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Website Ads & The Search Algorithm - The Greatest Problem With The Internet Today

Time-wasting articles, clickbait advertisements, and ruined aesthetics.

Ads on popular news websites
The BBC News website, a mostly respectable organisation, contains ads taking up approximately 40% of the front page

Ads, nearly everyone hates them. But despite the title of this article, I'm actually not against advertising in general. It can provide a great way to access free content or services, and also allows us to discover new products that we might be interested in. But the quantity and quality of these ads in recent years has reached an unacceptable level. In the best case scenarios, ads are distracting and ruin web design, but in the worst case scenarios they are filled with clickbait and redirect to scam websites. So why do websites use these ads? Why is the standard so low? And why do so many blogs contain long-winded articles filled with time-wasting keywords?

The Good, The Bad, & The Ad Blockers

Current data shows approximately 33-40% of people use ad blockers for browsing the web. Using an ad blocker is a great option, but it's not a solution to the core issues of this problem. Ultimately the solution is in the hands of search engines such as Google, Bing, and the various ad agencies which provide paid advertising for blogs and websites. The solution is relatively simple on the surface... just improve the standard and quality of website advertising, along with a modest reduction in the quantity of ads displayed, and strictly no more clickbait and no more scam-filled ads. Think about that number of people using ad blockers, imagine replacing that with an improvement of the advertising model and then a 40% reduction in the number of ads seen online, no more clickbait, and a 40% increase in the quality of the actual advertising content. Sounds like a much nicer internet experience.

The next step is to create ads that are less intrusively and less disruptive to the user experience, and that don't undermine the aesthetics of the web design. But these agencies are unlikely to change unless there is more incentive for them to do so, which means the bloggers, large websites, and search engines need to put more effort into their own standards for advertising. And for us, as consumers of their content, we need to rebel more against websites that support such poor advertising standards. Personally, if I encounter obnoxious ads on any website, I exit immediately and continue browsing the search results for something more humble. I also take note of these websites to avoid them in the future, or only visit them using an ad blocker.

YouTube is a great example of how advertising can be used without being an intrusive and frustrating interruption - when our favourite YouTubers incorporate their sponsors in small sections of their videos, it feels more natural and much less distracting. Some of them can even make the ad content entertaining. Ideally, this method would be the future of our internet. It's also relatively easy for websites to incorporate this style of advertising, with genuine product reviews or tailored-made sponsored ads carefully integrated into the web design.

Ads on popular blog websites
Scrolling this cookie recipe lead to 4 ads on one page, taking up over 70% of the space

Keywords, Long-Winded Articles, & The Algorithm

We all know that common experience of googling a recipe and finding a nice-looking website, only to discover that we have to scroll through mountains of semi-related dialogue just to reach the actual recipe. This is the classic example of Search Engine Optimization - strategies and techniques used to improve the ranking of the search results page. The goal of these strategies is to exploit the algorithm to improve their Google ranking, this means filling the article with keywords and related topics, and trying to keep readers on the page for as long as possible. The result? Our actual recipes are buried amongst all this other content that hopefully also distracts us, increasing our time on the website, time spent viewing these ads, and hopefully time spent checking out the other articles on the website. Sure, this is an effective way to run a blog - exploiting an algorithm and hacking people's attention tendencies... but it's a very inefficient result for us, the visitors.

In the above example, "Sally's Baking Recipes" was the top result when I googled "best chocolate chip cookies", and it's a beautiful and well-designed website. But simply scrolling through the page to get to the recipe eventually produced 4 ads covering over 70% of the screen, this is truly ridiculous. And unfortunately, it's also very common all over the web. I'm using a recipe website as an example, but this is common across all categories, another common example is travel blogs.

In Closing

I wrote this article mainly as an expressive opinion piece, and also out of curiosity. Curiosity to see if it actually ranks on Google and if people are searching for articles that address this issue. Although it's relatively short, hopefully it's been enjoyable to read, it usually feels good when other people express complaints that we've had on our minds. I could develop this article more, elaborate more, dig up more data and statistics and explore the topic in depth. But is it worth it? Perhaps. If this article gains some traction in the future, I would be happy to develop it more. But in the meantime, I'll just continue using my ad blocker and encourage you all to do the same.

As always, thanks for your support.

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