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Come on DoubleClick, let’s get real

23 June 2005 6 Comments

Bennie Smith, privacy chief (whatever that is) of DoubleClick, seems to be a little out of touch with reality. In an interview, he warns browser makers against ad-blocking. He seems to think that browser plugins like Adblock will cause publishers to start charging for content.

His prognosis is a little off the mark if you ask me. There is still fantastic opportunity for Web-based ads. Yes, people are going to block banner ads. They are annoying and images are easy to block. No matter how convenient it is to provide banner ads, and no matter how convenient they have been in the past, people are quickly becoming less tolerant of them. Banner ads are becoming declasse. But that doesn’t mean people are totally intolerant of ads. Web users don’t like in-your-face banner ads, but they seem to be fine with less invasive forms of advertisement. Take Google and Yahoo’s advertising strategy for example. They are non-invasive, easy on the eyes, text-based, and cannot be blocked using Adblock. Take a lesson DoubleClick; the last time I checked, Google and Yahoo were still free and were making a ton of money off of advertising. There is a change in what people are willing to accept and if DoubleClick doesn’t adapt to the market demands, it will lose in the long run.

As I wrote in another blog entry (Banner-Ad-Free Syndication), companies like FeedBurner can learn something from this too. I suggested that advertisements in feeds should be in the form of individual feed entries and should remain text-based. A reader is more likely to read a text-based ad that appears as a blog entry than they are a banner ad. The typical user auto-filters banner ads in their brain.

Dick Costolo from FeedBurner commented on my blog entry, saying that they choose banner ads over text ads because they don’t want to affect search engine results. He argues that the ad text would mess up the search engine index. I think this is an admirable concern, but I’m not so sure that it is business smart. If I were FeedBurner, I would focus on pleasing my customers and their readers and not worry so much about how I may affect search engine indexing. These are decorated feeds, so they wouldn’t affect indexing of the Web-page itself. It wouldn’t even affect indexing of the original feed. It would only affect the FeedBurner modified feed. So the only search engines that you would affect are those that index your FeedBurner feed. I’m no expert, but I would assume that this would be limited to blog-specific feeds search engines.

Regardless, search engines are designed to filter through real-world content and find relevant pages based on your keywords, but the order of the search results are based on criteria other than just keywords. The fact of the matter is that advertisements are part of the real world. The more that users see FeedBurner banners in feed, the more likely that FeedBurner will write itself a one-way ticket into a users blocked URL list. Moreover, the more users that see the banners, the more likely that their URL will be included in default blacklists that are shipped with blocking software.

If we (as content providers) are really concerned about text-based ads messing with search engine indexing, we need to propose an HTML standard tag that would prevent search engines from indexing the content within the tag.

Example:

<html>
<body>

Here is some indexable content.

<noindex>
My Text based ad goes here and will not be indexed
</noindex>

</body>
</html>

I know that there are strategies for telling search robots to ignore entire pages, but it would really be nice to have a strategy for telling a search engine robot to selectively ignore content within a page. A so-called “line-item veto” for HTML indexing. Or… am I ignorant, and is there something like this available already?

6 Comments »

  • Luke Reeves said:

    The line “http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/*” in my adblock file prevents me from seeing any Google textads – what makes you think they’re unblockable?

  • Javid said:

    1. Go to http://www.google.com
    2. Search for something (e.g. “mortgage”)
    3. Do whatever you want to try to block the ads on the right side of the page from appearing using AdBlock.

    Yes, if the ads are in a seperate IFrame or appear as an image, you can block them. But, if they are just plain text that appears on the page, you cannot block them using AdBlock (so far as I know).

  • aljam said:

    I don’t know about Ad-Block, but there are ways to block Google’s text-based ads. I have done it on my computer.

  • Javid said:

    Yes, there are ways using screen-scraping. You have to analyze the structure of the page and determine which element in the HTML/XML tree has the ad in it and block it. You can use a tool like Greasemonkey to do this with Javascript. But this is much more difficult to maintain than simple URL blocking. If a site changes the layout of the page, your script would have to change. So you would have to have site specific code for blocking ads.

    The point is that it is naive to say that advertising as we know it is over.

  • brendan said:

    If you really insist on text-based ads and want to prevent search engines (that listen to robots.txt) from indexing the content, then you should put the ad in an iframe and point it to something restricted by the robots.txt file. In theory, the robot shouldn’t follow the link while at the same time the ad will appear as part of the page. If you want it to look more in-line you could go fancier with ajax-type stuff but that’s another subject… :-)