Crummy Advertising On WordPress.com

It’s a well known fact that WordPress.com shows display advertising but until I read this article on HalfBlog.net, I’ve never looked into what kind of advertising was presented on certain WP.com blogs. HalfBlog.net has a couple of screenshots of ads they discovered while browsing on WordPress.com and perhaps the most insulting one of them all is the Windows Dialogue prompt that tells users they have a chance to win an Apple iPad 2 and to click the OK button.

I decided to fire up a fresh copy of Internet Explorer as I know WP.com loves to show those folks ads to see what I could find. My results range from embedded YouTube videos to flash based videos. The sites I browsed were on the Freshly Pressed WP.com front page and the ads I found had absolutely nothing to do with the content they were displayed under. However, unlike HalfBlog.net, I did see the Advertisement disclaimer above each one. Here are the ones I saw.

Embedded YouTube Video
Flash Powered Video
Embedded YouTube Video

When the issue was brought up within the WP.com support forums, Happiness Engineer MacManX alleviated fears of some that they are not forcing people into purchasing the No-Ads upgrade.

Forcing people into No Ads is definitely not, has never been, and will never be the plan.

Rather, the head-bashing that you described is the plan. The ads are some-what geo-targeted, and at this time, most of the bad ads seem to be shown to folks visiting from outside of the US. I’m not sure if it’s because there aren’t enough fish in the sea for our ad provider in this case, or if they just aren’t vetting their foreign ads well enough.

While Automattic makes an effort to remove ads from the network based on screenshots submitted by users, unfortunately, it’s like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole as Wank puts it.

Complaining about individual ads and getting them removed after the fact is just playing whack-a-mole. It doesn’t do anything to stop similar ads popping up again. Sooner or later you’re going to get malware slipping through (it’s happened a couple of times on livejournal) and the fallout from that is going to be exponentially worse than what you’re getting now.

It’s interesting in that WordPress.com can’t remove the ads because of the extra revenue the small amount of display ads provides but at the same time, it would de-value the no-ads upgrade. So WordPress.com has to find a way to make this work better but when relying on third parties for your advertising needs, there is not much they can do about the quality of the ads that are displayed. I wonder why they haven’t created their own in-house ad network specifically for WordPress.com?

If you feel like going back in time, check out this post from 2006 when ads were introduced to WordPress.com and read through the comments.

13 Comments


  1. Thanks for putting this on WordPress Tavern Jeff.

    Were those YouTube videos real playable embeds, or just graphics that look like players to entice clicks? The look like the latter, but I can’t tell for sure. Generally though, it seems like you saw a better quality of ad than I did, perhaps because you are in the US.

    It’s interesting that you saw the advertisement disclaimer. If they’ve added that, it takes a lot of the heat out of my argument.

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  2. I still think that wp.com should have its ads. But as soon as you buy even the smallest upgrade, ads should be gone.

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  3. WordPress is plenty big enough to stop giving free blogs and charge $1 annually. And plenty big enough to run their own ad service with tasteful ads. Same goes for Wikipedia. Unfortunately the internet tradition is all-or-nothing one way or the other, never quite fully combining idealism with common sense.

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  4. I, too am sick of the ads promising you an IPod or a TV or a free something else. After I followed the links once, jumping through the hoops again and again to get you to buy this or that or sign up for this or that. I quit and decided that I would never follow any kind of advertising from this kind of come on.

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  5. I don’t remember if I ever publicly mused about it, or what discussion triggered it, but about a year or so ago it struck me that a logical next move for Automattic would be to create their own ad network. With a single blog network as large as theirs, ad-targeting could be fine-tuned to a large degree on all sorts of parameters. And of course, they could also do well on stand-alone WP sites, as well.

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  6. @Geoff – To my surprise, the YouTube embeds were actually playable videos from YouTube. I thought they would just be screencaps. But the videos had nothing to do with the content they were displayed under.

    @Dougal Campbell – That’s what I was thinking. One of the biggest problems is relevancy and context which is a problem already solved for them considering they already know the most trafficked sites that talk about specific subjects. All they would need is a good sales/marketing team that could purchase the context relevant advertising to display on those sites. Then again, perhaps Automattic really has no interest in pursuing that route and that’s why they’ve decided to partner up with Federated Media instead.

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  7. Tourism and pastries? Lucky you. I was heartbroken to see my wp.com blog sporting “local mom’s secret / dermatologists hate her!” ads.

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  8. I saw the title of this post, and thought it was about me. Thank goodness it wasn’t.

    ;) It would be nice if we could pick the ads that show on our blogs from a list.

    Sherry Crummy

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  9. What network they use now? I’ve never seen any ad other than custom textual AdSense ads. Though I haven’t seen recently any ad.

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  10. I think the model of online ads needs to completely go away. We need a better internet that is clear of non-sense and innovative when it comes to generating revenue.

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  11. My concern about the Federated Media deal is that US users will start serving relatively tasteful Automattic-vetted ads from which they may even be able to earn the occasional cent, while the rest of the world continues to get flashing download buttons and porn with nothing in exchange but loss of credibility.

    (I’m in the UK and I hardly ever see Adsense on wordpress.com any more. There are some Federated Media ads which are OK, but the obnoxious ones are coming via Adperium and Yahoo.)

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