Despite a number of surveys that have shown exactly what web users think of pop-ups and other intrusive advertising techniques, advertisers and publishers persist in using these ads.

For instance, The Times, Guardian, and Telegraph all allow either pop-ups or overlays on their websites, which can have a negative impact on the user experience. It's amazing that we still see so much of this sort of thing, in 2008.

Surely targeting should be playing a much bigger role in generating revenue, rather than earning a bit more from advertisers by allowing appalling formats (such as the five I've listed below) to bastardise the user experience?

Put simply, if web users are annoyed by ads when they visit a website, they will transfer that annoyance onto the site that hosts them, and also the brand which is using them to advertise.

I visit the three newspaper sites regularly, despite the pop-ups and overlays, but with most other sites, I would simply not return if I frequently encountered such intrusive advertising. We only ever seem to visit Forbes these days to admire the trickery it employs to earn as much money as possible from this sort of badvertising.

Here are five examples of annoying / intrusive ad techniques:

  • Site intros
    These Flash-based intros are about as annoying as it gets. You've found an interesting article on Google News, click to read it, and you get this:

Forbes site intro

Forbes bills itself here as the 'homepage for the world's business leaders', but I doubt that many of these high-flyers have five seconds to spare waiting for the article to load. Very, very cheap.

  • Overlays
    Possibly more annoying than pop-ups, as they obscure the articles you are trying to read and ruin the user experience. To continue reading the article you want, you are forced to hunt for the 'x' or the 'close this ad' link, which gets harder to find all the time, despite the IAB's efforts in promoting best practice within these rubbish ads.

    Overlay ads seem to appear less frequently than they once did, suggesting that some publishers may have seen the light an banned them outright. Maybe they've just woken up to the necessity of frequency capping? Regardless, some of the biggest publishers still accept overlays and should perhaps know better.

  • Audio in ads
    There's nothing wrong with audio in video ads, but the user must be in control. When sound plays automatically, I have a big problem as it forces you to quickly reach for the volume switch / hunt for the ad on the page that is playing the audio.

    Advertisers may think that this helps to grab the attention of the user and encourage them to watch the video ad. I suspect many users will be so annoyed that they'll simply move on to another site.

    Auto-sound intrudes over existing audio being played on a computer, and for office workers is a sure fire way of attracting the attention of the boss!

  • Pop-ups
    Pop-ups, like the one below (a house ad from GAP) are extremely annoying:

Gap pop-up

Thankfully, pop-up blockers deal with the majority of pop-ups, though some sites still manage to sneak them in though.

The NewMediaAge website continues to serve up full page pop-unders, for some bizarre reason. I made the mistake of looking at this article on Sainsbury's etail figures earlier today, clicked the 'article continues below', and was duly confronted by a pop-under ad from uTarget. 

  • In-line text ads
    These are the double-underlined text links you find on some sites, which link popular words to external advertisers' sites. Here's an example from PC Pro:

inline text ads

Though they are double underlined, they seem to be intended to mislead the reader into clicking a link they think has been placed there by the post's author, and will be somehow related to the content of the post.

In addition, like overlays, they obscure the content on the page. Not a good idea, but fortunately, not many well-known publishers are using these ads.

Related stories:
Top 10 most common e-commerce mistakes
10 reasons why your website sucks

Related research:
User Experience Roundtable Briefing - July 2007

Graham Charlton

Published 11 January, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (6)

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Matt Elliott

Interesting article.
I can agree wholeheartedly that these formats are annoying for the visitor.
What is not taken into account is the overall effectiveness of these formats.

In terms of click through rates, popups, overlays, audio banners and intros are really the best performing formats, and that is why they continue to be used.

It remains the case that the InYourFace ad formats perform the best in all channels.

over 10 years ago


PPC Management

Google PPC does not allow popups on landing pages. I would have thought that in time Google would work towards building such nuisances in to its search ranking algorithm. If it impacts search marketing, sites will stop using it.

over 10 years ago


Dominic Benton

I agree with Matt Elliot and am surprised to see this article under the headline '5 Bad Web Advertising Techniques'. In this trackable world, advertisers do what is proven to work. Is that so 'bad'? A more appropriate and more honest headline might have been '5 things that annoy this particular writer'

over 10 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hi Dominic,

Actually the headline is bang on and the choices represent E-consultancy's thinking, rather than Graham's personal view.

I hear what you and Matt are saying, but I think you need to be careful when measuring 'effectiveness', or talking about 'what is proven to work' when that basically comes down to the *number of clicks* an ad delivers. 'Clicks' don't tell you very much at all.

Many clicks on intrusive ads are made in error and shouldn't be counted as valid. In fact, these clicks are worse than no click at all, since the brand has annoyed the web user.

Surely there are better ways of measuring effectiveness? And better ways of encouraging interaction / response than using these formats?

Targeting beats intrusion every single time, and the days of measuring a campaign's 'success' by simply counting clicks are surely numbered...

over 10 years ago



A technique that I've found generates high CTR but doesn't annoy the customer or intrude on their web experience is the Page Peel. It floats over the page in the upper corner. Doesn't get in the way, but it gets customers attention. Hover over the corner and the page peels back to reveal the ad, move away and it rolls back up.

You can make a free Page Peel at this site:

Pretty easy to set up.

over 9 years ago



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know that video advertising marketing and link exchange is very important to small businesses. After getting booted off you ,there are sites like htt:// that gives you free link exchange,video uploads and even a simple web page that will link to your business site.

about 9 years ago

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