Putting Online Ads In Context

from the hype-or-substance? dept

When Google first launched their contextual advertising on content sites, I’ll admit that I thought it was huge. I thought it would change the very nature of online advertising for a variety of reasons. First, text ads are unobtrusive and don’t seem to interfere with the browsing process like most other ads. This makes them much more user friendly. Second, by being relevant and carefully targeted, the ads might actually provide some value unlike the vast majority (some might say all) other online ads out there. Finally, (and perhaps most importantly) by doing it all through Google there was the perfect middleman for this process. Each individual site didn’t need to worry about selling their own ads – Google would automatically find the right ad for them. I was surprised as the time it launched that it wasn’t receiving more coverage as a potentially “world changing” idea. However, in the months since then, I’ve gradually been changing my mind – just as others have started to believe my original position. Last week, the Economist raved about contextual text ads, and now John Batelle is singing their praises in Business 2.0. As I wrote when I posted that Economist story, I just don’t see it any more. The reason Google text ads on the search engine work is because people are looking to go somewhere that answers a question. When they’re reading content, they’ve usually reached their destination and are likely to ignore advertisements completely. Andrew Anker, who is often credited with inventing the banner ad (but, despite that fact, really isn’t such a bad guy) seems to agree with me. He discusses the two modes of web surfing: browsing and searching. Ads work when you’re searching. They don’t work nearly as well when you’re browsing. So far, my own experiments with Google’s advertising have agreed with this observation as well. The clickthrough rates for the content sites is about 1/10 that on search sites.

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