Wake Up Newspapers… It's Not 1998 Anymore

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NewspaperI remember back when I first started making websites… it was 1998, I was in 6th grade and as far as I knew angelfire.com was the best web host ever. That was twelve years ago, and things have changed, or so I thought.

Inside of their basic editor, Angelfire offered the ability to add a background image to a website. That image would be tiled across the back of your website for everyone to see over and over again. Having a photo tiled in the background that made it near impossible to read your text was “the cool thing to do”. By the year 2000, most web designers grew out of the tiled photo background phase and moved onto bigger and better things (flash intros on splash pages, frames, tables… you know… the good stuff that still makes everyone in the industry cringe).

In the last six months I’ve noticed a trend starting to come back mainly with online newspapers… the tiled background. I’m not talking a simple tiled design that blends in nicely with the page, I’m talking tiled business logos as advertisements on the background of their pages.

It’s Not 1998 Anymore

Since graduating college I moved away from my hometown and now live out of state, but I like to keep up with the news back home. Recently I’ve found it becoming near impossible to visit my hometown newspapers website without seeing a number of ads for local universities in the background. While the newspaper industry has been going through a major adjustment over the last few years to compete in the online market, there are somethings that seem like they’re hurting more than helping. This is one of those things.

These days some websites are trying to cram in more advertisements than they have room for, newspapers are especially guilty of this. Recently I’ve noticed more than one newspaper starting to use the tiled backgrounds with logos from local businesses as advertisements, and it’s starting to pull me away from those websites permanently.

Instead of the local universities on Black Friday the Toledo Blade switched to advertising for a local business. While a majority of people were sleeping or shopping, those of us who wanted to check the news online were once again confronted with the reality of not being able to read the news online without being bombarded by an ad for Appliance Center. I’m all for online advertising, but there were a number of problems with the ad.

What is Wrong with Tiled Background Advertisements?

The biggest problem with tiled backgrounds in general is that they make the pages hard to read. If someone is quickly trying to to check the latest news it’s possible they will be immediately distracted by the background and will miss the main content on the page.

Problem number 2… backgrounds are not clickable. By having these advertisements in the background website users only see the image, they don’t know where to go from there. If the businesses goal was to convert users, they aren’t going to get very far with a simple background image. A clickable ad with a call to action button will better benefit a business than a background advertisement that doesn’t tell users where to go.

The third problem is that screen resolutions differ from computer to computer. While the standard these days is 1024×768 it is still possible to run into someone running a resolution of 800×600 or someone like me running a resolution of 1440×900. Every screen resolution will make the advertisements look different. Some will cause the advertisements to disappear all together, defeating the purpose of the advertisement; while others will give users an overload of tiled images, resulting in more tiled images than content on the page.

The tiled background images not only hurt the user experience of a website, but they are also not helping the businesses paying for that advertising spot except to point out that their business exists.

How Should Newspapers Fix The Advertisement Clutter?

With the newspaper industry evolving in so many directions at the moment it’s possible that this phase will be over in the future. At least we can all hope. For now, newspapers (and other sites who advertise with a tiled background image) need to reconsider their advertising space.

There are plenty of websites whose designers are able to incorporate enough space for 4 or 5 ads on a page without over cluttering the page or tiling the background. Ads do not need to be the biggest image on the page either. When an ad overpowers your website to the point where visitors aren’t sure whose site they are visiting, there is a problem.

Run tests with your website visitors on which ad spaces perform the best on your website. Those spaces should hold a higher value. If you start to see that one ad space isn’t returning any clicks, than it’s time to rethink what should be in that place. How many backgrounds are getting clicked because the website visitor thinks it will take them to the website advertised?

Whatever you do, do not devalue your white space on the page. The days of cluttered pages are long gone, clean simple and user friendly is the new standard.Wake up! It’s not 1998 anymore.

Do you ever get annoyed by websites who use their backgrounds as advertising space? What do you think they should do to fix it?

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.

Comments (0)

  1. Good to see you woke them up today. Can’t wait to get home and whip out a critique of their beta site. I don’t understand what they’re thinking on it. I mean, I get the nostalgia of it, but, they’re flat PNGs that IF there were to get searched would become duplicate content of their actual website.

    Okay…time to put together blog schedule. Who wants to do the introductory post?

  2. Wow, I just checked out the normal Toledo Blade online, yuck. Then the e-edition beta that’s basically a pdf of the paper scanned so that one can read it … Double Yuck. I saw his tweets about focus groups and trying to offer more to the reader … I totally didn’t even follow what he was trying to suggest.

    1. Unfortunately it is still the major newspaper in town 🙁 so I’ve actually been relying on the news stations for information lately but don’t get as much from them (reality of the media and who the audience is). He mentioned something about a redesign coming without all of the ads so I’m curious to see what ads stay and what ads go…

      The worst part of all is that this isn’t the only newspaper doing it… just the one I happened to catch the most… I’ve seen nwitimes sneak a few Chevrolet ads into the background a few times in the last week and caught it on a few others too. The trend needs to stop!

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