The New York Times notes how Nielsen/NetRatings demoted its reported April traffic statistics for Entrepreneur.com from an estimated 7.6 million unique visitors down to 2 million - due to the site's use of automatice pop-up windows to increase their claimed page views. Pop-ups have been used for years to push ads from sites both reputable and otherwise, but their use for pushing content is a relatively new phenomenon. Entrepreneur.com is not alone in its efforts: according to the NYT other sites that appear to have used pop-ups for content in the last year include Concierge.com, the Web site of Condé Nast Traveler magazine; ForbesAutos.com, part of the Forbes financial publishing group; and Heavy.com, a popular humor site.
Clearly content pushed involuntarily via pop-up windows inflate visit statistics unfairly via unethical channels, as software that enables the pop-up function is oftentimes introduced to a user's computer involuntarily in a virus-like fashion. But on the other side of the equation there's room to consider how advertising functions in general can be used to push full-page content into more valuable contexts. Online ad networks allow advertisers to compete for good position on search results pages and destination sites: why not make more active use of these same auction-based techniques to pay for sponsored content positioning of full text in key venues that match up with targeted audiences?
We've been arguing for this concept for quite some time but it sounds as if the desire for pulling in audiences for advertisers may be catching up with this concept at last. Paying for context is going to take on new meaning as the battle for online audiences progresses ever-closer to the audiences and away from destination Web sites.