There are an infinite number of ways to make money on the Internet, be it by coming up with a product offering that’s unique or great value, or by relying on the fact many Internet users are not very experienced and often won’t appreciate how things work.
Web browsers often use unified search/address bars, so the average user doesn’t know the difference between a URL and a search term. They might end up at a parked page, clicking links not understanding they aren’t search results. They might go to a search engine and click on the top result – which in fact is an ad, and is often highlighted so faintly you won’t notice the difference. For some search terms, Google will use over 75% of the above-the-fold real estate for ads, so search engines are about advertising and not search these days (this isn’t the worst example either; neither is Bing any better):
What is even more disgusting is the way some companies go out of their way to trick users into installing applications or clicking through to their site when it’s not what the user expected. I was about to download the Chrome web browser and typed ‘chrome’ into the Internet Explorer search bar (which has defaulted to Bing). The top ad was for Google.com/chrome:
You will notice the very faint yellow background next to the ‘ads’ text which isn’t visible on many screens. The second ad is clearly a third party (although the average user probably wouldn’t know) but the first I expected would go to www.google.com/chrome as per the URL in the ad.
I clicked on the ad, and a Chrome download page showed up:
I almost clicked the ‘Free Download’ when I noticed the URL mentioned softwarehub.net. You will notice the very small text below that button which says “The product may be available for download for free from the manufacturer’s website” along with a note about “additional commercial offers might be offered during the download process” making it clear (once you read this), that this was in fact a third party website trying to appear as a legitimate Google Chrome download page, putting in the barest minimum of disclaimers to comply with the law, similar to the Domain Registry of American domain name renewal notice/reminder scams that fool so many users.
Why does this happen? Because we don’t read web pages.. we scan them. When you present users with a call-to-action, they don’t read disclaimers – this is just exploiting this fact for commercial gain.
So after this experience, I was keen to install an AVG anti-virus software on this machine as soon as possible. I typed ‘AVG’ into Chrome, and ended up on the CNET site who AVG appear to use for distributing the free version. After a few clicks I ended up on this page:
Can you tell me where I should click to start the download of AVG?
The top ‘Free Download’ button? The one on the right hand side? or the smaller buttons below?
The answer? none of them.. it starts automatically or there’s a small ‘restart the download’ link if it doesn’t work. The first two are ads for Regclean Pro and the remaining download buttons are sponsored links, all colour coded to work with the site.
We’ve blocked a lot of the ‘download now’ type ads on thinkbroadband because we believe they mislead users into thinking the downloads are endorsed by us or part of our site. Unfortunately they re-appear on different accounts and URLs, indicative of the fact people block them and they need to work around those blocks. I am stunned someone of CNET’s reputation allow this to carry on.
So if your ad is like the one above, you’re not welcome on thinkbroadband. I’d block download managers, plug-ins, registry cleaners, PDF openers, ZIP archivers, etc. by default as most of them are of this scam type (acknowledging there are legitimate applications that do these functions too).
Brief update: Bing seems to be looking into the dodgy ad: