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Textads: A 'valiant, laudable, righteous – and pointless – idea'?
January 11, 2002 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Textads: A 'valiant, laudable, righteous – and pointless – idea'? Uh oh! Metafilter, BlogSnob and chums come up for a slating in this biting commentary by everyone's favourite content consultant, Joe Clark. Are textads 'the new link exchange'?
posted by wackybrit (43 comments total)

 
Heh. He said 'jump the shark.' Joe's hep to the jive.
posted by majick at 8:48 PM on January 11, 2002


hep me to it please? i don't get it. where is 'jump the shark' from?
posted by suprfli at 8:54 PM on January 11, 2002


suprfli -- Jump over here. Also, try jumptheshark.com
posted by CrunchyFrog at 9:04 PM on January 11, 2002


For someone I've never heard of, Joe Clark sure does get a lot of stuff posted on MetaFilter... not like Winer, Kottke, mathowie, but still! What is his background, journalism?
posted by chaz at 9:14 PM on January 11, 2002


So, the article's point is that clickthrough rates suck. Well, duh. Does anyone really expect huge numbers of people to click the ads? I don't, and I've bought the things.
Textads are cheap, they support sites, they don't interfere with the content of a site, and they do get some traffic to the advertisers.
posted by dogwelder at 9:26 PM on January 11, 2002


Are textads the new link exchange? Sure, I don't see why not. But as in the rest of the net and the computing world in general, it's just one option among many, and probably the cheapest. It depends on who you want your audience to be.

Chaz--joe clark has been around since just before you got here.
posted by ashbury at 9:27 PM on January 11, 2002


One of Clark's examples, Webword, achieved great results:

However, even at this low price, and even for the better ad, I paid about $0.05 per clickthrough to WebWord. For some people, that would be great and the payoff would be excellent.

...and that's his argument for texads not working? I don't see how someone could ask for more.

He goes on to write:
...by being so very discreet and classy they defeat their own purpose.

But the thing is, they aren't so very discreet. They are near the top of the page, they stand out, and they get clicked.

Finally he mentions google. Check their ad page and you will see thet they achieve "clickthrough rates 5 times higher than industry standard. "

Umm, seems to me textads are doing just fine.


...does anyone even still have banner ads enabled?
posted by dcgartn at 9:35 PM on January 11, 2002


my problem with joe's article is that he doesn't really cite anything beyond webword's experience with textads. he alludes to the fact that the may work better with google -- how much better? how much better do larger, more bandwidth-intensive ads perform? is that evidence really out there?
posted by moz at 9:39 PM on January 11, 2002


Sorry, meant 'never heard of apart from metafilter'. I have certainly seen lots of his posting here, but I was thinking that maybe he's a journo of some stature in Canada.
posted by chaz at 9:52 PM on January 11, 2002


I've clicked MeFi's text ads many times and found them quite interesting. He doesn't like them so we're supposed to take his opinion as fact, as if he's done any research on the topic. Uh huh.
posted by fleener at 9:53 PM on January 11, 2002


(Disclaimer: I don't have statistics. The following is my reasoned opinion.)

Text ads seem to offer a solution to one of these contradictory problems:

a.) People don't click on banner ads because they are too ubiquitous, so they get ignored.
b.) People don't click on banner ads because they are too obtrusive, so they get avoided.

The trouble is, either of these "problems" exists only in the minds of advertisers with unrealistic expectations. The real problem is the "click on" part. Where did anyone get the idea that advertising success in this medium must be measured only in immediate consumer action?

People complain about banner ads being valueless. Huh? Why would a banner have any less value than a magazine ad? Because the "clickthrough" rates are low? How many people click on a *magazine* ad? Or a TV commercial? NONE. But these ads still have a great deal of messaging and branding value. So do banner ads and other non-intrusive, inline web ads.

I don't run out and buy a bottle of mouthwash every single time a see a dumb TV commercial. But when I run low, I'll remember that Scope has a new minty flavor. When I see a Pepsi banner on a bus, I don't run alongside with a pen to check off that I've "eyeballed" it. But when I'm thirsty later I might go looking for that new lemony version I saw advertised. I might not appreciate the difference between Miller and Schlitz, but remembering that Miller supports my favorite offshore powerboating team might incline me to support their product line.

Banner ads shoud be viewed the same as many other types of mass media advertising: branding tools. Through catchy design and repetitive exposure, they work their way into our heads, and someday when the need or desire arises for the product, we know where to go.

Pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials, & page invaders ads go too far one way -- they piss off visitors, who may then actively avoid the advertised product and possibly the host site.

On the other hand, I question the effectiveness of text ads which intentionally blend into a page design, quickly receding to invisibility. The Google model works because relevant ads are presented according to the search we run. For me, the MeFi model doesn't have legs. When that little text ad box was new, I noticed it for a while, but rarely were there 3 or 4 words appealing enough for me to explore further. (Remember the black & white "antimarketing" generic grocery packaging from the 70's? I don't see 'em working that angle anymore.) I don't even notice the text ad box anymore -- in fact, until this thread arose I had forgotten it was there.

Many people come to MeFi just to explore, and many folks probably explore the text ads. But in a more commercial context, i.e. when I'm powersurfing ZDNet or WebDev for info, if you want to get into my head -- use a simple, snazzy inline banner to sponsor a relevant site. If I'm your target market, I'll get the message.

Long live the banner.
posted by Tubes at 10:09 PM on January 11, 2002


One of my problems with the textads I've seen so far (BlogSnob members are more guilty of this, but I've seen it on MeFi too) is that they're just too vague and don't encourage me to go take a look.

A quick example.. the textad I was just served up is:

brushstroke.tv - warm to the touch

What does that mean? I'm guessing by the vague description that it's someone's personal site and they don't really care whether you visit or not. But, believe me, I've seen ads for corporations that are as vague and uninviting. At least 75% of all the MeFi ads are like this.

Is it that all that abstract vagueness is something trendy and I really 'don't get it'? Anyway.. Last but not least let me cite a good example of a MeFi textad..

Diesel Sweeties - Pixelated robot romance cartoons.

That tells me exactly what I'm going to see if I click the link. It gives me a reason to go.. 'hey, I like cartoons' *click* but most of the other non-commercial MeFi text ads? They don't encourage me to click what-so-ever because they're just too vague.
posted by wackybrit at 10:25 PM on January 11, 2002


If I'm your target market, I'll get the message.

I think that this is half the point. If I'm your target market, I will notice the ad, be it a text ad, a banner, a pop-up or -under. Advertisers know that it takes many viewings of many different sorts to get the attention of the consumer, hence the constant bombardment of adverts for the same product or company. Text ads work, for the target market, whoever that may be.

Text ad makers do need to examine their product and make it interesting while flogging it to the viewer, however. Perhaps due to the limitations of the ad itself, vagueness is a necessary evil. There will always be good ads and bad ads, no matter what type they may be.
posted by ashbury at 11:05 PM on January 11, 2002


And people say MetaFilter doesn't make you change your mind. Well Tubes's defense of banner ads has just changed mine. [Don't know whether to thank him or wrap my fingers around his convincing neck].
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:37 PM on January 11, 2002


One of my problems with the textads I've seen so far (BlogSnob members are more guilty of this, but I've seen it on MeFi too) is that they're just too vague and don't encourage me to go take a look.

I'm so used to banner ads now that I don't even see them anymore. unless there is pop-up window (which I almost always close before the images load), then I'm usually not even aware that a page has banner ads.

anyways, I think text ads are more appealing because there is actually more relevant info there. how often have you seen a banner with totally relevant images? although that was a good example of how vague they can be, I also think they can (and often do) tell us more about a link than some flashing graphics that are just trying to trick us ever could.
posted by mcsweetie at 11:49 PM on January 11, 2002


The real difference I see between text and banner is the amount and type of information you can communicate. An X-10 ads shows you the product, pricing, a model, etc. A text ad will give you the name and some text description.

Depending on the product this can be boon or a very strict limitation. For instance, the "branding" theory of advertising doesn't require you to read or click on the ad, the word NIKE just keeps appearing until you've associated it with the mainstream or whatever. Now if you wanted to sell an iMac you can't just show the eye-catching design, you can only describe it in words or cajole the viewer into clicking.

The nice thing about text ads is that they offer an alternative. Banner advertising and text both have their limitations, if text ads take off I doubt they'll replace banners - they'll just complement them. Even better, savvy marketers should be able to figure out which demographic is more receptive to which type.

If an expensive clothes store wanted to unload a lot of $500 jackets and showed it in photo in a compressed gif banner ad, it would look a lot like the $100 jacket I can get from target. Now, if they wrote up some sexy copy to accompany a text ad, preferably at a site with only text ads, they might sell a lot more jackets with words instead of pictures. I'm also curious to see if text ads will be appearing on more cerebral or literary sites because viewers might perceive them as a more 'intelligent' type of ad.

