A quick look at the new LA Times website relaunched today showed me two views. Both were less than ideal, I thought one was broken and the other was a branding company gone postal with advertising script tags.

As more and more people become savvy to blocking ads (Ad block is the #1 Chrome extension for example) this does create a bit of a problem, particularly on ad heavy sites where they actually just look – well – just broken.

I totally get the ad-model, I don’t have a massive issue with it per-se and nor do I want free stuff all the time but I do wonder if from time to time when I visit a site like this whether I’m alone in not noticing the low contrast micro text saying “advertisement” in a big whitespace area and just assume in this day and age some high powered script gallery just hasn’t triggered or loaded right and leaves big empty blocks as ably demonstrated by the new LA Times below. (You’ll notice the gap to the right of the Latest News list is also where an ad should be but there’s no indication it’s been blocked and the space between the site and the feedback button – that’s a giant background graphic ad too)

Fig 1. The LA Times new website (May 2014) with Ad Blocker enabled

I’ve tried using the web in the past with Ad-Block turned off, I felt I should at least try and support content creation with some sort of “gesture” of allowing them to pay for an ad impression on my screen that I’m unlikely ever to click (the web ad model is a little borked anyway but that’s another story) but you end up with some pretty dramatic eye burning experiences not unlike the LA Times in Fig 2. below.

If you keep scrolling on the site, the ads just keep loading, there’s no apparent strategy so is it little wonder people block them anyway?

Fig 2. The LA Times new website (May 2014) with Ad Blocker disabled

I don’t want free content, I don’t necessarily object to advertising either but this particular example while a little over the top is very real. The website exists in two states:

  1. Ads blocked and the layout actually looks broken
  2. Ads enabled and OH MY GOD THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!

What to do?

It’s not a big leap of the imagination to think I’m not the only one who has had ad-blocker so long they’ve forgotten about it and think sites like Fig 1. just look broken. My experience therefore is one of largely wondering if I’m missing some content, should I hit refresh to try get that missing panel/s to reload?

I have seen a couple of sites in the past loading an alternative message if an ad is blocked along the lines of “please don’t block our ads” in the empty space. Probably not a bad starting point, at least it’s not displaying what looks like a broken and confusing layout but can more be done? Is it at least worth as designers acknowledging that a lot of people won’t see the ads but will see a horrendously broken layout in some cases and does this raise the possibility that those people won’t return to the site or share its content because it’s not a nice experience?

I certainly agree that it’s a rabbit hole designing for what a 3rd party plugin may or may not do, perhaps it’s something at least worth considering. Ad Blocker has been installed 15 million times in Chrome alone. That’s a lot of people on the web who for whatever reason will see your website as Fig 1. and if you knew your site looked as bad to that many people would you not at least consider doing something about it even if it’s something simple?

Have you ever thought about this for a project or client? I’d love to know if it is an actual design (or advertising) problem that needs a bit more consideration.

James Young

Written by James Young

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