Viral Video Flop Switches to Fake News Ad Flop

Viral Video Turns to Advertising

I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising that the people behind the non-viral viral video discussed here earlier this week have switched to fake news style advertising to bolster their non-viral efforts. In practice, it looks like this:

StarTribune Sells Front Page Fake News

What does surprise me is that the StarTribune was willing to run a red ALL CAPS fake news headline on the homepage of their website. While the Strib has nothing against advertising intrusiveness, it seems like they usually stop short of manipulating their audience for money. It’s also surprising to see the embedded video not mention that it’s an advertisement.

The Strib certainly wouldn’t sell fake headlines like this in the print edition. Or, is the website a leading indicator of what we can expect in print?

StarTribune.com’s Print Article Advertising Gets Aggressive

StarTribune's Print Version Advertising

I don’t know about you, but one thing I really miss when I click the print button on a newspaper website is the lack of ads. Thankfully, the StarTribune has solved this “problem” by serving full color ads within the print version. Large ads, like the ProFlowers one, appear near the bottom of each printed page; an ad for the third party service that makes this happen appears in the footer; and a house ad is currently running in the upper right hand part of each page.

They’ve also switched to 2-column formatting. Put that all together, and it’s likely going to take more ink and more sheets of paper to print a Strib piece.

To pile on further, they’ve running a few additional ads on the print preview window.

The print version advertising service, Format Dynamics has a testimonial from Director of Online Advertising at the Denver News Agency, David Harwood, explaining the benefits:

“An innovative product that has created a new revenue stream, a better user experience for our readers, and improved results for our advertisers.”

Mr. Harwood, how could it possibly be considered a better user experience for users to subject them to slower interfaces, with large ads, that takes more ink and pages to print? Does the new revenue stream make up for the disservice?

I unbookmarked StarTribune.com last October (I think it was October) after becoming fed up with their pop-under ads, auto-refreshing of pages, etc. but received a link to a story recommended to me today so I ended up on their site. Sadly, the story was paginated (spread out over more than one page in order to increase page views while wasting my time). (Doodledee has been working on fixing this particular Strib annoyance.)

To me, putting ads in the printable version is double taxation advertising. People viewed the ads associated with the story before clicking the print button, so subjecting them to more ads is the same as telling people they can’t clip articles out of the print version of the paper unless they keep the ads attached.

This bums me out because I really like to read what’s worth reading. Hidden between Favre and Michael Jackson updates, there is a ton of stuff worth reading . . . if only it was readable. And, if it’s worth reading, it may be worth passing on to others to read as well (aka, generating additional page views and ad impressions for the Strib for free). However, I’m not about to subject people I know and respect to the current StarTribune.com experience.

The Deets Welcomes New Advertisers

Thanks to the following businesses who’ve recently become advertisers on The Deets. Depending on where you’re viewing this site from, you may or may not see the ads.

– Century 21 Colonial Realty in Prince Edward Island. Want a house with that lobster?

Examiner, who’s recent article about employees at Big 4 firms cracked me up.

Twin Cities Daily Planet, who’s combination of original and aggregated reporting is providing excellent local perspectives.

My Auto-Refresh Experiment

For a few hours today, I ran a little experiment on The Deets to see what I could learn about auto-refresh. J.D. goaded me with the idea on Twitter and I couldn’t resist.

After J.D.’s tweet, I set up an auto-refresh on the post I wrote about how stupid auto-refreshes are. In my attempt to act like a mainstream publication that serves ads to people who don’t see them, I took things even further than the StarTribune, Washington Times, or even Drudge by implementing a 1 minute refresh rate. Yes, every 60 seconds, that blog post (and also the site’s homepage where that post was displayed) automatically reloaded.

What did I find out? Dang, that can really pump up the page views. My average page views per visitor and time on site stats more than doubled over that time period. Sure, people couldn’t finish reading the post or leave a thoughtful comment without the page refreshing, but at a high level my stats sure looked good.

Did it increase my revenue? No. I don’t have impression based advertising on the site (well, maybe 1% is CPM) so I didn’t benefit financially from this experiment.

The larger downside was receiving comments, emails, text messages, and IMs from smart people I respect who were complaining about how crappy their experience on my website had suddenly become. Sure, I went overboard with the refresh rate, but it was enough to remind me of something I consider valuable:

Don’t create crappy experiences for people you respect when they’re trying to consume your content.

Do enough of that and you’ll lose them. This may help explain why the comments suck so bad on mainstream media sites. People that I know and respect don’t spend their time wading into cesspools.

This seems like something advertisers should be taking into consideration when buying online advertising. Where are the people you respect – and would like to know and do business with – spending their time online?

Newspapers Auto-Refresh Pages and Hurt Advertisers

Attention businesses who advertise in major online newspapers across the country. I have some good news and some bad news for you:

The good news: Online advertising is very measurable.

The bad news: By my measure, a huge portion of the ads you’re paying for are never seen.

