Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
September 6, 2008 9:43 AM

Most Magazine And Newspaper Sites Are Tricking You (And Their Advertisers)

Why do Websites for magazines and newspapers always make you click through multiple pages to read one article online?

Do you know one person who likes having to click the "next" button multiple times to read one article online?

Isn't it terrible usability for the reader?

Why does the publishing industry do this?

It's simply about pumping more banner ads and offers into your face. Nothing more, nothing less.

In traditional print, your reading is constantly interfered with pages of advertising ("this story continued on page 259"). It's how the publishers make money and it's based on the mass media culture we've all become accustomed to. We see the same format across all traditional media channels - TV, radio and print. It has been called the "interruption advertising model" - you can't enjoy your content without some form of advertising interrupting the experience. Advertisers believe this be one of the more effective methods of getting their message across to the general public. Marketers will even interrupt your every day routine with messages (billboards on highways, ads in the subway, TV screens over the toilet and in elevators, etc...).

There's nowhere Marketers won't go to get your attention. 

While consumers claim to hate this intrusion and interruption, rest assured there would not be much of a Marketing industry if those actions did not yield some kind of significant return. In the past few years the Digital Marketing industry has been looking at many formidable ways to build a better marketing mousetrap. The results are not in and - for the most part - we're still in the discovery phases of this transition. What we do know is that bringing in the old and traditional ways of advertising  into the new digital channels is not yielding the best results. Click-throughs on banner advertising continues to be abysmal (the party line is that online display advertising is now a great branding tool) and open rates on generic email marketing campaigns continues to drop (it's all about building, customizing and personalization for success in that channel). Pay-per-click advertising on Search Engines is definitely spearheading this new "pull versus push" move towards better advertising.

So, why do magazine and newspaper Websites continue this terrible user experience of having to click through multiple web pages to read a 750 word article?

Is it possible that those two extra clicks of the mouse generate enough page impressions and banner ads served that it's worth the frustration to their readers? The answer must be yes.

Is an advertiser really "winning" when they know that their ad is only being served because the publisher is forcing the consumer to click that mouse and be frustrated with their online experience? I think the results of those ad campaigns probably tell the tale better than any of us could ever guess. But don't kid yourself into thinking that this type of advertising is anything more than a trick by the publishers to generate more pageviews and ad impressions.

Here's what I do: I click on the "print friendly" version. No ads, no multiple pages to click through. It's the full article, nice and clean. The same way you would have seen it in print (but without the ads).

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Mitch, this drives me crazy, too. I know why the publishers are doing it (more page views, more ad impressions, etc.), but that doesn't mean I have to like it or be complicit in it. I quickly look for the printer-friendly version as well -- when there is one.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Hey! I use that trick too! (print page)

    I have to admit though that this practice is less frustrating to me than being 'trapped' on a page by a website that has blocked the 'back' button on my browser. I often stumble on websites through Google searches and this forces me to start my search all over again rather than pick up where I've left off.

    Now _that's_ annoying!

    And frankly, I just never go back to those sites.

    Reply
  • Posted by Michelle Evans
    Mitch Joel

    Oooh, I completely agree with Michelle Sullivan - the blocked back button is worse.

    The other thought I had about the 'next page' click is that if the article appears on one page, you can't tell (other than looking at time spent on the page, anyway) if the viewer actually read the article, but if they're at least forced to click ahead once, you can gauge their interest in the article. The more clicks, the more interest required to continue to click through. For a large publication, this can provide an increased understanding of the types of articles their readers are truly interested in.

    But it's probably just about the ad impressions.

    Reply
  • Posted by frank
    Mitch Joel


    Neat trick with the 'printer friendly' link. Never thought of that.

    ---
    http://twitter.com/franswaa

    Reply
  • Posted by Lorenzo
    Mitch Joel

    Well, I like the pages as long as they are used right.

    I often read articles from the TIH and the have articles spread around multiple pages (even 6). I like going from one page to another, it gives me the feeling that I am progressing in the article.

    Have you ever noticed that you lose cognition of time while reading on the internet?
    Right, you have no pages, it is different from reading a book or an article. A very long article makes me feel lost if I always have to scroll down!

