Whenever you are surfing a tech-related forum or the cringey and hypocritical SubReddit /r/technology/, you will probably not miss the threads complaining about websites having tracking adverts or just ads in general, all while ignoring the real reason these ads are needed in order for most websites to operate. As such, we will be going over why most websites need adverts to survive and why the current ideas for alternatives will not fix the problems but will create more issues for websites that are even worse in the long run.
Why do websites use tracking adverts?
Short answer: Money and user experience
People have forgotten just how bad advertisements were to the web bowering experience before tracking ads took off (around ten years ago). Before everyone used ads tailed to each user, websites would place all sorts of shitty ads on their web pages, which often included both banners and pop-ups at the same time.
When I got my own laptop back in 2006, most websites did not use tracking ads, as Google Adsense used to be pretty hard to get approved for, This meant that a lot of websites had to use smaller ad networks in order to monetize their websites'. The biggest problem with this smaller AD networks is that they would often have very low standards for who they would allow to place AD’s on their client websites, which led to many websites being flooded with viruses, pop-ups and a fuck ton of banners advertising porn websites.
This is where targeted ads come in useful as if advertisers are able to show ads for a product that the website visitor would actually want to buy, rather than some random ad for a porn website. The better results from these targeted ads, allows webmasters to demand higher fees for ad spots which in turn allows them to reduce the number of ad spots and can remove the need for the more annoying type of ads.
Would people be willing to pay for content they liked?
When I get into arguments with people for defending websites using tracking ads, the other side will often try to claim that websites should survive completely from subscription revenue. This is not doable for most websites for a verity of reasons, including;
• People are unwilling to pay to use websites or to read online news As the internet has introduced immense competition and online advertising has taken off, most people have gotten used to not having to pay to use online services or news websites. A study in 2014, found that 98% of would not be willing to pay the £140 per year required to replace the income websites get from adverts. Online newspapers are slightly better off with around 7% of people in the UK were paying users. Such a low number indicants the need for adverts in online publications and services.
• Smaller newspaper don’t have a large audience Around the world, there are thousands of local newspapers, which provide vital coverage of what is happening in small areas. These local newspapers are often going to be the only people who will be keeping track of local politics. Local newspapers have been really badly affected by the slump in newspaper sales and rely more and more on ad revenue, due to this. They simply do not have the amount of traffic needed to drive people to subscribe to them on mass. When I brought up the fact that local news organizations do not have enough traffic to get the subscribers needed to avoid using tracking ads, a few people tried to argue that they simply need a new business model even tho that they don’t have the money to grow into a national brand, but that is Reddit hypocrisy for you, one minute complaining about adverts, the next complaining that local news is dying.
• All in one subscription for news websites would be dangerous An idea commonly spread around is of people being able to subscribe to a “Netflix” type service in order to fund local news. People who suggest this are forgetting one massive problem with this idea, and that is that you are giving one company the power of being the gateway and financial backer of a large percentage of the media. This would give that platform a lot of power over the media (especially, small local ones), which could be extremely damaging for democracy.
Online ads are here to stay, as almost no one wants to pay for content nowadays and even if most people started to pay for the online services they use, smaller sites would still need to use ads as they would probably end up excluded from any solution anyway.