Here is how I came to this conclusion:

This is a ranking of the top-30 online newspaper properties in the United States according to Nielsen based on unique visitors:

Top Newspaper Websites by Visitors (Dec 2008)

As you’d probably expect, the top-5 are:

1. The New York Times	18,187,000
2. USA Today	11,420,000
3. The Washington Post	9,470,000
4. The Los Angeles Times	7,963,000
5. The Wall Street Journal	7,235,000

And here is the same list sorted by a different metric, Time on Site, which is a measure of how many minutes the average visitor to the site spends when visiting:

Time on Site of Top-30 Newspaper Sites (Dec 2008)

The NY Times leads this list as well, but the other four sites manage to beat out some of the top visited sites when measured by time on site.

1. The New York Times	0:33:03
2. Star Tribune	0:32:20
3. The Houston Chronicle 	0:19:20
4. Detroit Free Press	0:17:33
5. The Boston Globe	0:16:55

Glancing through the data, here are a few things Neilsen is essentially claiming:

1. The average visitor to the Minneapolis StarTribune spends 22 minutes longer on site than the average visitor to the Wall Street Journal.

2. The average visitor to the Detroit Free Press spends 2.5 minutes longer on site than the average visitor to the Washington Post.

3. The average visitor to the LA Times spends only half as much time as the average visitor to the Washington Post.

Here’s the deal: I don’t believe any of those statements are actually true. I think they’re statistically accurate based on how Nielsen measures website traffic but are heavily gamed by America’s top newspapers.

Auto-Refresh Hell

Many (actually, most) major newspaper websites have adopted a practice called auto-refresh where they automatically refresh/reload their website’s pages on regular intervals without their visitor’s permission. Among the top-30 newspaper websites, forced auto-refresh frequencies vary from once every 30 minutes to as often as every five minutes. This provides no added value to visitors (in fact, it makes the sites less usable in many cases) but it achieves something important for publishers: inflation of ad impressions.

Here is a breakdown of forced auto-refresh frequency: The further to the left a site is, the more often they force unnecessary refreshes upon their audiences (as high as every 5 minutes). Sites to the far right do not participate in this despicable tactic:

Top-30 Newspapers Auto Refresh Time (Minutes) March 2009

Three sites, The Washington Post, Washington Times, and Dallas Morning News, are currently reloading their site’s pages every 5 minutes. Three more sites are force refreshing every 10 minutes: StarTribune.com, LA Times, and NY Daily News.

Destroying Online Advertising One Auto-Refresh at a Time

I often hear that online advertising doesn’t work from companies who’ve experimented with it through newspaper websites. It turns out that there is a very rational reason for why it doesn’t work: People don’t see a significant portion of the ad impressions.

For example, in the case of the Minneapolis StarTribune, it’s quite common for people to keep the StarTribune open in one of their browser’s tabs overnight so they can check the weather first thing in the morning. If they do that, the StarTribune will continue to refresh the user’s browser every 10 minutes all night long, generating 48 page views over 8 hours of “Time on Site” while the user caught some zzzzz’s. Advertisers end up paying for ads that no one viewed (48 x all of those ads on the page).

By charging for ads no one sees, major media sites are diluting the value of online ads and destroying the perceived viability of online advertising. Clearly, the value of online ads is considerably higher when they’re viewed by humans.

Breaking it Down

As I mentioned above, not all newspaper sites are serving their advertiser’s ads when no one is looking. Forcing refreshes all day and night appears to be a popular way to game the stats, but destroys advertiser’s returns. Below is a ranking of time on site with the forced refresh crowd on the left and the non-refresh (people click to refresh the page themselves if they’d like to) sites on the right:

Time on Site of Top-30 Newspaper Sites (Dec 2008)

What’s notable here is that no newspaper in the country is able to generate 30+, 25+, or even 20+ minute long time on site metrics without gaming the stats with auto-refresh scripts. The Houston Chronicle leads the pack among non-auto refreshed time on site stats by this measure. Outside of Chron.com, no website breaks the 10 minute time on site barrier without gaming their stats, which makes me wonder how Chron.com did it (their auto-refresh status was checked in March 2009 while the stats from Nielsen are from December 2008).

Frankly, this makes me wonder if half the ads the StarTribune.com serves are ever seen. Heck, it may be worse than that.

Combining the above stats generates this perspective:

Top-30 Newspapers by Time on Site (with Auto-Refresh Rates)

Which shows, again, that only one of the top-10 newspaper websites in the country appears to be doing so without forcing automatic 24×7 refreshes upon their visitors.

Who’s the Most Pathetic?

If I has to label one site the most pathetic among the top-30 most visited newspaper websites in America, it would be the Washington Times. It ranks 29th out of 30 for time on site, ahead of only the International Herald Tribune. But it beats the IHT on the pathetic scale due to it’s ridiculously high 5 minute refresh interval. At that rate, one would expect them to rate higher for time on site. They must churn through many visitors in under 5 minutes who never make it to the first forced refresh of their browsers. Admittedly, the Washington Times is not as pathetic as the Drudge Report’s pathetically high 3-minute refresh rate.

What Should Advertisers Do?

