Why I Love Interstitials

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Interstitials are a rich-media form of advertisement, that, in my opinion, is as close to TV commercials as web advertising has gotten.

Interstitials are not banners, they are not popups, they are full page ads that load between page views on your site. Most interstitials display for 10 seconds or so before forwarding the user onto the page they were trying to view, and almost all interstitials include a skip button if the user does not want to wait.

Some people I’m sure find these types of ads annoying, however I find them less annoying than popups, because they are at least contained in my original browser window. Also, I feel that much of the ire about popups came about as a result of multi-popups being used at once, or popups spawning additional popups when you try to close them. None of these things happen with interstitials.

Really though, the reason I love interstitials is that I see them as more or less the only ad format that can easily and reliably foil every ad blocker.

The concept of ad blocking is not without controversy, some people see it as their right, most publishers though see it as stealing. If you do not like the ads on a site, and you know that the site is ad supported, ethically you shouldn’t use the site if you have ad blocking installed. Popup blockers are understandable, I think, as they can be really annoying, can confuse less knowledgeable Internet users, and even slow down some PCs. However those blockers that block banners, I consider it stealing. Some people might claim that banners need to be blocked to stop drive-by-downloads. That is a weak excuse though when you consider the fact that switching to Firefox will stop them more easily, and also when you consider the fact that ads as benign as Google text ads get blocked by blocking software.

I don’t want to turn this post into a discussion on ad blocking, suffice it to say that I consider it a threat to the website publishing industry, and I consider interstitials to be an answer to that threat.

The reason is that interstitials load in the same browser window as your site, and they load on a different server from your site. If you know which pages on your site are to serve interstitials, you can detect, using the HTTP_REFERER variable, whether or not your visitors actually viewed the ad or not. If they did not, then you know they are blocking ads, and you can automatically forward them to a page explaining how your site is ad supported and how they need to turn their software off. You could accomplish this same thing with cookies. Getting around this type of setup would be difficult to impossible for ad blockers. They’d need to generate fake cookies or referrers and then you’d need to make just a minor change and it wouldn’t work until they managed to do an update.

I also like interstitials because I find them to be useful in monetizing a resource intensive section of your site, such as a search feature. Full text searches can be resource drains and so by say adding an interstitial in between the search and the results you will help offset the cost of providing the feature. Additionally you could even say something like “While we’re carrying out your search please view this ad from our sponsor.” I really do not think this would annoy many people.

Interstitials should in general be treated like popups, meaning you should only use one per user session, or at least never use them on consecutive page views.

The downsides to interstitials are that they are not as of yet widely available and they do not always pay well. For instance Fastclick one of the view networks to offer a separate adcode just for interstitials, pays around 30-40% less for interstitials than they do for popunders. Interclick a company that specializes in interstitials is a little better, however at this time I cannot recommend using them as there have been reports in the forums of them stiffing publishers on payments . My favorite network for interstitials so far is Tribal Fusion. They do not have a separate adcode for interstitials, and instead serve them in combination with the occasional banner ad, they also do not have much inventory. However, the rates are stellar. Its not uncommon for me to see interstitials at $10 CPM or more with them.

And on the topic of interstitials…

Google recently started beta testing rich media ad formats with their Adsense program. These formats include expanding banners, floating ads, and interstitials. I couldn’t be more excited about this. If the rates end up as good as I think they could be, then I might finally be able to drop using popups altogether.

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  • http://www.designity.nl peach

    I like the idea of interstitials as well, because essentially they are the same format as the globally accepted commercial breaks on televistion.

  • Gator99

    I never look at them. If I do it’s to find the skip button. If it doesn’t have one, I leave the site.

  • Dr Livingston

    > Some people I’m sure find these types of ads annoying, however

    However?

    Of course we find them annoying, to put it politely :mad: These -BEEP- adverts distract the visitor from their user experience in too many ways I care to mention…

    With pop-ups at least we can block those -BEEP- but with this new form of advertisement, we have fewer options :(

    God, what will they think of next huh? Huh?

