Why I Turned Off WordAds

Below is a letter that I recently sent to WordPress support, on the occasion of my turning off WordAds on two of my blogs.  The attachments that I mention, examples of ads on my blogs, appear after the content of the letter.

To: support@wordpress.com

23 Jan 2013

I host two blogs on WordPress for which I signed up in the WordAds program.

I’m going to disable WordAds in both cases, based on the type and style of ads that are being shown.  But I thought it fair to share some thoughts with you, related to why I’m turning off WordAds.

The blogs are: csharp.2000things.com and wpf.2000things.com

Both of these blogs are quite small, in terms of traffic.  The first blog gets around 10,000 hits/mon, with just under 12,000 impressions in the most recent month.  The second blog is around 20,000 hits/mon, with just under 20,000 impressions in Nov, 2012.

Given how tiny these blogs are, in terms of traffic, I realize that WordPress won’t care all that much whether or not I host ads.  But I’d still like to share some quick thoughts on the ads being served, since this applies to any of your blogs serving WordAds.

My main complaints with the ads being served are:

  • They don’t look like ads  (e.g. ad consists solely of embedded YouTube video)
  • Ads are not separated from my blog content in any way, e.g. with a border
  • Ads aren’t relevant to my readers
  • Multiple ads leads to the web page being cluttered
  • The visual style of the ads cheapens my blog / brand

What I’d hope for with ads are ads that follow the more traditional design guidelines of print ads a little more closely.  I.e. They are clearly offset by a border and marked as an ad and they clearly contain a brand image for the item or service being advertised.  Ads that contain other content, like images from YouTube videos and giant Download buttons, overpower the content of my blog and also confuse the reader by appearing to be part of my content, rather than an ad.  (See attached images for examples, from my blog).

There are all sorts of ads served on the web.  Some are very tasteful and elegant, some less so.  I’m disappointed that the ads served up via WordAds are consistently in the latter category.  An ad should not actively try to pull the reader’s attention from the content and it should definitely not try to “trick” the reader into doing so (e.g. large download buttons).  Rather, professional ads should respect the reader by being clearly marked as an ad, displaying the relevant brand, and trusting that the reader will read the ad if they are interested in the product or service.

As a blog author, my main request in the area of ads is that they appear to be at least as professional and tasteful as my blog itself.  Since the ads served by WordAds are failing to live up to that expectation, I’m going to turn them off.  WordPress does host many blogs that I would consider to be well-designed and tasteful.  Your themes are also beautifully designed, with a very professional look.  But the ads that you’re currently serving don’t rise to that standard.  They cheapen not only the individual blogs that serve the ads, but the WordPress brand itself.

I realize that serving web-based ads is a tricky business to be in.  Wordpress needs to make money, as do the vendors serving the ads.  And given the state of web-based ads, it’s easy to serve up the same sort of ads that the other guys serve.  But given the strength and respectability of the WordPress brand, I would hope that you’d set the bar a little bit higher.  WordPress is already a leader when it comes to hosting blogs.  With some changes to the ads that you serve, you could also be a leader in the area of served ads, setting an example for other content producers on the web.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and to consider my thoughts.

Sean Sexton

130123 - Ad Complaint  130123-Ad2

7 thoughts on “Why I Turned Off WordAds

  1. Pingback: Ad Free « 2,000 Things You Should Know About WPF

  2. Pingback: Ad Free « 2,000 Things You Should Know About C#

  3. I appreciate your thoughtful post on WordAds, which I work on for Automattic and WordPress.com. i wanted to respond here and give some feedback on your complaints.

    The purpose of WordAds is to make advertising easy for WordPress.com users. Online advertising can be a time suck with technical, design and business requirements. WordAds also extends to smaller sites the ability to work with ad partners that generally don’t work with smaller sites.

    We do hear some misunderstanding about what is WordAds. WordAds is not an advertiser or ad network. Rather we optimize a fairly large number of ad partners. That means that there isn’t any one WordAds type of ad. If and when we find a new partner that has an ad product that we like and that pays well we will add them to WordAds. Likewise when an ad partner lets down sites we move away from that partner. One challenge we have is that there are many opinions about what users want and don’t in ads and its difficult to deliver exactly what each site wants.