Websites of large newspapers have huge audiences so it’s hard to ignore them as a potential ad publishers. However, before trusting them with your money, ask a few rational questions:

1. Are you willing to pay for ad impressions automatically served while people are sleeping with a browser open?

2. Are you willing to pay for ad impressions automatically served while people are in meetings or at lunch during their work day?

3. Will you pay for ad impressions automatically served on a user’s home computer while they’re at work?

4. Will you pay for ad impressions served in open browser tabs other than the one the user is viewing?

Do your best to figure out what percentage of your ads are actually being seen by humans, and ask for fair price adjustments. There is definitely a fair price for the ads since humans do see some percentage of them. Then measure the performance of your ads against other online marketing opportunities and re-negotiate your ad buy as needed.

Or, newspaper publishers could start treating their advertisers with respect by only serving ads that will be seen. Sadly, I don’t think that’s a cultural fit for today’s newspaper industry who has a habit of stretching the truth about circulation.

Twitter Powered Ads: Invented In Minnesota

Three months ago to the day, I posted here about a new ad format on The Deets called Real-Time Ads where businesses can update their ads at any time from their cell phone or computer by simply sending in a message to Twitter.

Since then, I can tell you that this stuff works. In fact, the top real-time ads on this site receive more clicks per month than all of the graphic banner ads combined. Yes, that is correct. Why is this? Because the real-time ads have valuable content included within them.

If you can communicate in real-time with your target audience, why wouldn’t you do that rather than serve up a logo for your business? Tell people it’s happy hour. Tell them about your open house. Tell them about a sale. Make them an offer they can’t refuse during the next snowmageddon.

Like I was saying, here were are three months later and the concept is starting to spread. The popular web 2.0 tech blog, Mashable, came out with their own version of this today called Twitter Brand Sponsors. Dapper.net has a way to syndicate tweets and other RSS formatted content into banners.

If you own a cell phone or computer and have one dollar, you can try this for yourself (first month is $1 then $100/month after that). By the way, traffic from Minnesotans to The Deets has increased 25% over the past 3 months. You can lock in at the current rate if you’d like or wait until I get around to increasing prices if you’d prefer.

I See The Future of Online Advertising at Dapper.net

Dapper.net has rolled out what I believe will be the start of a huge new trend in online advertising: Dynamically created ads based on RSS feeds (aka A Dapper Campaign).

I believe this to be true because I’ve been experimenting in this space over the past few months on my personal blog. Over there, I’ve created an ad format where people can update their ads in real-time via Twitter or by writing a new blog post. Anything RSS based works.

Dapper takes this one step further by making the display ad richer. For example, one can build an ad with real-time pricing for hotel room nights with pictures. Or tickets to shows. Whatever kind of inventory you may have that’s in a structured format can be served up as an ad.

This is a giant leap forward from today’s static banner ads because the ads are less about logos and more about offers. The ads become content. The mileage will vary depending on the richness of that content, but there is at least an offer to interact with rather than just a logo, smiling lady, or slogan.

Once in place, an advertiser can simply go about their daily routine. As they adjust prices on their site, or inventory changes, their ads will immediately reflect those changes.

Awesome stuff. Congratulations to Dapper for breaking new ground in this space.

How Dave Williams Lies with JavaScript

Dave Williams runs a get rich quick using Google scheme at a site called Dave Gets Green where he sells some sort of secret something or other. It’s hard to tell for sure.

Regardless, here’s a little trick Dave Williams uses to lie to visitors to his website. Notice that Dave Williams says he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota in his bio:

Dave Williams

Now look at the source code used to build his bio:

How Dave Williams Fakes His Location

Oh my. I get the impression that Dave Williams is actually from whatever town someone visiting his site happens to live in. That doesn’t seem all that honest to me.

Dave, at least get the punctuation right, man.

Is Village Voice Media Geotargeting Their Ads?

A commenter by the name “One Who Knows…” claims to know that Village Voice Media actually is geotargeting their online ads. He/she explains in the comments of my previous post:

Ed, all of VVM geo-targets their on line ads. As such, a guy in Houston will see an ad for his city on the New York site. So there. Now what happens to all this imperical data you have displayed above? In short, VVM postings on digg help their local advertising base. And they have a national agency to sell the national impressions. Your story is well written so it makes people believe all kinds of silly accusations. But just because you blog on it, it doesnt make it true.

Sounds like I’m wrong.

Or am I?

Let’s test it.

Here’s a HoustonPress.com story on Digg that was submitted by an employee at the Houston Press / Village Voice Media (philostrato):

A HoustonPress.com Story on Digg

I clicked on that story, and here’s what I see when visiting the site from Minnesota:

Houston Press Local Ads Served Nationally

Do you see what I’m seeing? I see ads for two local Houston businesses (Killgore’s and Sandtrap Grill) while visiting houstonpress.com from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While Killgore’s Pub & Grille and Sandtrap Grill may be fine dining establishments, I’m not quite ready to hop on a plane to fly to Texas to find out based on a non-geotargeted ad served to someone in Minnesota who visited the HoustonPress.com through a Digg referral.

One Who Knows… either doesn’t really know what’s going on, is lying about Village Voice Media’s ad geotargeting, or two local restaurants in Houston decided to do a national ad buy.