How Web Advertising Works

Floating Ads

A screenshot of a typical floating ad for a Norton product: This ad is completely animated, with four or five moving parts. The ad plays for about 15 seconds. Note that it does have a "Close" button, so there is a way out of this ad. Many floating ads do not have this feature.

If you h­ave ever been to a Web site that uses them, you know what "floating ads" are. These are ads that appear when you first go to a Web page, and they "float" or "fly" over the page for anywhere from five to 30 seconds. While they are on the screen, they obscure your view of the page you are trying to read, and they often block mouse input as well.

This page has been set up so that a floating ad should appear every time you load the page. If you have the right browser combination, then you should have seen the ad when you clicked into this page. The ad is about 5 seconds long. It floats over the page and then should settle in the upper right hand corner. If you would like to see lots of other examples of different floating ad campaigns, see and


Floating ads are appearing more and more frequently for several reasons:

  • They definitely get the viewer's attention. They are animated. Many now have sound. Like TV ads, they "interrupt the program" and force you to watch them. They can take up the entire screen. Therefore:
  • From a branding standpoint, they are much more powerful than something like a banner ad or a sidebar ad. They cannot be ignored.
  • They have a high click-through rate, averaging about 3 percent (meaning that 30 people will click through for every 1,000 impressions of a floating ad).

­ The high click-through rate, as well as the greater branding power, means that advertisers will pay a lot more for a floating ad -- anywhere from $3 to $30 per 1,000 impressions depending on the advertiser and the ad. Because they can pay a lot of money, Web sites are willing to run floating ads.

The only problem with floating ads is that they annoy people. Some people become infuriated by them, and will send death threats and three-page-long rants via e-mail. That is why you do not yet see them everywhere.

The annoyance problem points out something interesting about advertising, however. When pop-up ads first appeared, they bothered lots of people and you did not see them on very many sites. After a while, people got used to them and stopped complaining, and now pop-up ads can be found on tons of sites.

Television provides another useful example. If television programs were ad-free today, and suddenly a TV station were to start running eight minutes of advertising every half hour right in the middle of programs, people would go NUTS! There would, quite possibly, be riots in the streets. But since we are all familiar with TV ads, they don't bother us much. In fact, during the Super Bowl, the ads are a big part of the show!

As people get used to floating ads, they will become more common.