The world of online advertising is segregated into publishers and advertisers. The publisher is the owner of a site who allows somebody else to advertise on it, while the advertiser is obviously the one doing the advertising. In some cases the publisher may also be the advertiser, and when this happens it is called internal advertising. Everything else is external advertising.
Why these terms need to be defined is because they strongly affect how much tolerance and acceptance an audience is likely to have for being exposed to the ad. In general, an audience will have much higher levels of trust and acceptance in the case of internal advertising, and in turn they are more likely to let their guard down and potentially engage with the advertisement.
On the other hand, external advertising can generate a wide range of responses, but many people report feeling annoyed by external advertisements, and some are even enraged by them. How this came to be is largely due to the collective behavior of a majority of the marketing industry in the early 1990s.
Why internal advertising is more accepted
Users who arrive at a website as a result of a conscious choice to engage with the brand represented by that website are also likely to engage with internal advertising on the website. Fast food restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King are good examples, as they normally contain a lot of internal advertising, and users are quite willing to engage with these, because they’re already tuned to receive the marketing message. They’re on a site that is relevant to their interest and they want as much information as possible, especially if the ad is promising some kind of incentive like discount coupons.
Why external advertising is less accepted
Due to the shady techniques used by unscrupulous marketers, users quickly developed an aversion to what was seen as invasive advertising. At that time the main source of antagonism was that the ads severely affected the user experience, but gradually as users became aware of the potential for cookies to track and identify them, it triggered an enormous backlash.
The result of marketers going too far
Among other things, these abuses gave rise to the ludicrous European cookie laws, which don’t actually solve any problems and do create new ones. It is also the reason why there’s an entirely new industry dedicated to blocking ads (and ironically many of the systems created to block the ads are advertised online).
But users don’t really hate ads
The greatest misunderstanding in the marketing industry stems from the idea that users hate ads and this is the reason why they use ad blockers. The truth, however, is different. In reality what users hate is having their privacy invaded. Ads that don’t employ tracking or attempt to “personalize the user experience” are acceptable to the majority of intelligent internet users. Ads that are helpful or provide benefit to the reader in any form as a result of engagement with them may even be viewed with favor, except when the ad appears to be personalized, regionalized (falsely), or making use of tracking techniques.
Advertisers and publishers need to consciously avoid the mistakes that lead to failure
Wouldn’t it be great if there were some simple rules that could tell you what to avoid doing, and how to be more successful in online advertising? Well hold onto your hat, because those rules actually do exist. Now let’s take a look at the common mistakes that may be costing you money and good will.
Mistake 1: Publishers generating negative cash flow from ads
There are certain types of publishers that have ideal sites for hosting external advertising. In general, they are non-corporate sites. If you have a site that is somehow tied to a brand, it may make your site seem unprofessional if it contains ads for things not related to your business.
Imagine if McDonald’s had ads on their site for a shoe sale at the mall. Such an ad would definitely be out of place, and would detract from the user experience, even if the user was really in the mood to buy some shoes. They didn’t come to the McDonald’s website expecting to be shown an ad for shoes.
If the ads on your site have a negative effect on your professional appearance and reputation, those ads may be costing you more in terms of lost business than they can possibly generate for you as advertising revenue. In that case, you’re much better off not hosting the ads.
Mistake 2: Utilizing pop-up or pop-under windows for advertising or tracking
This is one of the most annoying things an advertiser or publisher can do. Hardly anyone ever clicks on ads contained in pop-ups or pop-unders, and when they do, it’s often by accident. You don’t win if you get somebody to click through to your site as a result of an accident or through deception. It just annoys the user.
Even major sites like TripAdvisor have used pop-unders, and that has generated a lot of complaints from users who are frustrated by them. One reason why it matters is that pop-unders are stealthy. The user may not even be aware that one has been opened until they go to close the browser window. But it can also impact more seriously on the user, because your pop-under may prevent Firefox from offering the user the opportunity to save their browsing session.
Mistake 3: Nag screens
These are common on commercial blog sites, but have also sometimes found their way onto corporate sites as well. These are modal windows that are triggered on certain events such as the user entering the site, attempting to leave the site, or scrolling past a certain point on the page. The modal usually nags or begs the user to subscribe to a mailing list or something like that. It’s incredibly rude. It’s like blocking the door of your shop until the customer tells you where they live so you can send them catalogs.
The problem is that these nagging pop-ups actually do work. Various idiots (and the occasional genuinely interested person) actually fill them in, and what eventually happens is the advertiser gets lots of email addresses, so marketers still believe they’re good to have.
What they’re not considering is that the majority of users find them annoying and even when email addresses are harvested and spammed to the hilt, you won’t see a dramatic rise in sales. You may even see a decrease in your sales. That’s because hardly anyone reads the newsletters and other solicited spam you send out.
Nag screens are not the only way to acquire subscribers, and there’s evidence that they’re less effective than the alternative methods.
Mistake 4: Promising one thing and delivering another
This is just plain dishonesty, and it usually backfires. A variation on this is disguising an advertisement as genuine content, and only revealing quite late that you’re trying to sell something to the user. Both types of ad are likely to result in the user taking a negative view of you. Certainly you may make some sales regardless, but you’d probably make a lot more if you were honest in your intentions.
An example is when you offer the user a free trial or free sample, but then they discover it’s not really free. There is a big difference between a free trial and a money back guarantee, but there are plenty of marketers who will happily overlook that difference and call a spade a shovel. Other examples include raising the price above the advertised price by adding more charges where it wouldn’t be justified, showing a product that isn’t actually the product being sold, using obviously fake testimonials, and so on.
Mistake 5: Blatant dishonesty and misrepresentation
This is where the advertiser presents false information to try to convince the consumer to buy. Apart from the fact that it’s illegal in many jurisdictions to do this, it only takes one person to expose the fraud on social media, and your entire reputation could be in ruins. You may even face prosecution and lawsuits.
Mistake 6: Tracking
This is why people use ad-blockers and privacy tools like Ghostery. It’s why more people are using anonymizers, rejecting cookies, and using online personas. And it’s why Europe created their crazy cookie laws. Now that President Trump has approved the selling of browsing history, users are likely to be even more resistant than ever to being tracked. When you use tracking there are two things that happen. The first is that many users perceive this as inevitable, and the second is that nearly all users resent it.
Mistake 7: Over-reliance on display ads
Advertisers often make the mistake of thinking that what works in the offline world is also most effective online. Display ads are not as effective as inline content ads, except where the inline content ads are SEO links pretending not to be ads. When a blogger who is popular among runners makes a recommendation for a certain type of running shoe, readers are more likely to respond favorably to this ad than if it was simply a graphical banner ad displayed on the page or a deceptive link that was only added to get you a click.
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