News websites are getting advertising all wrong
Being greedy is one thing. But being stubborn and refusing to accept reality is another thing altogether.
If you read your news online, you will know what I am talking about.
Many news sites are full of banner ads above the fold. All these ads cause the page to take an age to load.
A lot of news and information sites I try to read on my laptop simply refuse to load. Or they take a minute or more to appear. Talk about poor user experience.
The problem is far too many ads above the fold. Every ad needs to be uploaded from a separate web server. Because of this, loading time stalls to a crawl.
Every blogger knows that website speed is vital to the success of their sites.
Yet news tycoons have yet to grasp this basic logic. If your page doesn’t load within 3 seconds, you lose visitors. Therefore your ad income plummets.
The slow learning news sources
Newspaper barons might think they are mighty. But they are not as powerful as an Internet monopoly.
Google proved who was the boss when the Daily Mail lost 50% of its web traffic overnight.
It was blamed on a Google algorithm update. But the truth is that the Daily Mail had been bending the SEO rules for a very long time.
It uses clickbait headlines and page titles that are 3 times as long as permitted by most search engines. It also uses annoying pop-ups and overlay ads. If that is not enough, every one of its web pages is filled with around 50% of advertising space.
This ratio might be fine in print. But it doesn’t work online.
I like reading news stories. But pop-up ads that cover the text I am trying to read and cause the page jump drives me mad. I have to give up and head elsewhere.
Perhaps you like using Google News to find international or local news like me.
But you know what a pain it is when you end up on a news site that is full of ads. Some have more banner ads, video ads and related site ads than news.
It’s an invitation to leave.
Killing the goose that laid the golden egg
I used to love reading The Independent. It was one of my favourite news sites.
That is until it added so much advertising, that its site would sometimes not even load on Safari on a laptop.
Here is a Google Speed Insights test. It took around 8 seconds for the site to load on a desktop and over 16 seconds on mobile.
Here are the screengrabs of The Independent’s site load speed performance.
The website load scores were abysmal. It failed every speed test.
Luckily though, The Independent must have hired some smart dudes in the last few weeks.
In recent days its advertising delivery has reduced considerably and its site performance has improved. Perhaps its advertising revenue has increased too.
What’s the problem with advertising on news sites? It is that newspapers are trying to apply a very old business model to a new medium.
In print, newspapers sell advertising space. The more space they sell, the more money they make. It’s a simple business model.
But they don’t get paid for online advertising space. Income is only produced when someone with intent clicks on an ad.
Intent is the key ingredient is making money from online advertising. Intent is defined as someone who is interested in the content on a page and then clicks on a related ad.
For example, imagine a site visitor who arrives on a page because they are searching for information about Spain. If the content matches their search, then an ad for a holiday in Spain is related and will probably get a good click-through rate.
For newspapers, this creates a problem. How are all their ads related to the content? A lot of unrelated ads on a web page is not the way to succeed in making money from online advertising.
Ads don’t always slow down website performance
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have a slow website.
Many newspapers like The New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today, load very fast. News channels such as Fox News, CNN and the BBC all carry advertising but they load fine.
The reason these sites work better is that they have a better balance of news content and better placement of advertising. A little can go a long way.
Just be sure that you have a very good web host for your site. Then you can add Google Adsense or other advertising to your site without a big jump in load speed.
You have undoubtedly noticed that we have ads on Just Publishing Advice. But our site speed is still very fast.
Here are our site speed scores on Page Speed Insights.
The scores prove that advertising in moderation does not dramatically affect your loading time.
The key phrase there was, in moderation.
None of the ads on our site appears above the fold. We also make sure that ads only load when they become visible after scrolling down through the content.
Google Adsense also helps us by only serving relevant ads for the content on our site.
The problem with many news sources is that they are loading three, four or five banner ads. Some use sidebar ads above the fold as well.
That is when ads kill website speed. There are too many external requests as the page is trying to load.
More ads mean more money, right?
In fact, the opposite is true.
I have used Google Adsense for many years now. I can honestly say that you make much more money by serving fewer ads.
Multiple ads above the fold are a distraction from your content and lead to very high bounce rates. In other words, people can’t find what they were looking for, so they leave.
If you have a monetized blog or website, be careful with your ad placement.
Make sure that your content loads first, and fast.
The best ads to use are in-line article ads related to the page content. They only load when a page is scrolled down to where you place your ad.
With Adsense, you can have as many as you like. Google has removed the old rule of allowing only three ads on a page.
But usually, two or three is more than enough. If you have a very long article of over 2,500 words, you could perhaps go up to four.
Do you really want a banner ad at the top of your page? Then use only one because it will definitely slow down your loading speed.
Don’t place additional ads in your sidebar or in the first ten paragraphs of your content. Each one you add will slow down your site more because they will all be loading at the same time.
You can make money from advertising. But to do so, your ads have to be well placed, relevant and load fast.
When too many ads slow down your site, your advertising revenue will reduce very quickly. Being greedy with ads is not smart.
Newspapers and the Internet have one thing in common. They both make money from advertising. Without this income, both would perish.
But Internet companies and experienced website owners are a lot smarter than some newspaper owners.
Greed is not good when it comes to an advertising-supported online business or blog.
You need to be much smarter with your ad ratio and placement. You need a lot of informative or entertaining content to satisfy your readers and site visitors.
Then you can place your ads intelligently to maximise your income.
And always check your site speed whenever you make changes to your ad placement or ratio. If they result in your loading speed increasing to over three or four seconds, you will have a slow website.
If that happens, you will lose not only your visitors but also your ad revenue.
Related reading: How To Pass The Google Speed Test With Pagespeed Insights