I disagree with Chris’s central conceit, perhaps except for some that get desperate. Instead of more aggressive ads, I think we will see more subtle ads. What do my fellow crustaceans think?
I think we’ll see more aggressive ads. In fact I think this has already happened. I remember ads getting noticeably worse (more Flash animation in particular) at the point when Mozilla started shipping a pop-up-blocker by default, and I don’t think it’s coincidence.
I don’t think they are going to be more aggressive, but the opposite. Ads are going to get sneakier, show up in the middle of content as though it was content. Its happening already in the form of paid content, endorsed content, what ever else they want to call it. So instead of aggressive light boxes and pop up windows with three or four timed ads that you can’t skip over, we’re going to looking at content that is actually just one long advertisement. The lines between content and ads will almost disappear entirely.
The question of more subtle vs more aggressive is a false dichotomy. The ad industry is already pursuing both strategies. If you disable your ad blocker I think it’s clear that ads have gotten more aggressive and overall inventory has increased. At the same time I think the usefulness of Google for finding information is at an all-time low. Some topics are alright, but an increasing number of queries just return fluff, advertorials, and sponsored content.
I don’t see any possibility for these drain-circling processes to be interrupted. I think both strategies will become increasingly pernicious along with more comprehensive tracking/profiling and a stronger push towards mobile apps.
My hope is that we’ll see a commensurate increase in willingness to pay for content and services that aren’t covered in garbage. I think we see that to some extent already, the question is how broadly it will spread.
My guess is that there are limits on how far advertising can push the paid-content model. Beyond everything else, web pages (and sites) need to attract attention. A lot of paid content that serves advertisers is not likely to be all that compelling, so it simply won’t draw all that many pageviews compared to more interesting content.
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I think you’re right about the need to attract and hold attention. It seems like a site needs to maintain a very high volume of real content in order to make the paid stuff tolerable. I disagree about the technical limitation, though. You could probably cover most of those smaller sites with a WordPress plugin (WordPress supposedly powers 25% of the Internet).
The main limitation is economic. A paid post is much more expensive to produce than a banner ad and whereas a banner ad can be targeted at broad categories of sites and users, a paid post has to more or less fit within the narrow topic of the site that hosts it.
When you say “25% of the Internet” you need to be more precise because that is too vague a phrase to be meaningful. It could be 25% of:
2) unique domains
3) page views
4) time spent
We do count both the self-hosted, open source version of WordPress which can be downloaded at WordPress.org, and we also count WordPress sites hosted at WordPress.com or elsewhere. However, we count the hosted sites only if they are reachable via their own domain (not only as subdomain of wordpress.com), and they must qualify like all other sites in our surveys by getting enough visitors on that separate domain to make it into the top 10 million Alexa sites. As a result, the vast majority of the millions of blogs at WordPress.com are not counted. Only 1.25% of the WordPress sites in our surveys are hosted by Automattic at WordPress.com.
Looks like they are counting unique domains, which means 25% isn’t as impressive as it sounds because the overwhelming majority of those get very little traffic.
Right, but I was specifically commenting on the technical viability of back-end integration with a large number of small sites.
The web is such a huge platform, with every site pretty much independent, that I think we’ll see every possible combination of techniques. There are already plenty of sites that are borderline unusable without - or even with! - adblockers. Others may be doing other, more subtle things, up to and including directly mixing paid content with editorial content. There’s plenty of places where the lines are already thin to nonexistent.
I feel that subtle ads cannot sustain the current overall ad ecology. If ads are simply visually less obtrusive, adblockers are still going to block them and when they aren’t blocked they won’t draw attention (and clicks) in the way that obtrusive ones probably do. If ads are subtler because they are more integrated into the actual content, then as xtian notes in a comment they become more expensive to produce and harder to target broadly; they must be increasingly custom-fitted to a few sites and a few chunks of native content, instead of just made generically and thrown into an ad network. This would imply a reduction in both the scope of ad networks and their inventory and thus the money involved.
Since the major players in ads definitely don’t want to see the ecology shrink, I don’t think we’re going to see them trying to go subtle until and unless they’re forced to the wall (because the ecology is shrinking significantly whether they want it to or not). And I don’t think they’ll go subtle anywhere except relatively large sites, where there’s enough reliable page views to make it worthwhile for people with ads to custom-fit subtle ads to planned or existing content.