Websites, especially ones that only provide content, have to constantly find new and interesting ways of ensuring that users click on their display advertising. This is the only way that they can stay in business. But where do you draw the line between objectivity and “advertorial”?
The Next Web is a four-year-old online publication that is focused on spreading the latest news about internet technology, business and culture. Boasting an average monthly audience of around 5.1-million (absolute, not unique) and around 7-million monthly page views, the site is certainly seen as a relevant and objective content provider.
As part of the eternal quest for new digital advertising methods that work, The Next Web has entered into a content series agreement with Microsoft.
The website’s main page entices users with a banner (shown above) that highlights exclusive content for IE 9 users. When you click on the banner, you are taken to a Microsoft, Bing, and Internet Explorer 9 branded page with every single piece of real estate screaming at you.
The page that you land on claims that you will receive a 24 hour head start on the rest of the sites visitors who are on other browsers. In other words, IE9 users will have the fresh, new content, 24 hours before anyone else. Oddly though, the landing page content was already four days old (at time of writing) — this did not bode well for the content to come.
In the spirit of fairness, I decided to put it to the test…
The image on the left is of the site in Chrome (my browser of choice), while the one on the right is the IE 9 version of the page (I included the About IE window to prove it).
Apart from the banner ads being on slightly different rotations; the pages are identical! No exclusive content to be seen. In fact, when you examine the posted times of the first article (14 and 15 minutes ago at time of screenshot) there is NO discernable difference.
Another small problem with the page, which is a personal bugbear of mine, is that it The Next Web is still trying to convince those with IE9 as their browser; that they should download and use IE 9. It is clearly making use of browser detection — so why not use it and make the call to action useful and relevant to the user on your page? They’ve already converted to IE9, sell them on something else now. Since it is a “Microsoft themed” page, perhaps a Bing or Live call to action would have been more effective.
Let’s assume for a second though that the content was exclusive. Is this not severely crossing the already blurry line of free, fair and objective content? Does this not discriminate against the freedom of choice for users to make use of any browser they wish?
Maybe we are looking at the first of a new trend in content partnerships and not at a one off anomaly. One thing’s for certain, though, better execution is definitely going to be needed to ensure that users are not left feeling lied to and cheated. After all, it takes a lot of personal commitment and a real want from the user to muster up the courage to change their default browser.