Lastly, I don't think there's a cure for advertising on the internet. People don't like advertising in general and when they find out they can block a lot of adverts they giggle in joy. Banner ads aren't getting more tasteful, they're getting more annoying. The prices are so low that a lot of spammer-quality business can buy them in droves. Text ads don't have the pop-under or animated punch and if they ever become like ascii-art or ascii animations they'll get hated as much as the banners. Toss in privacy concerns and internet advertising may never be worth much more than it is now and rightfully so. You just can't lift something from the print world, put it on the web, and expect the same results.
posted by skallas at 12:27 AM on January 12, 2002


The internet has more power as an advertising medium than anything else-- it's the first one with the power to know exactly who you are. Who knows if it will be delivered over your cel-phone, pda, desktop, car radio, or what, but eventually a good system will be in place to follow who you are and exactly what you buy.

In some ways, text-ads are something that could succeed under such a scenario-- for certain advertisers, a text reminder would be just thing thing: "out of razor blades, sir? XTRA blades are XTRA sharp".

I know it's not something that people really want, right now, but there are a lot of things that people don't really want that are part of reality. The medium just has too much potential for it to be ignored forever by the ad market. We will have to think of new ways to divorce our internet life with our personal life.
posted by chaz at 12:40 AM on January 12, 2002


I think it's way too early to pass judgement on the effectiveness of text ads. By the way, Joe missed a whole bunch of other services. See here for more.
posted by scotty at 2:36 AM on January 12, 2002


mcsweetie said: 'anyways, I think text ads are more appealing because there is actually more relevant info there.'

That can be true.. but my post was highlighting the fact that many people are wording their ads poorly. Take a look at a few of the MeFi text ads.. talk about vague! They put across less of a message than the average banner.

Now if people actually wrote decent descriptions of their sites instead of five word poetry, they'd see their click throughs go up..
posted by wackybrit at 3:03 AM on January 12, 2002


So what is the average clickthru rate for textads here on Mefi?

I only recently put in for my first ad here, and in the two days it's been up, it has been displayed nearly 1000 times. 21 people clicked on it ~~ 2.21% says the stats page. And I'm pretty sure I pass the wackybrit litmus test -- my ad is concise and it doesn't even rhyme.

Maybe it's too soon to tell, but I think that's slightly better than the return I used to get when I used LinkExchange banner ads.
posted by crunchland at 5:15 AM on January 12, 2002


  1. I did mention Google, BTW, specifically stating that textads could not fail to work for them.
  2. No, obviously I didn’t do my homework on this. That’s why it took me two months of gathering evidence before I published.
  3. When a 2% clickthrough rate is deemed a success, you know that online advertising as a whole is a straight-up failure, a fact even many practitioners are ready to concede.
  4. I do, however, like the defense that textads are a kind of reminder advertising. I wonder how much more effective they are than, say, well-designed graphical advertising.
  5. As for my stature as a journalist: I was a magazine and newspaper hack for ten years. Recently I wrote a book. I haven’t bothered posting my whole publication list because it’s boring as shite and would involve a tedious FileMaker export.
  6. By the way, don’t you love these graphical banner ads?
posted by joeclark at 5:55 AM on January 12, 2002


For strictly experimental purposes, I am running a free text ad via adfarm.org for Joe's book on some of my sites. I'll report the progress in a few days.
posted by scotty at 6:52 AM on January 12, 2002


Joe is right. Textads were a meme. They are not successful, especially for weblog owners, because users at Metafilter (or Blogger) have a specific purpose that does not include searching for new weblogs to read. When the meme was in full effect, the clickthrough rates grew higher. Attention was focused on that area of the screen. But human eyes are trained to notice things that are different, and now that the meme has faded, we go back to our purpose of looking for weird links and disrespecting each other here.

Is there hope for online advertising? Unlike Joe, I still think so. But we are still waiting for an aha moment.
posted by timothompson at 7:59 AM on January 12, 2002


Hey, right after I posted that, I noticed Dictionary.com using text ads. Weird.
posted by timothompson at 8:04 AM on January 12, 2002


MetaFilter is a seperate phenomenon for me. While half of my using textads is about ego, you have to figure in the aspect of supporting a fantastic site. I really don't care that I'm getting 2% clickthrough. They are just freekin' blogs for pete's sake. It is keeping Matt awash in buckwheat pancakes that I worry about.
posted by machaus at 8:27 AM on January 12, 2002


What machaus said. I'm shocked it took 25 comments to get to what MeFi's TextAds are really about--a way for Matt to get support for his efforts, and be able to give a little something back in return. I seriously doubt folks are buying TextAds looking for 10X ROI results. They're doing it 'cause they like MetaFilter, and, hey, maybe they'll be able to throw a little traffic their way.