    > They don’t look like ads (e.g. ad consists solely of embedded YouTube video)
    Ads creatives and type of ads differ depending on the country of the visitor. However, we do run and prefer to run click to play video ads. It’s a matter of taste but we prefer them a) because they pay much better per view than standard banner or text ads and b) We think the creative quality is higher than banner ads that we have tested and c) We get a very high click through rate on the videos and the data indicates that people watch the videos which are created to be entertaining so we think this is a better experience than running the display ads.

    > Ads are not separated from my blog content in any way, e.g. with a border
    We do insert an About These Ads link above the ads. We don’t insert a border because there are so many themes on WordPress.com if we add an additional layer it would cause layout problems. We do have a designer who is specifically working on improving the look on each theme.

    > Ads aren’t relevant to my readers
    We hear this a good amount. I believe that people are trained by Google search ads that the best online ads mirror the subject of the site. However, outside of search that is often not how online ads are bought and sold these days. As with TV advertisers, online advertisers are generally paying to be in front of an audience demographic (male/female, geo, etc.) and often via re-targeting so that if a visitor was looking at ski gear on another site they might see ski gear ads on your site even though your site has nothing to do with ski gear.

    > Multiple ads leads to the web page being cluttered
    WordAds has a one ad per page option.

    • Jon, thanks for the detailed reply.

      WordAds definitely makes it easy to get ads served up, without having to work directly with the ad vendors. You’ve done a great job making this work so seamlessly.

      I realize that it’s hard to serve the needs of thousands of blogs, in terms of what sorts of ads they’d like to see. Some are all about click-through, to maximize impressions, without a lot of concern about the actual aesthetics of the ads. Other (like me) would rather have ads that meet a particular level of professionalism, aesthetically speaking. Click-through is only secondary, since my primary goal is to provide professional content in my blog and secondary goal would be to underwrite the blog with ads, but only if I can be assured of doing this with ads that are as professional and aesthetically clean as my blog.

      I still do object to the video-based ads, given how they are not visually distinct enough from the blog content, from a graphic design perspective. And despite the small header that mentions the video being an ad, I know that many readers confuse the ad as being part of the content. Perhaps that explains the higher click-through rates? :O)

      The relevancy thing is less important to me, but also a philosophical discussion. I understand how ads are targeted based on either browsing history or on content. And possibly just my personal opinion, but I’d be pretty irritated to see a ski gear ad on a blog about something entirely different, just because I’d recently searched for ski gear. I realize that this is the way that online ads are trending, but I also believe that it’s disrespectful of the users. A professional and respectful ad should be relevant to what the user is doing right now, but without being so relevant as to be creepy or prying (e.g. ads based on content in the body of an e-mail message).

      Again, I realize that there are competing goals here. Advertisers, ad partners, and content creators all want to make money. Users and consumers of content want to be treated in a respectful way and want to see something that is aesthetically clean. In my opinion, we’ve moved a bit too far away from the latter, in favor of the former. I hear all of the time (and I’m sure you do too) that “average” people are often frustrated with ads on web sites, because the ads are too intrusive, too garish, or too confusing (e.g. the large download button). This tells me that there is probably a market out there for ad partners and content creators to create aesthetically tasteful ads, though perhaps at the expense of a few pennies of ad revenue.


  4. I don’t like the large download button either, especially when I googled the url and got results like popup, and how do I get this off my computer. The download button doesn’t have any clue as to what it leads to. I decided to stop wordads also. I don’t think there are any online ads that I would say are good. I would prefer an amazon ad or other well known site but I don’t think those are the kinds of organizations behind ads. It’s more like lose the bellyfat ads that are pervasive over the internet. A grocery coupon is not in the realm of possibilities. I wish real online sites would be in the ads like audible, non-profit sites, or news sites. I guess we can say “not gonna happen.”

  5. well for me wordads is better
    my wordpress hosted blog at least get something from it. if i compare to adsense program.
    i just keep finding new stuff to write and get an ease to pay the bill, especially domain thing.

    thanks for sharing this issue anyway

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s