The internet for users
4 years ago

Dumbing down with Google

Google may return the most accurate search results, thus its dominance in this sector, but what is not so well know is the dumbing down it creates on the web due to its extensive dominance. Here goes.

Ever tried a search with and without an ‘s’? With and without an apostrophe? If yes, that’s because you already know that the results will be different. Unless you are searching for this specifically-typed phrase, there is no reason why the search results should be different. After all, the meaning is the same. Yet a search for ‘womens rights’ and ‘women’s rights’ return slightly different results as shown in the image below. Try and find your own search queries now.

Last 7 results from Google for ‘womens rights’, above.

Last 7 results from Google for ‘women’s rights’, above.

The consequences of this? People start writing poor grammar in the hope that the search engine will pick up their phrase and show them in the search engine’s results. Most searchers for convenience type their search queries without apostrophes. Now, you can’t blame Google for showing what it wants in its results. But publishers should be writing for users and not search engines.

Yet here is a newspaper which clearly does not care for its readers. The screenshot below is that of an article published online by The North Wales Chronicle. It seems to have been written for the search engines only, with mispellings on purpose, even in the title. In fact, the article contains 28 instances of the grammatically incorrect term ‘mens’ without apostrophe. Sounds also like keyword stuffing. This is a blatant case of the newspaper writing specifically for to boost them for ‘mens suits’ queries in Google.

North Wales Chronicle’s poor grammar. Copy and paste the following in your browser to view the full article:

Visitors, start voting with your feet (or cursor here) and boycott sites that cannot be bothered to write for you. If they choose their main audience to be Google, then let it be so. There are many other sites out there that will welcome your readership.

4 years ago

Sites with ads that pass the test

The previous post discussed ads annoying readers. Here is the other side of the coin: how some sites manage to display ads without being intrusive.

Instead of tricking their readers into clicking on them or forcing them to jump a flashing banner in the middle of a post, savvy bloggers dedicate a column for ads, paid links and banners. At least if you are interested in some commercial products, you know where to look and because their posts are ad-free and are a pleasure to read. As a result, readers come back regularly for more.

If you are interested in shoes and are reading a blog post on shoes and see an ad about the latest fashionable shoe, would you be interested in clicking on it? Equally, if you simply enjoy reading about shoes just to gather more information or for leisure, an ad selling shoes would not be of interest to you. If the ad is on a side column, you will easily ignore it by focusing on the article.

Here are a couple of examples of how bloggers do it. is a site on Wordpress. Ads are on the right hand side and don’t even run into a column. features a column on the right running from top to bottom with ads. The ads are clearly separated from the posts with a giant 3-D like vertical banner that contains navigational links. Result: One side of the site for posts and the opposite side for ads.

You can produce the best content in the word but if you are like or ehow and push in ads within the post, you will simply put off users who will look elsewhere for a better quality site. Writers and publishers need to earn money, but they also need to attract and retain readers. If there are no readers, ads are useless. Yet the two, ads and readers, do not have to be incompatible. Place ads in a dedicated area on your site.


Impact on users of sites with ads

The last post about sites that have very annoying features mentioned excessive ads as one of them. Ads take up such a large real estate on the world wide web, has such an impact on users and owners (financially in that case if it works well!), that it deserves a more in-depth discussion here. After all, there are so many resources and information out there for site owners who want to place ads on their site yet so little discussion about visitors who view these ads and make site owners money. These visitors are very much in the majority. It’s time to give them a voice.

How excessive advertising is wrong

Plastering ads between paragraphs of text is a very deceptive practice which serves to confuse readers as it is not always easy to differentiate at first glance what is ad and what is not. Many publishers are guilty of this as they strive to get as many visitors as possible to click by mistake on their adsense contextual ads, earning them a quick and easy buck in return. is one of them. To be honest, I found some of the in-depth articles from to be very useful; however, it was quite off-putting to read, having to navigate through ads all over the place. Certainly not a good user experience.

On some sites, anyone can write and publish content whilst the site owners make big money with their MFA (Made for Adsense) sites, web 2.0 version.

Whilst I enjoy sites like Squidoo (such as this article on men’s shirts and ecommerce) and Hubpages, they also place ads all over their pages in a bid to squeeze as much advertising juice out of the pages. On Squidoo, you can find infolinks, contextual image ads, a banner ad at the top and Adsense. And guess what? The pages are created by users, people like you and me. In google’s Terms of Service (TOS), only up to 3 blocks may be displayed on a page in order to keep a balance between content and ads and yet Squidoo displays 4 blocks of Google Adsense ads. Do they have a special agreement with the big G so that the latter can earn even more?