Jesus, folks. Chill.
posted by peterme at 9:08 AM on January 12, 2002


TextAds are great for some extra revenue. Frankly, Matt could be doing far more than textads if he chose (thankfully he hasn't!).

You chill.
posted by ashbury at 9:57 AM on January 12, 2002


I just love it when famous bloggers chime in to defend their criminally misunderstood but equally famous friends. It could be worse – Merholz could be up here defending the criminally misunderstood LemonYellow. ("Stop picking on my friends!" peterme whines, upper lip quivering.)

"Chill"? By MetaFilter standards, this discussion is more civilised than tea with Oscar Wilde.

And anyway, if site owners wants to solicit donations, I figure they should be upfront about it: "Please give me a donation." Just as textads dress up banner advertising in an extravagantly low-tech format (really, they dress banner ads down), here they dress up a tipping jar. Both banner ads and tipping jars should be themselves; they should walk the streets in full view without recourse to smoked-windowed limousines, hair kerchiefs, and dark glasses.
posted by joeclark at 10:18 AM on January 12, 2002


Travellers should be themselves; they should sit atop their horse with pride or ride comfortably in buggy and stagecoach without recourse to these automomotive contraptions or ludicrously hurtling through the sky in an aeroplane.

Golly, Joe, a little fearful of change, are we?
posted by majick at 10:43 AM on January 12, 2002


"banner ads and tipping jars should be themselves"

even if neither of them work well independently? I see this as symbiotic.
posted by machaus at 10:44 AM on January 12, 2002


I dunno... shouldn't airplanes be airplanes?
posted by joeclark at 10:47 AM on January 12, 2002


word of mouth seems to me to be the best form of advertising for weblogs because of its sincerity.

i like the analogy of weblogs to poetry. poetry is very personal and is something many can attempt, but very few poets ever break through and obtain much notoriety. even the ones that get some press don't get much. once you see the work of someone you like, however, you're hooked; reading Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, you go out and buy his collected works.

being known among webloggers is a game of patience, and the effectiveness of textads seems to be representitive of that. assuming you really want to be known, anyway.
posted by moz at 11:02 AM on January 12, 2002


Yeah, why buy a coffee mug or t-shirt with the MetaFilter logo emblazoned when you could just make a donation instead?

I'll tell you why. People are more willing to contribute when they feel as though they are getting something in return. Even if what you're giving them is of relatively low value compared to what they contribute. In the case of MeFi TextAds, part of what Matt is selling is a chance to let people know (in a prominent place) that you contributed.

2% clickthrough is, by the way, very very good for any Internet ad campaign these days.
posted by kindall at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2002


joeclark: I dunno... shouldn't airplanes be airplanes?

I sure hope so. But with your prior statements, it sounded an awful lot as though you'd rather airplanes just stop being whatever newfangled form of transportation they are and go back to being horses. At least, that's what I took away from what you said above.

A text ad is not a banner. A banner is not a text ad. The slideshow before the movie starts is not a telemarketing call. The differentiation may be subtle, but it is significant. I so stipulate.
posted by majick at 12:30 PM on January 12, 2002


It might be helpful to address the why of these things. The article in question addresses what they are, and examples of them, and that they're probably not working. But there was no mention of why they might be implemented. "TextAds" per se are an interesting topic, but they deserve a much better investigation than provided in that article. Anything like that out there in the ether?
posted by artlung at 12:31 PM on January 12, 2002


But, joe, you're still hep to the jive, in my book. I just don't agree.
posted by majick at 12:31 PM on January 12, 2002


The Why of textads (Cf. Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay: "What is the why?") is to advertise in a low-bandwidth, Usenetesque, "non-annoying" manner. My entry and the Web sites of the various textad vendors make that clear. And I definitely like the analogy with coffee mugs. Give us fifty bucks and you get either a mug and a VHS copy of Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth or 2,000 textad impressions. Just don't expect more than 40 people to select the ad.
posted by joeclark at 12:44 PM on January 12, 2002


Re 2% — two months is a long time to research this topic without googling "clickthrough rates". Industry average is down around 0.25% - 0.3%, which means that 2% clickthorugh is 700-800% improvement. (In my experience, it wasn't unusual to see ads from the big networks getting 0.01% or lower, and I never saw one that did better than about 1%, which makes me think that even the 0.25% figure is exaggerated.)

