it [was not] caused solely by the general recession and the decline in retail sales. Internet advertising will rapidly lose its value and its impact, for reasons that can easily be understood.
The article provides a deep analysis of the whole situation and prompted me to do a little research on myself. I signed in to my Google account and took a look at my web search history. What I found was the following:
- My total since I activated the service is 12,000 Google searches
- And in the last 30 days the total was 293 searches
However, this is where it gets interesting:
- Over all time, I clicked approximately on 132 sponsored links (i.e. adverts)
- While over the same 30 day period I clicked on just 1 advert.
That boils down to something like a 1.1% clickthrough rate. Not conversion. Clickthrough.
Now I am probably not a typical Internet user. I’m a programmer, I studied computer science, I design and build websites and do web optimisation consulting. Basically I’m a “Power User” which means that I know exactly what and how stuff works on the web. Also, a large percentage of my searches are directed towards finding specific bits of information and I often know exactly what path to clickthrough to.
However, even mentally “controlling” for all that, I think there are some interesting points to be made.
The first is that human beings are great adaptors. In an unfamiliar situation we can quickly carve out a niche comfort zone that keeps us happy. The web is no different. My brain, eyse and fingers have quite simply adapted to the fact that half the stuff on any given webpage is likely to be uninteresting advertising and thus I filter it out. I know what the Google non-sponsored links look like (i.e. the real search results) and that it what my eye and mouse seeks out.
Secondly, this adaptation moves from being simply a reaction to the environment to being an acquired skill that is refined and improved by time. What this means is that it becomes easier for me to apply what I’ve subconsciously learnt within the Google context to other similar environments.
Therefore, when I (rarely) find myself using a different search engine I can quickly apply my skill to filter out the chaff from the corn. And I can also do it on any other site, including the TechCrunch site, where, being a regular reader I know precisely which bits of the page to block out.
And just like a virus will change and optimise its behaviour in response to antibiotics, so do I optimise and improve my skill even while advertisers are trying to optmise their advertising strategies. In theory this would keep me and the advertiser on par as I learn how to avoid the new tricks, but in reality, the non-advert-clicking-surfer is clearly winning this battle. I think this is because I am not only learning how to avoid the adverts I know, but I am also learning how to anticipate the new strategies and will therefore adapt to them more speedily!
This is probably why, when Facebook launched Beacon and I read about the controversy, I remeber asking myself “My God, are there adverts on Facebook??” I had never even noticed them before I read about them, and I’m a heavy FB user. The same goes for Twitter where, after only a few months of being and active user, I almost instantaneously learned which kinds of Tweets to avoid (many of them are Guy Kawasaki’s :-)) because they’re typically link bait.
Finally, keep in mind that while I’m young, I’m not really “Internet generation”. I first used the net when I was 15 or so. Compare that with a modern 15-year old who’s probably been using the net since she was 5. These guys are probably orders of magnitude better at filtering out the crap than I am.
So what’s the solution?
I don’t know yet. But what I do know is that this is a “problem” because the people the ads are aimed at clearly don’t want them. If they were interested, they wouldn’t be learning how to avoid them. So part of the solution probably lies in trying to deeply understand, at a more fine-grained level than just “eyeballs”, what is unsatisfied in your visitors’ life and trying to address that.
Update: An interesting and related post by Doc Searls here.
Update 2: Simon pointed out this related article mainly about blog advertising.