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Dyson at Large: How intrusive online adverts are driving readers mad

There’s an hilarious YouTube video knocking about that shows just how frustrated readers are getting with regional newspapers’ websites.

The home-made pastiche, entitled ‘The Real Life Frustrations Of Using The Hull Daily Mail Website!’, was posted by reader Terry Kent, and shows him sitting at a table trying to enjoy his newspaper.

Every time Terry starts to read an article, a hand smacks down a leaflet on top of his paper, or pulls it away, and each time he turns a page another leaflet is thrown down to obscure his view.

The 45-second video quickly becomes a flurry of hands slapping, pulling and literally fighting for the paper, with Terry exclaiming: “Get off! Can I have it back please? I want that one there… I wanted to read that. This is ridiculous! What’s going on here? Get off! Grrrrr!”

The snippet, for me, perfectly illustrates how annoying constantly moving and expanding pop-up adverts can be online, pushing and pulling articles away from readers and eventually making them click away.

Terry introduces the video by saying: “This is for the Hull Daily Mail to show them exactly what it’s like trying to read their website to get to their stories” – although of course what he claims to have experienced is by no means unique to Hull.

By yesterday (9 February), the video had been watched 4,913 times and had attracted 99 likes and 18 comments, including the following: “Spot on”; “Excellent”; “So true – time it was sorted out”; “Outstanding”; and “Very clever – and so true!”.

One commenter, going under the name ‘Vampyratus’, said: “This is perfectly accurate [and] it’s even worse on mobile devices with video ads that will randomly appear in the middle of the paragraph you’re reading, separating the lines of text and suddenly making noise … and full page ads that are a little too big for the screen so you can’t click on the X in the corner.”

Another observer, ‘Grantus Maximus’, said: “[This] should be the default first comment on every [Hull Daily Mail] news article until they get the message.”

And a reader called Paul Skinner had some useful technical feedback: “Adblock sorts it out. But it is excessive on [Hull Daily Mail], 46 ads blocked on each page (on average). All it does is drive people away from the site.”

Terry, who told me he was “just a very frustrated reader”, has twice sent the video to the Hull Daily Mail, but said he had yet to receive a response.

He posted his video on 18 December, but I only noticed it after a Facebook post on 1 February from Matt Kelly, the former Daily Mirror executive who is now Archant’s chief content officer.

Matt, who until last year was group digital director at Local World, the then publisher of the Hull Daily Mail, said: “The joys we had at Local World trying to explain why our online user experience was so s**t to the commercial team.

“If only I’d thought of this… Brilliant and true; what it’s like reading some newspapers on the web.”

Let’s hope that Hull Daily Mail bosses take heed of what their own readers (and Matt Kelly) are saying, and don’t continue to allow online adverts to plague would-be readers’ experiences.

They’re not the only offender, of course; there are few regional websites that I’ve been on which don’t make me feel like leaving with their blunt, intrusive and infuriating adverts.

We know they’ve got to sell space – fair enough – but why would any advertiser want to be as irritating as Terry’s above video brilliantly explains?

If regional and local papers remain so cluttered and unnavigable, online audience growth and ‘stickability’ will be damaged, ultimately hitting revenues and profits.

And so I advise Trinity Mirror (the new owners of the Hull paper), Johnston Press, Newsquest and all other regional publishers to watch and learn from the above video and readers’ feedback.

Meanwhile, I hope that Matt Kelly is now practising what he’s preaching at Archant…

Footnote: I asked Hull Daily Mail editor Neil Hodgkinson for his thoughts on the video, but he politely declined to comment.

24 comments

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  • February 10, 2016 at 7:41 am
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    The standard of most online local news sites is abysmal, the ads being only one of the bugbears. You’d think by now the basics would have been sorted but the number of times I come across repeated stories, way out of date stories, cringingly bad headlines written by harassed junior reporters who should be out on their beat etc. is alarming. And underlying these flaws? The fact online local news will never make enough profit to feed the office cat, let alone pay salaries. How has it come to this?

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  • February 10, 2016 at 8:27 am
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    Mmmmm, and would I be correct in thinking the head of commercial at Local World remains in post under the Trinity Mirror takeover? Not much chance of a change to the ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ attitude so manifestly obvious on the LW websites, is there?

