Google Dips a Toe in Ad-Free Waters

Google on Friday unveiled Contributor, an experimental service that lets users make a donation to support the websites they visit instead of viewing ads.

Currently available only by invitation, Contributor begins by asking users to set a monthly contribution amount between US$1 and $3. Then, when they visit a participating website, part of their contribution goes to the creators of that site.

Instead of an ad, the user will see a thank you message, perhaps accompanied by a pixel pattern, in its place.

Just six participating websites are listed on the Contributor page so far: Urban Dictionary, the Onion, ScienceDaily, wikiHow, Mashable and photo-sharing site imgur.

‘We Just Aren’t That Into You’

“It sounds like a noble idea, and it’s in keeping with Google’s history of testing interesting ideas, but I don’t think it’s going to be as affordable for readers as ads are for advertisers,” Internet marketing expert Brian Carter told the E-Commerce Times.

“Most people don’t have loyalty to most websites,” Carter explained. “They search and click or see something in social and click.

“Which is the same reason we don’t want to download an app for every website we end up on,” he added. “We can say to the websites, ‘We just aren’t that into you.'”

A Question of Size

Google Contributor may have a better chance today than it otherwise would have had as a result of the privacy concerns that have become so prevalent among the American public, said Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insights for the Local Search Association.

In fact, a full 64 percent of respondents to a recent Pew Research Center survey said they believed the government should do more to regulate advertisers, Sterling told the E-Commerce Times.

That could heighten consumers’ willingness to pay for content, he suggested.

Also working in the program’s favor is the popular philosophy that good content on the Internet should be supported, added Sterling.

“It’s a very interesting program, and it does have potential,” he observed. “I think there is an audience that will pay a small amount of money to avoid ads; the question is how big that audience is.”

Something for Nothing

Of course, most users already have learned to ignore Web advertising, said marketing and social media expert Lon Safko.

“We have all become oblivious — that’s why it doesn’t work anymore,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“I just don’t see people signing up for this, even for $2 to $3 dollars per month,” Safko said.

“I dislike it when a company deliberately does something annoying, then charges you to stop doing that,” he remarked. “Like Verizon Business Telephone told me after I was getting dozens of telemarketing calls per day that the reason was that my telephone number was listed; however, for $5 per month, they would simply not list it. They were going to charge me to not do something!”

The Facebook Factor

Businesses participating in Google’s AdWords online advertising service, meanwhile — one of the company’s primary sources of revenue — might object to the program, he suggested.

“If my ads weren’t getting shown because Google got someone to pay them not to show the ads, I would be angry and might not want to use AdWords any longer,” Safko said. “AdWords has become expensive and ineffective as it is.”

In any case, “if this works at any level, Facebook will be right behind Google,” Safko predicted. “I am sure the engineers at Facebook are working on the code as we speak.”

Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

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