Paying $0.05 to get someone to visit your website seems pretty reasonable to me (assuming you are looking to pay in order to get people to visit your site), and I didn't see any other reason to think that textads are "pointless" from the article. I think I don't get it.
posted by sylloge at 2:34 PM on January 12, 2002


I think one has to consider that different websites are looking for different things in advertising. The point of advertising for web retail is to get somebody to your site so they buy something. But if you're a weblog, you want somebody to get to your site so they enjoy it and come back. Those later returns won't be tracked by the textad referrers; they'll come through bookmarks or links. Yes, it's very difficult to track that sort of secondary effect, but it's the way weblogs build traffic from each other. You follow John's link to Mark's blog two or three times, and you'll begin bookmarking Mark yourself. And then linking Mark yourself, beginning a new process with a handful of your readers. If the whole thing began with some hard-won 5-cent clickthroughs in a text ad, it may have been worth it.

Personally, I do think it's more sensible to use specific links in that way rather than general links that scream "check out my web site". Maybe this lesson should hold for text ads as well: not "read my weblog" but "read the post my readers thought was funniest".
posted by dhartung at 4:47 PM on January 12, 2002


majick> "A text ad is not a banner. A banner is not a text ad. The slideshow before the movie starts is not a telemarketing call. The differentiation may be subtle, but it is significant. I so stipulate."

What we have here is an inability to read.

This is what Joe said:

"Just as textads dress up banner advertising in an extravagantly low-tech format (really, they dress banner ads down ), here they dress up a tipping jar. Both banner ads and tipping jars should be themselves; they should walk the streets in full view without recourse to smoked-windowed limousines, hair kerchiefs, and dark glasses."

Because he was responding to this:

peterme> "MeFi's TextAds are really about a way for Matt to get support for his efforts... They're [buying TextAds] 'cause they like MetaFilter"

What, am I the only one to notice Joe's saying tip jars shouldn't masquerade as advertising?

majick> "it sounded an awful lot as though you'd rather airplanes just stop being whatever newfangled form of transportation they are and go back to being horses."

Stop getting lost in your own metaphors.
posted by wenham at 7:13 PM on January 12, 2002


I commented on these issues about a month ago and faced all the same arguments. I also suggested that Matt and Ev should provide those who buy microads with statistics that indicate the average clickthru rate for the ads, so that they have some kind of idea what to expect.

Personally, if I were serious about advertising something, I would insist upon having some idea what to expect regarding the clickthru rate. That would allow me to see how my ad did compared to the averages, and it would give me valuable clues as to how I could improve performance or whether I should continue advertising.

I don't see this happening with microads. I suspect that as more people get used to the microads, the clickthru rates will diminish. For most small sites, microads will only get you a handful of clickthrus which you have to pay for. As such, I firmly believe that there are other, better ways to improve site traffic that are free.

In other words, I see microads primarily as ways of funding a site, with little notable effect on any website's revenue other than the site selling the ads. As a serious ad buy, they aren't really worth paying for... which is why Blogger is essentially giving them away. With that in mind, it begs the question whether they are the best way for sites to raise money. I don't think so.

Take a look last year at how both LiveJournal and Blogger asked for money to help fund servers. The cash poured in overnight. I'd say there are definite advantages to being direct. I absolutely agree with Joe Clark. If you need the money, ask for it.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:48 PM on January 12, 2002


MiguelCardoso - sorry to disturb you with my banner defense...

Speaking of changing minds -- several people here have touched on something that I felt, but could not quite put my finger on. While I think MeFi's subtle text-ad model may not translate well to the typical commercial site, I can sorta see the appeal of it here: people love MeFi and are happy to help support it in an easy, inexpensive way, especially if that results in something personalized. It's almost like buying a named brick for a town monument. It's a fun way to support MeFi, and it may result in a few new hits to your own site, but you don't even really plan to analyze the return-on-investment figures.

More simply, per MeFi rules, self-links are prohibited... unless you buy one.
posted by Tubes at 1:56 AM on January 13, 2002


On a related note - "Micro Ads Provide The Web's Indy An Alternative."
posted by lucien at 1:19 PM on January 13, 2002


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