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  • February 10, 2016 at 9:18 am
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    Those in charge of commercial revenues in the UK regional media are, to a man and woman, almost all people who grew up selling print as a medium. It’s in their DNA and they know no other way. While their journalism colleagues have adapted over the years to the changes in the industry – social media, blogging, video, 24/7 working, online updating, even for titles which were once only weekly – they have remained steadfastly old-fashioned in their approach and their practices. This is thus reflected in the kind of advertising we see on the Hull Daily Mail website – about a 1% advance on the old call to Bill Johnson the motor dealer on a Monday morning, saying ‘You’ll be having your usual 10×3 will you Bill?’

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  • February 10, 2016 at 9:21 am
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    Stopped bothering with the Essex Chronicle website for the self same reasons about a year ago. So, they lost me as a print customer about three years ago when, perversely, they put all the content on the web for free, then they lost me as a web customer because I couldn’t read the content properly due to intrusive ads. What a genius business strategy.

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  • February 10, 2016 at 9:45 am
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    I believe this is doing more damage to print > digital changes than anything.

    People have broken the habit of buying your papers, and you are being annoying online breaking the habit and trust in the brand.

    People will go elsewhere, and over time this will kill your ‘real’ non-SEO’ed clickbaity traffic. What are you then?

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  • February 10, 2016 at 10:27 am
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    My big bug bear is shoving advert on before a video clip of news footage. OK they have to get the revenue in but often the advert is wildly inappropriate, and sometimes in bad taste, for what can follow. Bit more thought and discretion needs to be applied.

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  • February 10, 2016 at 12:34 pm
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    I recall we were forced to put a minimum number of stories on our website every day regardless of quality. I was frankly ashamed of some of the crap I put up, but because no extra staff were employed for web work I had no time to find better material. I quit.

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  • February 10, 2016 at 12:46 pm
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    The Adblock point is a very good one. If a user uses this to stop just one annoying ad they then won’t see any of the other less obtrusive ads. they really should try and design more subtle ads.
    They are self defeating.

    This has been going on for years though so I wouldn’t get your hopes up!

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  • February 10, 2016 at 1:35 pm
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    “Meanwhile, I hope that Mike Kelly is now practicing what he’s preaching at Archant.”

    Practice = noun.
    Practise = verb.
    The word “that” is also superfluous and thus intrusive!

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  • February 10, 2016 at 2:02 pm
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    Thank you, ‘Longinthetooth’, for spotting my error. Corrected. Bring back sub-editors! And you are my new proofreader…

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  • February 10, 2016 at 3:38 pm
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    I baled out my role as a deputy editor on a title which was part of what was then Northcliffe about a year after it had been taken over by a new management dynamic duo (think Batman and Robin minus the capes and masks) and it was clear “things would change”. Until then Northcliffe had not been perfect but there was a healthy respect and sense of working together between advertising and editorial. Yes, our editors were confident and bullish types (which good editors aren’t?) but as champions of integrity and standards in the portfolio this was to be cherished. They worked hand in hand with centre MDs and ‘rubbed along’ but it was always clear the editor’s opinion would be valued. Under our (non) caped crusaders all that changed and there was a swift sense of ‘I’m in charge’ from former ad managers who couldn’t believe their luck at being promoted and thus being able to ride roughshod over the views and policies of those pesky editorial types they had been forced to listen to for so long. And so came in a policy, both written and implied, that commercial came first at all costs. And here m’dears is the denouement – a trashed set of papers cut to the bone with no regard for proper journalism standards or ethics, yes men or women in place to support the regime and a web publishing policy which makes PPI sales calls seem like strategic selling. I might state in jest that the people in charge should be very proud of themselves but I won’t because the tragedy is, they are.

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  • February 10, 2016 at 4:35 pm
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    Gold Buffer is telling nowt but the truth, although he or she “bailed out” not “baled”, unless they were put through some sort of fiendish farm machinery which, in a way, they were, along with the rest of us. Sorry, but I’m a pesky editorial type too.

