Most people block pop-up ads when they can, so why do websites continue to inflict them on their visitors?
Yahoo and Google help you block pop-up and pop-under ads. So do AOL and EarthLink. Mozilla Firefox, the populist web browser, has a built-in pop-up ad suppresser. Not to be outdone, Microsoft offers one in its Windows XP Service Pack 2.
Google the term “pop-up blocker” and you’ll encounter millions of results and hundreds — if not thousands — of products and services, with names like Pop-Up Stopper, Pop Swatter, Pop This and Pop-Up Zapper. You can download them in exchange for filling out consumer surveys, participating in various data-mining schemes and targeted ad campaigns, or paying an annual fee for tech support.
Of course, the reason pop-up blockers are so popular is because pop-ups (and pop-unders) are so unpopular. A study conducted last year by Dynamic Logic found that almost 80 percent of those surveyed had a “very negative” opinion of pop-up ads. They hijack our screens, often touting products and services that bear little relation to the content we are viewing. One second you’re reading an article about the Iraqi elections, the next a digital billboard from Orbitz (“Put a thousand miles between you and your next meeting”) or Trade-In-Value.com (“What’s your car worth?”) appears.
Nevertheless, a number of well-trafficked online media sites haven’t heard the news that pop-ups and pop-unders have become pariahs. CNN.com and ABCNews.com subject their visitors to them. The New York Times’ website and washingtonpost.com do, too. The Fast Company website and Slate also rely on them to enhance their revenue streams. The sneaky Drudge Report even goes so far as to pre-empt Mozilla Firefox’s ad blocker. How? By opening a window when you leave the site by clicking on an article link.
In a sense, in-your-face ads like these are the browser equivalent of e-mail spam. But advertisers will tell you the reason you see so many of them is because they work. Since pop-ups and pop-unders are so cheap, you only need a small fraction of clickthroughs to earn back your investment. Of course, even this is debatable, and sites that deploy them may be risking reader loyalty.
Topix.net, a news service, experimented with pop-under ads for a while. “Our users hated (them) and our stats suggested (they were) hurting our trial exposure to new users,” said Rich Skrenta, who runs the site. “Visitors were less likely to explore the site upon a first visit if they got hit with (a) pop-under when they arrived. Since our goal is to get new users onto the site and have them look around, clearly this wasn’t optimal.”