[rant] How Not to Do Advertising on Your Website

If you know me, then you know I love Disney, and especially Disney Parks. I just do. And anyone who loves Disney Parks likes nothing (except Disney Parks) as much as reading about Disney Parks. I follow several websites – MousePlanet, Theme Park Insider, WDW Magic, and more. One site I’ve valued for years has been WDW News Today. They do a ton of great photo updates, and usually have many articles posted throughout the day. Definitely helped feed my habit.

But man, they’ve about ruined their website.

Oh, their site is at WDWNT.com – but I’d read through this before you head over. And they’re @WDWNT on Twitter if you’ve professional, constructive criticism or praise to offer them.

First of all, let me firmly state that I grasp the need for paid advertising to run a website. Running a large-scale website, even with volunteer contributors, can be impossibly expensive, especially when you’re specializing in high-bandwidth, high-storage stuff like photos. But I do feel there’s a way to incorporate advertising respectfully, and WDWNT has sadly gone off the deep end in the other direction.

Let this be a lesson for web people everywhere.

Consider this extremely typical article page, viewed normally (as opposed to viewed in Safari’s “Reading Mode,” which strips away the cruft and is the only way I can now handle the site):


This is a visual mess. Here’s why:


Something like a third of the page is advertising, to the point where you can’t even see any of the article text by default. 

Now, yes, I’m watching this on a tablet. But the world is mobile-first, these days; I suspect the developers of the site are working on a gigantic 30” monitor, and not bothering to see what their website looks like in a mobile experience.

And even then:


You only get about a screenful of content before you’re confronted with more inline advertising. It’s pernicious. And yes, I’m aware of ad blockers; using one renders the site essentially useless as it also winds up preventing half their CSS and Javascript from loading for some reason. It’s that bad. (Truly: looking at the resource load for the site as a whole is pretty appalling, and I should probably just stop visiting to avoid being tracked by every ad network in the solar system.)

Oh, and then there’s this tactic:


Every so often, your content will scroll away to reveal a full-screen ad underneath. Which doesn’t like my device orientation. Talk about interruptive. Jeez. And their insistence on layering in every possible kind of ad creates this kind of lovely:


See the problem? The superimposed banner ad along the bottom – which is present on every single page of the site – is now obscuring another banner ad. It’s like dueling annoyances.

It’s a huge shame. I really enjoy the content of the website, once I can finally wrap my eyes around it. I mean, basically, it’s a site full of ads now, with the ads occasionally interrupted by content.

It’s even worse on a phone.

But it’s fixable, as are most design problems – which is all this is. For a before-and-after example, consider this page (which again devotes so much space to advertising and mastheads that you can’t actually see the article):


Now consider what Safari does with its Reading Mode to this same page:


So much more readable. You can see that there’d still be ample room for a modest masthead at the top, and plenty of space in the margins to float ads as you scroll. The eye is subtly drawn to the main article, which is presented in a comfortable-for-reading width. All of the photos in the article remain intact.

The site does solicit donations through Patreon, which one supposes would reduce their need for all the craptacular advertising. But paying sponsors don’t get the ads shut off, so I’m deeply disinclined to help them financially – there’s no real incentive, if I have to suffer through the site design regardless. I almost wish they’d do a Wikipedia/NPR-style donation drive a couple of times a year, with a firm promise to ditch the advertising if they raise enough money (I’m presuming they’re not a for-profit organization that would want the ad revenue either way).

Half the reason we all hate advertising is because it’s so easy for it to destroy the reason we showed up to a site in the first place. Ugh.

End rant. Thanks for reading ;).


One thought on “[rant] How Not to Do Advertising on Your Website

  1. Greg

    If you think that’s bad look at how ads have destroyed Tom’s hardware. They have all of the above, plus auto-playing video ads. As for WDWNT, viewing their site drives me crazy, but the back to the future video podcasts are pretty great.

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