  • JakeE

    If you know which pages on your site are to serve interstitials, you can detect, using the HTTP_REFERER variable, whether or not your visitors actually viewed the ad or not.

    I would be hesitant to use HTTP_REFERER in this manner. For example, some security software blocks the HTTP_REFERER value from being set for any page you visit.

  • Ulchie

    The more internet advertisement options there are, the better for the publishers AND the advertisers in the long run!

  • c-c-C-C-UNIT

    Is it just me, or did he post this twice?

  • Charlie_chalk

    Is it just me, or did he post this twice?

    Yes, but he does love them!

  • willthiswork

    If you do not like the ads on a site, and you know that the site is ad supported, ethically you shouldn’t use the site if you have ad blocking installed.

    Are you kidding?

  • http://www.websitepublisher.net aspen

    No, I’m not kidding. If you cannot abide by the terms of use for a resource that has been made available to you, then using said resource is dishonest.

  • baileysemt

    I hate interstitials. Period.

  • Ryan Wray

    No, I’m not kidding. If you cannot abide by the terms of use for a resource that has been made available to you, then using said resource is dishonest.

    If that is specified in the terms of use/service, that is. Infact, if all a person is going to do is ignore ads they are probably saving money of the advertising server – less bandwith. While I understand your concerns with ad blocking, I think I have every right to block ads. However, browsers should probably not enable this behaviour by default.

  • Ulchie

    I couldn’t agree less with Ryan Wray. Those ads are many sites lifeline. Without the ads, many good quality sites would not be on the internet today. It is like television. You can change the channel or mute it, but either way if you leave your TV on that channel with the show you want to watch, you will see ads… because that is what helps fund the television program to begin with.

    I like aspens idea about not letting adblockers see the site at all. They are just using your bandwidth without helping the site at all. They are nothing but a resource drain.

  • c-c-C-C-UNIT

    I don’t really have a stand on Adblockers. But don’t think if someone has an Adblocker enabled to know that clicking on GoogleAds gets you no where that you wanna go?

  • http://www.realityedge.com.au mrsmiley

    If the interstitial is loaded from a 3rd party site, how do you stop things like session id propagation to that 3rd party and still maintain the session integrity when redirected back to the publishing site? Doesn’t this make this form of advert a security risk to your site if your user is within an active session? I am presuming that from your comment on the HTTP_REFERER that you redirect the user to the 3rd party site, which directs back to yours again post view of the advert?

  • Stevie D

    So blocking ads is theft, is it? Interesting idea.

    Do you think the same about TV ads? Are people who video programmes and fast-forward through the ads thieves as well? What about those who use the ad breaks as a convenient time to go to the loo or get a drink?

    What about people who don’t look at the ads? What about people who refuse to click on ads? Are they to be prosecuted too?

    I won’t ever buy a product from a web advert. It doesn’t make any difference if I see the advert or not – I won’t buy it. Not if it appears as a popup, popunder, banner, text-ad or interstitial. Given that the advert will not get any money out of me, far from being a thief, I am saving them money by not downloading it.

    The alternative is that I click on every ad I see, to ensure the websites get paid. Of course, this will completely screw over the companies that are advertising, because they’ll be paying for all my clicks, but not getting any custom.
    Is that any better?

  • http://autisticcuckoo.net/ AutisticCuckoo

    If you do not like the ads on a site, and you know that the site is ad supported, ethically you shouldn’t use the site if you have ad blocking installed.

    That’s a very lame argument, IMHO. A person who’ll install an ad-blocker is quite unlikely to click on an ad anyway, so there’s no loss of revenue involved. Or do you suggest that a visitor to a website is obliged to click on all the ads?

    Interstitials are about as lovable as a root-canal. If I encounter one, I’ll hit the Back button without even bothering to look for a ‘skip’ link. Why? Because the site is most likely just someone’s attempt to make money without actually having to work, rather than a means for contributing important/interesting information.