However, to be fair to Squidoo, they do share their advertising revenue with their content creators and charities. In fact, some writers are supposed to be making a decent amount of money publishing content on Squidoo. And Squidoo does have to pay for the cost of hosting and its development team. It also gives you the ability to opt out of the infolinks and contextual image ad. The adsense within the body text and on the sides look very spammy for such a popular site.

Hubpages allows you to place your adsense code on the page that you have created on their site and rotates your ad with theirs so that yours appear 60% of the time, earning you a 60% revenue share on average.


A quick word about infolinks since I’ve mentioned them several times already. These are links that pop up a small ad window when your cursor hovers aver them. Many visitors can be tricked into thinking it is a link in relation to an article but no, it displays an annoying and irritating pop-up window that slows down your browser and gets in your way by hiding the text you are reading. They are among the most irritating ads as they are not static.

All this doesn’t mean a site should have no ads. As explained for Squidoo, sites should be able to cover their costs and make some profit. How do you combine ads with content to please both readers and publishers? We look at this in the next installment.

5 pet hates about websites

We all use the internet everyday or nearly so and visit a large number of websites. Some sites provide a good user experience, others not so good, and yet others want to make you get the hell outta there asap. Here is what I hate the most in sites.

1) Sites that pop up a window when you try to close them

Usually the option in the pop-up windows is confusing – click cancel if you want to stay on the page! Sometimes, both options take you back to the site and then you’re forced to close the whole window instead of the tab or use alt+F4. They can be sure I will never visit them ever again knowing that I’ll be stuck on their site.

2) More ads than content

Everyone has come across these sneaky Google Adsense ads squeezed in between paragraphs of contents to confuse users and get them to click on them by mistake to earn the site owner some Adsense revenue. If I am reading an article and have difficulty distinguishing between real content and Adsense ads, being tricked to click on links that are ads, I end up leaving the site because of a poor user experience.

There are many other types of excessive ads on a page, including flashing banners and link ads which look like links but have pop-up ads when a cursor is placed over the link. Intrusive ads are the bane of the internet.

3) Trying to delete a social media account

Have you ever tried to delete a social media account? On many of these sites, there is barely any information on how to do this. The delete button simply does not exist. Some don’t even delete your account, they just make it inactive and keep all your details so that a ‘deleted’ account may be reactivated. Facebook comes to mind. Why do they hang on to you so much? Social media sites just want to be able to increase their member base to seduce advertisers, although half of these members are probably spammers or inactive members who can’t be bothered to hunt for an inexistent delete button.

4) Captcha

A captcha is a random string of characters to copy when creating a new account and is used to fight spam. It wouldn’t be something too hard to do but the characters are usually distorted and hard to read so that you end up mistyping them. If you then go back to enter a new captcha, very often the data you entered have been lost and you find yourself having to enter everything again. It’s meant to deter spammers but it’s users suffering more and more from that and makes for a very poor user experience. After all, spammers wouldn’t enter information manually. In fact, there are now scripts that are able to bypass captchas, leaving us users the only ones to suffer.

5) Excessive personal details asked

We have all come across this. Ever tried to create a new email address? Register on a new site? Create a new account? All these sites want to know your age, your sex, your date of birth, your address. What for? Does the email interface turn pink if you are a woman? Do you get send Viagra offers if you are male and breast enhancement offers if you are a woman? Haven’t all these sites guessed by now that users just make up these unnecessary data? Who wants to give away their address, postcode, age, sex, name and date of birth for an anonymous email address?

It would do well for webmasters and site-owners to think about the usability of their site and how much users like it before putting roadblocks ahead and inciting people to look elsewhere for a better user experience.


4 years ago
Twitter blog topic

Using Twitter to create a network around you

Twitter has been much maligned and is said to be full of garbage. ‘I am eating a sandwich now’, ‘I love Mariah Carey’, ‘iPods are cool’ etc are just too common on the micro-blogging site. But one way you can utilise it to your advantage is to expand your network on a topic.

If you have a blog and want to get more traffic, go onto twitter, start following like-minded individuals and upload your blog feed to twitter. These people may in turn follow you and read your feed. If they are interested, they might move on to your blog. Simple as that.

While it is true that most people who follow other people rarely read the ‘ followee’s ’ tweets, if you are evolving within a tightly-focussed topic, other people will be sufficiently interested in what you are tweeting about. If your topic is self-catered villas in the Isle of Wight or bi-refrigerent optics, other twitterers might well be interested to know what you have to say on this subject. But please don’t post about the dinner you just fed to your dog. It pays to stay on-topic.

Every time you come across a blog you like in your area and that blogger has a twitter account, you can follow that person and expand your network.