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  • February 10, 2016 at 6:40 pm
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    The people selling digital are as you say @brendan, from a print sales background so to most it’s an alien concept they just don’t get and aren’t convinced by,they still see a web sale as one that winks be better off in the papers hence there’s little sold and not enough to buy the tea bags.
    In my view and hearing the moans,groans and whinges about web by the reps supposed to be selling them the first thing the bosses should do is set up specialist web sales teams to sell against the print reps, there’s nothing to lose as they aren’t selling anything and it might drive new digital business which the print reps aren’t interested in selling. It might also encourage the print reps to push print a bit more.

    However until the sites improve,are updated regularly and engage readers, the combination of un enthusiastic poorly trained sales staff and dismal websites riddled with irrelevant annoying pop up ads no one will make money on it. Part of the trouble is the newsprint train has left the station with empty carriages and the digital one is the one the powers that be believe is headed in the right direction albeit with no paying passengers onboard.

    As for Matt Kelly’s holier than thou comments, the Archant websites are some of the worst so it’s ironic he feels in a position to Critiscise other’s offerings
    I’d say get your own house in order before pointing the finger

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  • February 10, 2016 at 8:10 pm
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    I use Adblocker but the Southern Daily Echo and some other titles in the Newsquest stable have found a way to inflict ads on readers of their website, as reported by HTFP recently. That is to render all body text illegible should one have Adblocker installed. Only by deactivating Adblocker for the site can the text be read.

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  • February 10, 2016 at 11:15 pm
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    P*ss poor form of the HDM editor to offer no comment. How ironic.

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  • February 11, 2016 at 9:23 am
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    Missed out the bit where an add starts shouting at you even if the volume is muted.

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  • February 12, 2016 at 9:15 am
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    Publishers aren’t charities – they need income. Adblockers aren’t the answer – one school of thought these days is that if you’re using an adblocker, the publisher won’t show you their story. I agree there has to be a limit to the amount of annoying ads though – there’s no point driving people away from the sites. The website is just one method of reading that publisher’s stories – it’s a free, convenient method. Have you ever seen a free newspaper without lots of ads surrounding stories? Don’t like it, buy the newspaper and get less intrusive ads.

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  • February 12, 2016 at 11:12 am
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    In response to WebMonkey,I created the clip in this article. I have been contacted on a couple of occasions by the Hull Daily Mail regarding this and have advised that I would be more than happy along with many other readers to pay a monthly subscription to read an online version of their paper but it seems to fall on deaf ears. this isn’t the HDMs fault, its the parent company who I believe was LocalWorld who are at fault.

    I appreciate that newspapers aren’t charities as per your comment but equally why publish something you cannot read?? I like many others work long days and can only access the web from a corporate machine which I am not allowed to install adblockers on (corporate policy). I don’t want to purchase a paper because I don’t believe in buying a piece of tree for the sake of throwing it away.

    I sent my clip to LocalWorld, tried contacting them through email, social media but nobody has offered to talk to me. I aren’t a journalist, just someone who wants to keep up to date with local news in my area without being bombarded by a ridiculous amount of adverts…

    To re-iterate, I DO NOT want charity.. I’d happily PAY for content which I could read without frustration!

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  • February 12, 2016 at 11:45 am
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    Well said, Terry. And there you have it, Trinity Mirror (and other publishers). There are readers out there who want to be your audience, who are even willing to pay, but who you are driving crazy with online pop-ups. Perhaps now Local World is Trinity Mirror this will be sorted…

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  • February 12, 2016 at 3:06 pm
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    HI Terry, I’m not convinced paywalls are the answer – unless the only difference between the free and paid content is a lack of adverts. I’d rather have a sensible amount of ads and free content rather than being forced to pay to find out if the content is what I want. I do agree that the HDM is rather excessive though!

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  • February 14, 2016 at 12:24 am
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    I am the crazy hand slapping guy on this video. It was a simple concept deamt up by Terry to try and get the message home to all regional online papers. I wish we had screwed up tbe paper at the end because the site often also crashes my PC. What is funny is that when we shared the video on facebook the number of people who said they hadnt clicked on it because they thought it might have taken them to tve dreaded Hull Daily Mail website, so think we could have had a lot more impact. Fantastic article and love your summary. Hope it helps to change the industry and think before you massacre your audience!

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