Poorly placed ads are spoiling the internet for millions of UK consumers, with 87% saying these messages regularly get in the way of what they are trying to view online.

The survey of 1,900 UK web users was sponsored by AdPlus, a browser plugin which allows customers to only see ads from brands and markets that interest them.

Obviously there is an agenda here, but it's hard to deny that ads can be intrusive and annoying, and I do wonder whether such plugins and ad blockers are just the natural response to bad UX. 

On the other hand, publishers offering free content need to pay the bills somehow, and perhaps more web users need to understand that. 

However, some publishers do go too far with ads, to the extent that they damage the user experience

Clearly, publishers are keen to maximise online ad revenues as offline incomes decrease, and i do have sympathy with this. When sites are struggling the offer of more cash for a homepage takeover or rollover ad must be hard to resist. 

Personally, I think the answer may lie beyond ads, and more and more publishers are likely to use ecommerce features, such as travel sections, to increase their incomes. 

After all, retailers like Net A Porter have become publishers successfully, so perhaps more media firms need to bring in ecommerce expertise. 

For example, when you see ads like this when you're trying to view an article, you can understand why people use ad blockers: 

That one is from the Independent, which has become particularly bad for ads. In this, it actually obscures the content, and couldn't be closed/rolled back. 

I assume this particular instance was an error, in that it obscured part of the article, though it remained on the site for some time. 

The ad formats that users hate 

The respondents to this survey are most irked by adverts which obstruct their screen, so called 'blockers', with 83% saying they spoilt their experience online. The second most annoying type of ads were 'goofers', adverts that appear which are totally unrelated to the content that the person is viewing online.  

People in Wales seem to be the least tolerant, with 94% saying crap ads ruin the internet for them. 

The five offending types of ads are: 

  • 'Blockers': ads that interfere with the article you're trying to read. Here's one such example from the Liverpool Echo site. 

  • Stalkers: ads that keep appearing again and again wherever you go online. Presumably this means retargeted ads. As Doug Kessler explains here, they can be annoying, but they aren't normally that intrusive. 
  • 'Goofers': ads that are completely unrelated to what you’re interested in.
  • 'Sneakers': ads that try and disguise the fact they’re ads, such as Facebook sponsored posts. I guess we're talking about native advertising here, and Facebook sponsored posts are a popular form of native ad. Here's an example: 

Times facebook ad
I can understand user frustration here, which is why it's key for publishers to ensure that such 'ads' are clearly labelled as such. 

  • 'Clangers': ads that appear completely out of context. This is about ad targeting, and shows the importance of effective targeting.

    Unless the ad placement is especially offensive, I'm surprised it annoys users so much. but it's certainly a waste of ad space, and is likely to be effective. 

User reactions to unwanted ads

According to the survey, when users see ads they consider to be intrusive or otherwise annoying, this is how they respond: 

  • 35% of people immediately leave the offending website.
  • 40% actively avoid websites that offer up ads they don’t want.
  • However, 38% of people said they still want to receive adverts that they are interested in. 

It's difficult to totally trust this survey, as much can depend on the manner in which questions are framed. For example, if you ask people 'do you want to see ads for products you're not interested in?' they're hardly likely to say yes. 

However, the growth in the use of ad blockers bears testimony to the fact that ads do annoy people, enough to download such software. The reactions here also suggest that publishers need to consider the balance between ad income and harming the brand through a poor user experience. 

For example, a couple of news sites I used to visit often have now become irritating to the point where I rarely go there anymore.

  • The Independent, as shown in the screenshot above, is now a pain to visit. Ads are often intrusive, we have autoplaying video, and the content is slow to load. 
  • Likewise, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle (which I visit for NUFC news) is a repository of crap ad formats. Here, there's more ad than content: 

What do you think? Are publishers putting ad income over user experience? Or do web users need to consider how all that free content they want is paid for?  

Graham Charlton

Published 19 November, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (4)

Andrew Warren-Payne

Andrew Warren-Payne, Senior Research Analyst at Econsultancy

Personally I think bad ads are the reason why some consumers are turning to adblocking software in an attempt to maintain a decent customer experience while using the internet.

However, as many of these sites exist upon broken business models (particularly news sites), they believe they can keep treading water financially by resorting to tactics like these.

over 4 years ago



Totally agree with u.. great article..

over 4 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Principal Consultant at Enchant Agency

Great post - I completely agree. One of my favourite websites relaunched yesterday and it was absolutely soaked in Xbox ad's. Such a shame..

about 4 years ago


Richard Hamer

I'm a big fan of AdBlock, mainly to get rid of Facebook ads - believe me, I don't want a Russian bride.

The ads that really annoy are the blockers; a prime example being on www.thebusinessdesk.com, which on Android, is hard to get rid of without opening the ad.

The biggest annoyance for me isn't an ad as such, but the vids on certain newspaper sites that play (usually sport) and kick-in on every page you go to.

about 4 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.