I have the utmost respect for Paul Conley and think he is one of the true class acts in media. It is well-known, however, that he and I disagree on the use of in-text ads … particularly Vibrant Media’s IntelliTXT product. Paul believes that there is no place for these kinds of ads on any reputable web site and his latest post takes Ziff to taskÂ because theyÂ reinstated in-text ads. He calls for the ABM and ASBPE to cut ties with Ziff and for the editors to, in essence, go on strike in protest.
To be sure, Paul has a couple good points. First, it really is ridiculous that Ziff would put IntelliTXT ads on their editorial mission page. I’m in total agreement with Paul, but probably not for the same reasons.Â (I’m hearing Paul cringe even as I write this.) These ads are only supposed to go on content pages. They areÂ not supposed to go on navigation or general information pagesÂ because it is not relevant, does not help the reader at that point, does not help the publisher at that point, norÂ does it comply with the agreementsÂ I amÂ familiar with regarding the placement of those ads.Â Hopefully that was just an unintentional implementation issue, but Ziff … take IntelliTXT off all non-content pages.
He has a quote from ASBPE as to why there is no place for IntelliTXT-style ads in a reputable online publication even, and probably especially, on content pages:
“Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors. Also, advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such … Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold, and generally should not link to a vendorâ€™s Web site, unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader.”
Let’s disect this.
A) “Hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors.” Good questions indeed should be asked by editors. Are the links relevant? Is the information useful to the reader?Â Sometimes the best solution to problem is an advertiser’s product or service and these links can be useful if implemented well.Â Are the links deceptive or misleading? More on this later…
B) “Advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such.” Look at this screenshot fromÂ a Ziff web page.
Link 1 shows an IntelliTXT link. It has a double-underline and is in a completely different color from any editorial link. When theÂ visitor moves the mouse over the link (they don’t even have to click mind you), the ad appears and is clearly labeled as an advertisement. The visitor does not have to click. Thus it meets the criteria … it is “clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such.”Â Link 2 shows a standard editorial link. It is bold and in blue … very different from the ad. Link 3 is also an editorial link, but progromatically links to other contextually relevant content on the site. Again, it is bold and blue indicating an editorial link, but also has the magnifying glass indicating that it’s slightly different. Interestingly, this link is also powered by IntelliTXT, however it is not a paid ad, but links to related content.
Â C) “Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold … unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader.” Now THIS is where things come open for interpretation. I can tell you from experience that many 3rd party text link vendors (Google, Yahoo, Vibrant Media IntelliTXT, etc.) do not do a good job of making sure the content of the contextual ad link is truly relevant to the site’s audience … especially in B2B markets. This is why at Penton we did not implement IntelliTXT on many of our sites … and why we did not even implement Google AFC/AFS onÂ some sites. But the ASBPE wisely leaves the doorÂ open!Â If there is a site where the content ofÂ contextual linkÂ ad is indeed relevant to the content and helpful to the reader, it is well within ASBPE guidelines to use them. Editors, don’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater here. There are ways to implement IntelliTXT that are beneficial to your readers.
Sales and editorial must come together and find the right ways to implement new revenue streams. I can tell you from having worked with nearly all of our publications at Penton Media during a very difficult financial time, that it’s not only something that can be done, it’s something that must be done for a media company to survive. It’s public knowledge howÂ tough Penton’s financial situation was, but both sides of the house, sales and editiorial, came together and found ways to successfully implement new revenue streams with integrity. I’m not saying IntelliTXT saved Penton’s bacon singlehandedly, but it was implemented with integrity, with the cooperation of editorial, and sure helped save a few people’s jobs, … perhaps even an editor’s or two.
My plea to all salesÂ and editorial teams at any publication:Â you are on the same team. Work together to find ways to implement new ad programs that both maintain integrity and still generate revenue. There is a way to do this with IntelliTXT and more situations like these will emerge as technology develops (ads in RSS feeds, anyone?). But you have to find ways to work together or there may be no more battleground on which to fight each other.