Online Ads Are Not For Me

Advertising is becoming a real problem. On the one hand I am sympathetic to the reality that most users will not pay for online content. We have become accustomed to the internet being free. And there is a definite upside to this freedom of information. But, as so often happens, there are consequences.

Ads have become the primary method of revenue for a vast section of the web and increasingly of mobile apps. I would be okay with this if the ads were inoffensive and safe, but more and more I am seeing advertisements that are at best a major nuisance, and at worst a massive security problem.

I briefly played with Google ads on this website. For about a week I ran a small ad in the menu area. I earned $0 from this ad. Now it is true that this is not a high volume site. I have a small number of readers[1], and I am perfectly happy with this. I am not looking to quit my job and become a millionaire off this site. But I would have expected at least a few cents for the trouble.

The problem is I did it “wrong”. My ads were too small and out of the way. As a result they got nearly no views. Looking at Google’s recommendations for ad placement would have buried my content. But that is probably the only way it would have worked.

As a result, sites that are out to make money have begun using very invasive means to make sure their ads are seen. Usually these are just annoying. Things such as whole page overlays, forced video ads, auto play video, all are irritating, but I am willing to deal with them if done competently.

But I am increasingly seeing ads that don’t work. You can’t easily move beyond them. Or there are multiple barriers between you and the content. I have been trapped by ads that I cannot close due to use of plugins I have disabled for security reasons (more on that in a moment). It is possible that these sites don’t care about the content. All they want is ad impressions. This is a common tactic of link bait sites. They just want you to land there and load an ad. The content is literally pointless. But for legit sites with actual content, burying it behind an assault of ads is a great way to send me back to Google and go to the next link instead.

But it gets much worse. A rising problem is that of malvertising. Think about what an ad is. It is a block of code that you didn’t write and don’t control running on your site or on your app. This has lead to widespread abuse. I have seen this firsthand recently on a legitimate website, MyFitnessPal. Multiple times ads have loaded that redirected me to phishing sites claiming my computer has been infected with malware and that I need to call a number to clean my computer. This is happening to many other users as well. I am sure it is not them who are doing this, it is the ad network. But the results are the same. I have essentially stopped using MyFitnessPal as a result, at least on the web. Was the ad revenue worth this?

Ultimately I was never comfortable with ads on my site. I like that my pages are clean, secure[2], and that I know what they are doing. The idea of possibly sending my readers to malware is not worth the risk for me. I generally oppose ad blockers due to the fact that many writers and developers rely on ads to make a living. But I draw the line at infecting my system. If the ad networks don’t start taking security seriously I will change my position.

  1. And I love every one of you.  ↩
  2. I recently made my site HTTPS only. It doesn’t need to be but it’s the only way I can be reasonably sure that ISPs are not inserting ads on my page that I didn’t put there.  ↩
Online Ads Are Not For Me was last updated June 3rd, 2015 by Michael Truskowski