  • http://www.websitepublisher.net aspen

    Do you think the same about TV ads?

    This isn’t like fast forwarding… that would be like using the skip button. This is like stealing cable from your neighbors. You want it, you’re just not willing to pay for it, so you take it. The price for web content is small, the viewing of advertisements, but apparently that it too steep a price.

    A person who’ll install an ad-blocker is quite unlikely to click on an ad anyway, so there’s no loss of revenue involved. Or do you suggest that a visitor to a website is obliged to click on all the ads?

    Many advertisements pay per view, not per click, so there is a loss of revenue.

    Likewise you could argue that someone who illegally downloads a copy of adobe photoshop wouldn’t have bought it anyway, so adobe didn’t lose any money, so it’s okay, right?

    Really though, if you’re so against people working to earn money online, this probably isn’t the right blog for you to be reading.

    And by the way, large media companies (newspapers, networks, magazines) run interstitials on their websites, I see them frequently when reading news articles. It only takes a second to hit skip.

  • willthiswork

    point 1:

    Do you think the same about TV ads? Are people who video programmes and fast-forward through the ads thieves as well?

    point 2:

    A person who’ll install an ad-blocker is quite unlikely to click on an ad anyway, so there’s no loss of revenue involved

    point 3:

    but either way if you leave your TV on that channel with the show you want to watch, you will see ads

    Yep, but either way you are NOT in anyway obliged to watch them. On the opposite ads providers have some limitations to what they can show and how often. At least in my country.

    point 4:

    However, browsers should probably not enable this behaviour by default

    Not a browser or ad-blocker sotware concern. You as the owner of the site have to make your users agree on the terms of use BEFORE they access your content. Other way makes possibly your behavior not very ethical. How you do it is completly you concern not mine.

  • http://roderick.dk MRoderick

    It’s interesting that interstitials are being compared to TV ads.

    I’ve stopped watching any channels that show ads inside programmes / movies, they’re just too annyoing, and so are interstitials. Advertising detracts from my TV viewing experience to such a degree, that instead of watching the ads, just buy whatever I want to watch on DVD.

    How much advertising money is wasted on trying to get people like me to watch these ads, when I in turn end up spending MORE money buying the stuff I like on dvds? Who earns this money? It’s not the advertisers nor the publishers of the ads, it’s the guys who publish the DVDs and the guys selling me the DVDs.

    For the same reasons, I don’t use websites that use interstitials, period. I just go to competitors that offer me the same services and the same content. I will gladly tolerate their regular banners, or spend money to get what I want.

    But, I will not have my “experience” interupted, just so that the publisher can make another 2cents.

    Consider this: If I was in the middle of buying some products from Amazon, and they started showing me interstitials, what do you think I would do? I’d start buying products from their competitors.

    How large a percentage of the audience of YOUR website is like me? Do you know? What is the price you pay for losing customers, because instead of improving their experience, you’re detracting from it?

    I think Chris Beasley could do a lot better when posting in “Website Revenue Strategies”.

  • MatthewHSE

    You’re all looking at this like all websites make revenue by selling something. How about a content site that requires a lot of time, knowledge and expertise to write, but sells nothing? Ads are about the only option for sites like that, unless they want to be subscription-based, which we all know isn’t practical in most cases.

  • http://www.websitepublisher.net aspen

    I’ve stopped watching any channels that show ads inside programmes / movies, they’re just too annyoing, and so are interstitials. Advertising detracts from my TV viewing experience to such a degree, that instead of watching the ads, just buy whatever I want to watch on DVD.

    How much advertising money is wasted on trying to get people like me to watch these ads, when I in turn end up spending MORE money buying the stuff I like on dvds? Who earns this money? It’s not the advertisers nor the publishers of the ads, it’s the guys who publish the DVDs and the guys selling me the DVDs.

    What if a site offered the option to pay a nominal fee, like $5 a year, to view it ad free? Would you pay the fee, or just use ad blockers?

