“Promoted stories” have taken over the web. The widgets, which hawk dubious dietary supplements and a wide variety of clickbait, have become an unfortunate staple of websites — both news-focused and otherwise — thanks largely to the ad rates they pay publishers, which tend to be higher than standard banner ads. They are, to many, a necessary evil for publishers desperate for more revenue from wherever they can get it.
But a new report shows that, while the widgets may be good for publishers’ bottom lines, they’re bad for publishers’ relationships with readers. ChangeAdvertising.org, a nonprofit focused on data and web ads, looked at the top 50 news sites for two days last month to get a sense of what their widgets looked like, and what users were likely to find when they clicked the stories those widgets promoted. Here are a few of its findings: