gentler, kinder movement is afoot in online advertising.

Following Web search engine Google's profitable trail, more sites have moved toward content-oriented ads that focus more on message than on muscle, and feature content that reflects whatever Web users are viewing at the time.

"The pop-ups, like spam, infuriate everybody because they keep you from getting the content you really want," said Brian Spade, senior vice president of operations for MediaPulse, a Tennessee Internet design and marketing company.

MediaPulse has employed content-based advertising on a site the company has produced for the Washington Post's New Homes Guide, a real estate directory for the 20 counties that make up the Washington area.

The former site used traditional online ads — "these horrible, flashy things," Spade said, that didn't match the look of the site.

In the new site, said MediaPulse contract designer Chris Blanz, "We've put some constraints on what they're (advertisers) allowed to put on the site." For instance, they keep all ads the same size, focus more on text than graphics and require each ad on a particular page to have the same layout.

In exchange, he said, advertisers get a targeted audience that's more likely to pay attention to their message.

Spade said they've proven through a tracking program developed by MediaPulse that content-based ads yield much higher results than their random pop-up and banner counterparts.

However, some may question whether the new trend is for the better.

One online newspaper reader complained when the Google-generated sponsorships showed up on the obituary page. And there was the worry that users might mistake text-based ads for news content.

Spade said content-based ad sales can more closely reflect a publication's print version than its former Web site and has made it an easier sell to advertisers.

"By the time the site came online," Spade said, "they'd already recouped the money they paid us to develop the site."