    My point is, I welcome the pages in long articles, it gives me a feeling of progression and it helps me to know how long it is going to take to read the article.

    Reply
  • Lorenzo - that is a very cool perspective that I never thought of. I wonder if there have ever been any studies comparing scrolling online vs. clicking to another page in terms of "best practice" from a usability perspective for the online publishing world?

    From my side, when I see everything on one page, I can better define how long the piece is and where I am at based on the scroll bar.

    Hmmm.....

    Reply
  • I do a loy of work with big content sites fpr UI and improving ad revenie and page views. I have A/B tested this many times and the next page or also know as pagination is usually a winner on a large traffic site. It will lose on a low traffic site.

    The trick in the winning content strategy is to build up the article from page to page. For example if you are going to show a video, put it on page two and promote it on page on. In fact this could help the UX and double ad impressions.

    Reply
  • Posted by Corey Urman
    Corey Urman

    I don't mind the next button when each part is a full page or longer but it really bothers me when each part is a paragraph. Thanks for the tip, I never thought of using the print button but it makes so much sense.

    The biggest thing that ruins my experience is the sign in page. Why does the New York Times need me to sign in ti read an article. I often just close the tab rather than bother.

    Reply
  • Posted by Cath Lawson
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch - I hate jumping through hoops just to read one article. I hadn't thought about why they did this but now it makes sense. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Posted by JP
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    What are you thoughts on this practice with mobile? I've heard both arguments: the next page is a scam for more pageviews and the next page is good for the user cause it's less to download.

    Cheers.

    Reply
  • Hey JP - I think it's different for mobile because of the many different browsers, screen sizes, devices, etc...

    Just looking at iPhone vs. a BlackBerry and you'll see how varied this is.

    I wonder if it would be possible for the user to decide?

    How cool would that be?

    Mobile is going to need some kind of standardization for it to really breakthrough.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Tran
    Mitch Joel

    I like that trick for the Print version of articles. I hadn't thought of that at all and was just clicking through. THanks!

    Reply
  • Posted by linda
    Mitch Joel

    Yes, those ads are a nuisance. They also pay salaries for the people that create that content because they don't work for free.

    There's two ways for a publisher to pay their staff to turn out quality content. They can charge users... or they can charge advertisers.

    We get to pick which business model to support. Me... I'll continue to click the "next" page to support the advertising supported business model.

    :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Lenen
    Mitch Joel

    I hate clicking six pages for a 1000 word article and always wondered why they have that many pages for just one article. If they really do it for increasing impressions I wonder why anybody would pay for those.

    Reply
  • Posted by adriana
    Mitch Joel

    As someone who doesn't like scrolling, I don't mind clicking the "next" page at all.

    What I find far more annoying is having a 2,000 word article laid out on one page and facing a neverending scroll, scroll, scroll...

    Reply
  • Posted by JP
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks Mitch. Yeah, there are some mobile sites (CNN) that let the user choose "whole story" instead of multiple pages. Others seem to be giving the whole story. I prefer the whole story but appreciate the bandwidth concern and also the fact that users may only want "the gist." iPhone is another story altogether.

    Reply
  • Posted by Yvette
    Mitch Joel

    You have to remember that billboards, tv commercials, radio ads, etc. can be ignored by the person/s/ viewing and hearing them without interrupting their activities.

    Web ads unfortunately can block you from your chosen content until you deal with them. In essence advertisers have a "captive audience".

    Reply
  • Posted by Michael
    Michael

    Hi, could you please tell me which websites use pagination?

    Reply
  • Posted by Steve
    Mitch Joel

    This is why I use Greasemonkey to automate redirecting me to single or print page. I hate adverts and I'm one of those people who never watches commercials on TV - I FF, switch channels or use my iTouch.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rosendo
    Mitch Joel

    I don't mind if i have to do this stuff but the content should be interesting and meaningful. because the main thing we are looking for is the content of the page. The other things are like don't matter... ;)

    -Rosendo @ NetSuite SEO

    Reply
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