    Consider this: If I was in the middle of buying some products from Amazon, and they started showing me interstitials, what do you think I would do? I’d start buying products from their competitors.

    Ecommerce sites should never show ads, be they banners or interstitials. So that point is rather moot.

    For ad-supported content sites, someone who doesn’t view ads is not a customer, just a leech. So if they choose to go elsewhere, you’re not losing a customer, just a parasite who drains your bandwidth.

  • http://boyohazard.net Octal

    You’re all looking at this like all websites make revenue by selling something. How about a content site that requires a lot of time, knowledge and expertise to write, but sells nothing?

    Which is why, MRoderick, you won’t find Amazon using interstitials

    I think Chris Beasley could do a lot better when posting in “Website Revenue Strategies”.

    I think you should do more research, Chris is doing extremely well with his “Website Revenue Strategies” and I know I am not the only one that is grateful for him freely sharing his experience with us.

  • Susan

    My Humble Opinion:

    My pet peeves with all forms of web advertising: My biggest is ones that flash because they trigger my migraines. Pain is a big deterrent.

    Next is ones that make noise. I’m in an office, I do NOT want to hear “Helllllooooo!” or that weird jabber noise. I have to keep my speaker on because I work with audio files.

    Thirdly are things that clutter my workspace (pop-ups, pop-unders) If I want another window, I’ll make one.

    Last are intersticials that don’t look like the site I was just on. It makes me think my browser has just been hyjacked.

    I have blocked some advertizers, but on the whole I treat banners the same as magazine advertising. I look it over to see if it is interesting and click on it if it applies to me.

    To sum up, advertising is necessary but should be done in a considerate manner.

    Susan

  • http://roderick.dk MRoderick

    You’re all looking at this like all websites make revenue by selling something. How about a content site that requires a lot of time, knowledge and expertise to write, but sells nothing? Ads are about the only option for sites like that…

    Agreed. But interstitials are NOT the answer to every content-publishers prayers. I do freelance work for a large DVD news oriented site based in US, with a large audience and a strong community. You wouldn’t believe the amount of flak that hit them when they introduced interstitials.

    On a side note, their audience stopped complaining about the regular ads though :)

    What if a site offered the option to pay a nominal fee, like $5 a year, to view it ad free? Would you pay the fee?

    Yes. I have a couple of subscriptions already. I also buy the software I use, and donate to Open Source projects that give me real benefit.

    Ecommerce sites should never show ads, be they banners or interstitials.

    Agreed. But, it happens just the same.

    I think you should do more research, Chris is doing extremely well with his “Website Revenue Strategies” and I know I am not the only one that is grateful for him freely sharing his experience with us.

    Oh, but I am grateful for Chris sharing his expertise. I just find this post a VERY narrowminded praise of interstitials, that lacks the perspective we’re used to seeing on SitePoint.

  • http://www.dvdverdict.com/ mjackson42

    I run a content site (we review films on DVD). For five years, at least 90% of our income has come from the associate program with Amazon. We do some banner ads, and AdSense, but mostly we make money from people buying products from Amazon. I’ve experimented with various forms of advertising – banner networks mostly – and I’ve come to the conclusion that in the long run it’s better to think about the reader experience than the extra cash that I’ll get from other forms of advertising. As such, I simply try to follow my version of the Golden Rule: Don’t put ads on the site that I wouldn’t want to view myself. Case in point, and the final straw in my ad experiments: We joined one of those banner networks that mostly served sleazy personals ads. We put the square ads toward the top of our review content. We had few, if any, clickthroughs, and overwhelming negative response. I hate those sort of ads myself. Why did I go with them? Because we were promised lots of money that never materialized. Those sort of ads may be fine if you’re thinking about the short term and are only interested in making a buck. Me, I’d rather foster readers who will keep coming back, and subjecting them to ads I wouldn’t want myself is not the way.

    Oh, and I’ll burn in the fiery pits of Hades before I use interstitials. I can’t find the skip button fast enough.

  • Sola

    If internet users think they have a right to block ads that are the lifeline of some websites, then the advertiser has an equal right to devise ways to get around the blocking software. And if interstitials will do, then let’s have ‘em! The “rights” argument cuts either way.

  • basia

    Could anybody explain me (geyish blondie) what is relation between building trust, branding and interstitials?
    Or more detailed: please, write, what type of sites do you use this style of income, just to avoid being called “thief”, even, if Google by accident could land me in such site.
    Greetings :-)
    Basia

  • willthiswork

    For ad-supported content sites, someone who doesn’t view ads is not a customer, just a leech. So if they choose to go elsewhere, you’re not losing a customer, just a parasite who drains your bandwidth.

    The very moment I land on a site that performs those annoying ads I surf somewhere else, so if you’re concerned with band usage it’s all your fault and your business. I don’t give a damn. I’m more than glad to pay not see that NOT REQUESTED rubbish flying around on my monitor.

    Last are intersticials that don’t look like the site I was just on. It makes me think my browser has just been hyjacked.

    In fact it is exactly what they do.

  • Chris

    I ditched my TV 8 years ago, as I discovered the internet instead. If I want to watch a movie, I buy or rent a DVD, if I want to read a web site, I cater it to my needs with the technology at hand.

    If your ads are your only lifeline, then maybe you should think about shutting the site down. Good content will also make people donate or buy products you offer. In most cases advertising is either the lifeline if the content is stolen or collected (funny attachment sites) or simple download sites of software, in which case you can host commercial software, too.

    If you have to invent a new kind of advertising every few months as the majority of web users will block your ads then maybe it is time to realise that web surfers don’t want to be bombarded with offers but find them themselves?

    That said, interstitials with a big fat skip link are to me one of the least obtrusive advertising, too. You got to give the writer that.

  • Stevie D

    Consider this: If I was in the middle of buying some products from Amazon, and they started showing me interstitials, what do you think I would do? I’d start buying products from their competitors.

    A key difference is that Amazon makes money by selling you a product – they don’t need to use 3rd party adverts. Other websites offer a free service (ie no revenue) that is supported by advertising.

  • Stevie D

    For ad-supported content sites, someone who doesn’t view ads is not a customer, just a leech. So if they choose to go elsewhere, you’re not losing a customer, just a parasite who drains your bandwidth.

    That’s a very depressing outlook.

    You write a website to make money. You plaster adverts all over it. To encourage people to look at, and click on, those adverts, you have to add some content.

    I write a website to inform/entertain people. I want people to look at the site, that’s why it’s there. To pay for my time and expense, I put some adverts on it.

    That’s what it sounds like you’re saying, aspen. You’re not bothered about whether anybody reads your site – all you want is the revenue they bring. I don’t think I could be bothered to get out of bed in the morning if that was my aim for the day.

  • willthiswork

    That said, interstitials with a big fat skip link are to me one of the least obtrusive advertising, too. You got to give the writer that.

    I rather take this as your opinion on the subject.

  • AnandC

    You have to admit that those obtrusive flash ads that just expand all over a page are very annoying and publishers should have the etiquette to not subject their users to that. By continuing to employ such methods, publishers are forcing users like me to resort to ad blockers.

    I agree that most content sites are add supported and I have no problems with text ads, banner ads, and even interstitials as long as it isn’t over kill.

    Can anyone recommend a good ad blocker for Firefox that blocks flash ads that “just appear” on my screen?

    -Anand

  • dsandall

    I think the key issue here is that advertising has supported all free or low cost media in the history of western culture. Radio, broadcast television and newspapers are all primarily supported by advertising. While you may not listen to, read or watch the advertising, it is being shown and that is the foundation for the revenue model. In radio & broadcast TV, the viewership numbers are educated guesses. Advertisers pay for the expected number of ‘impressions’. Advertising on the web is based on a similar model, except that with the technology, like the newspapers (who have subscriptions & newstand purchases), there are hard numbers on views.

