The 10 Online Ad Formats People Hate Most

An angry looking woman


We asked usability testing firm Catalyst Group to help us come up with a list of online ad formats people hate most.

They are:

  • Banner ads below headers
  • Ads that look like content
  • Dancing ads
  • Auto-expanding half-page ads
  • Banners next to logos
  • Billboards in the top right corner
  • Google text links interrupting content
  • Ads with hidden close buttons
  • Interstitials
  • Page Take-overs

A couple points to remember while going through the list:

  • People basically hate all advertising. But they also know and accept that it’s the cost of free content.
  • Advertising on TV, radio and print has always been interruptive and distracting.
  • We are guilty of perpetrating a few of these units on our readers (sorry!).
  • Which is why our goal here is to help publishers 1) choose the lesser of several evils 2) at least know what they’re inflicting on their users, so that it’s a choice, not an accident.


Banner Ad below Header

This ad breaks the page and separates the site navigation from the content area, making it difficult to determine where you are located within the site and how to find related content. The ad also pushes useful content below the fold, decreasing the likelihood that people will see it.

Ads that look like content

Both ads on this page (the banner under the header and the billboard on the right) appear to provide mortgage rate information and / or a rate calculator. The ads are designed to be visually consistent with the site so visitors may click on or interact with the ad thinking it is site content and unintentionally leave the site.

Dancing Ad

Ads with animation (in this case, the dancing woman) can be very distracting as they are often the only element on the page that is in motion. Also, these ads are often of a low quality, which can decrease the perceived credibility of the site. The risk, of course, is that users will be irritated and leave.

Auto-expanding half-page Ad

This half page ad lies on top of the page content and requires visitors to close it before they can view the underlying content. This is annoying because it interrupts a user's task

Banner next to Logo

Brands used to be totally opposed to such close proximity between their logo and an ad, but many are now totally willing to use this high visibility area of the page to insert a banner. This format has the advantage of not pushing content further down below the fold, but it also requires that the logo fit into a fairly small space in the corner and diminishes the clarity and visibility of the branding.

Billboard in top right corner

Google Text Links interrupting content

Hidden Close Button

These floating ads will often creatively hide the close button, or delay its appearance, causing visitors to have hunt for it -- often only finding it after the animation has finished. This forces users to view the entire animation which is a most unwelcome interruption in many cases.


Full page interstitial ads require a click to get to the site. Again, an interruption like this is never welcome and can create a negative impression of the site.

Page Take-over

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