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