There was a time, not so long ago, when a sizeable portion of online advertising was a slimy business. Websites had popups, pop-unders, hidden click layers, gateway pages, and many more tricks we have forgotten about.
That’s a good thing that we can’t remember so many of those deceptive practices. It means the industry has cleaned itself up to a large degree. To be sure, there’s still fraud in the online advertising industry, but we have come a long way since the early wild west days of the web.
When it comes to deceptive online advertising practices, it seems like Google always gets most of the blame. Google has certainly not been blameless in that regard and it still may not have addressed all the legitimate privacy concerns, but in my view it has done a decent job of cleaning up the advertising environment to a large degree.
Take Gmail as an example. It’s quite easy to escape its online ads by simply moving away from the tabbed inbox format in favor of one primary inbox. I’d configured my account that way so long ago that I thought Gmail no longer served ads. For me, the web version and the app counterparts of Gmail have zero ads, so the pages look clean and free of distraction with no chance of clicking on an ad by mistake.
Now look at the other free email providers like Yahoo mail and Microsoft Outlook Mail. Their pages are brimming with ads. So much so that they actually tax the browser resources and slow down the computer.
But the worst ad formats are those the email providers sneak in between the list of emails. I have accidentally clicked on those ads several times and I’m sure many user clicks are also unintentional. Take a look at the Ramseysolutions.com ad in this snapshot from Outlook Mail.
It blends so well with the regular messages that’s very easy to miss the tiny Ad icon in the middle and click on it. I must assume that at least half the clicks are unintentional and yet the advertisers are probably paying for those clicks with the providers gloating about their high click rates.
I’m sure Yahoo and Microsoft have received a decent sum of money just from my own accidental clicks on the sneaky ads, let alone the millions of users who keep making the same mistake. What does a client like Ramsey Solutions get in return? Nothing but an invoice and a bunch of frustrated users that were tricked into clicking their ad and closed the new browser tab as soon as it opened, muttering some garden variety profanity.