    IMHO, it is not the concept of advertising that offends me, but it is the nature of it’s use. For example, I enjoy, and pay the entrance fee, to go to a yearly festival that shows the TV commercials deemed best in the world at the Cannes Advertisng showcase. I do however cringe and curse the set if I see some really hokey crap by some advertiser who is clueless.

    On the web it is no different. Take the example of http://www.alistapart.com, it is an ad-supported site and they are not garish nor offensive. On any number of other sites, however, you will find junk.

    In short it really has nothing to do with the technology, and it has to do with editorial control over what is deemed the correct advertising approach. The web is full of fly-by-nighters putting up ad farms that have forced the invention of ad blockers. If all sites advertised like http://www.alistapart.com, then I really doubt any of us would have the strong, anti-ad opinions being expressed.

    Dwayne – who is employed by an ad agency that specializes in b2b clients.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    On the web it is no different. Take the example of http://www.alistapart.com, it is an ad-supported site and they are not garish nor offensive.

    I’m not arguing for garish advertising, and there’s no argument that ALA is and always has been a great resource, but it’s also worth noting that no-one works fulltime on the site (to my knowledge). The editors/writers/artists/designers involved all have other fulltime, paying jobs, so they don’t need to rely on the ALA revenue. I would guess their advertising might cover their bandwidth, but not much else.

    That situation isn’t sustainable for a CNN, a Slate, or a Wired.com.

  • dsandall

    Alex, maybe I used an extreme example, but if you consider CNN, Slate or Wired, you have to remember that regardless of the site, they have a CHOICE in what ads to run and what not to run. Which is my point, is that it is the editorial choice as to what ads to allow that make the difference. I still think it is the proverbial snake oil salesmen that we should be rallying against versus the ad formats themselves.

    Recently we had a site we wanted to advertise on for a client, and they had specific aesthetic guidelines of what they would accept. We tweaked our creative to their standards and so far the campaign is doing well.

    I was not trying to make a point about the economics of revenue streams of alistapart or any other site, but rather the fact that who ever runs the site chooses what ads they find are acceptable or not. Back to my point that it is the operators of these sites that have propigated crappy business practices that lead to us even having this discussion.

    Look even on this site. There are ads, are they making you agitated or wanting to leave the site? Probably not, because you’re posting.. That’s the point, the guys here made it a point not to have dumb ads; ie. editorial control.

    Dwayne

  • http://www.frixer.com petertdavis

    Hey Chris, which of your sites are you currently using Interstitials? I’d like to have a look at how you’re using them.

  • jpatterson

    I think the key issue here is that advertising has supported all free or low cost media in the history of western culture. Radio, broadcast television and newspapers are all primarily supported by advertising.

    I can see everyone’s points here, and they are all definately valid – but to most people, the Internet is not free or low cost. You can pay per minute – in which case you don’t want to have to spend time waiting for interstitials or trying to find the close button on a giant Flash advertisement that has been plastered over your screen.

    Or, you pay a monthly fee – £20.00? £30.00? That’s not low cost. You don’t see advertisements on BBC channels because they are supported by your yearly television licence – so why would normal Internet users want to see advertisements on the Internet when they pay a fair amount of money to access it?

    To everyday Internet users, the Internet is just another service that, as far as they are concerned, they have already paid for.

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  • seeker

    Hi !
    Could you give me an example of :
    – an interstitial
    – a superstitial
    – a shoshkele
    (with the URL of the page where you found it) because I don’t really understand these notions !
    Thanks !

  • a user

    You are what people call a jerk off. Using interstitials in your website will only drive users away. It is your line of thinking that has turned the internet into a dumping ground.

  • FreeLancer

    I haven’t seen an interstitial in quite sometime.

    I’m a HUGE fan of Ad Muncher which blocks every form of advertisement devised by the minds of men so far.

    Ad Muncher works with EVERY browser/program on your system so you only need to install it once and everything is ad free.

    Ads don’t stand a chance.

    http://www.admuncher.com for your sanity and ftw!

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