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Tech 101 | Dave Wilson

Putting a Stop to Ads That Pop Up

January 17, 2002|Dave Wilson

It's hard to find a Web site today that doesn't shove huge, noisy, intrusive ads down your throat. They pop up, pop under, pop over and crawl around whatever it is you're trying to look at.

Harsh economic times have spurred Web sites to risk alienating their users.

"The sites don't have any choice," said Donna L. Hoffman, a management professor at Vanderbilt University who studies electronic commerce. "The trend over the past few years is to create ads that are even more intrusive."

Fortunately, you don't have to put up with it. There are a number of ways you can avoid seeing these pop-up ads, and I'll tell you how in just a minute.

But you'll need to be prepared to update whatever technology you're using to block pop-ups on a regular basis.

The same forces that have driven Web sites to adopt the advertising approach of late-night television also are forcing them to continually develop new technologies to break through your pop-up defenses.

The advertising market tanked with the rest of the economy last year, which led to a lot of unsold ad space on Web pages. At the same time, consumer response to traditional Internet banner advertisements has plummeted.

Consumers clicked on a Web page's banner ad about 2% of the time in 1996, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Now that figure has fallen to less than half a percent, prompting advertisers to demand more effective presentations.

"Web sites are allowing advertisers to do this despite the risk, testing consumer tolerance more and more," said Marissa Gluck, a senior analyst with Jupiter Media Metrix Inc.

"There is definite evidence that consumers are incredibly annoyed by these ads," she said. "In 2001, our research found that 41% of respondents found such ads so annoying that they'd be less likely to return to a site."

Some consumers have reached their limit.

"There are several Web pages that got so bad with the pop-ups that I just stopped visiting them," said Don Soper, a Portland, Ore., computer programmer.

Soper said he's more than willing to put up with some advertising to get free access to an online newspaper, but when the ads block what he's trying to read he'll just stop using the site.

Most major newspaper Web sites in the United States, including the Los Angeles Times, use such ads, a trend Soper finds increasingly annoying.

"If I can't read the page, there's no reason to go there," he said.

Hoffman, who evaluates Web sites, said not enough consumers have stopped using sites because of intrusive ads to change the way business is done on the Web.

Gluck said sites know that if they limit what an advertiser can do with an ad, the money will simply go to another site.

"These are desperation moves on the part of publishers because they will take any advertising they can get," Gluck said. "But the long-term effects remain to be seen."

One effect has been an explosion in the number of programs that will let you avoid these advertisements. Some browsers let you limit pop-up windows.

Check out Opera at www, a pleasant alternative to Netscape and Internet Explorer, though it doesn't work perfectly with every Web site because many developers don't test with Opera.

To work with your current browser, consider installing a program such as Panicware's Pop-Up Stopper, available at

The pro version, about $20, works only with Internet Explorer and Windows but has great features. The free version works with Internet Explorer and Netscape but is a bit limited. You can test both for free.

Pop Up Killer works with a ton of browsers, but is only for Windows. It's free and available at upkiller/index.html.

Pop Not is $12 shareware available for a 10-day free trial. It's strictly for Windows and Internet Explorer.

And Webwasher, at www, is free for individuals and works on several different platforms, including the Mac, and both Internet Explorer and Netscape.

A few Web sites will try to block users with browsers that shut down pop-ups. If the site is important to you, you can always shut down the pop-up filter.

Or, as Soper and others have done, you can just say no to sites that cross the line between advertising and hucksterism.


Dave Wilson is The Times' personal technology columnist. He can be reached at dave.wilson

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