A couple of weeks ago we ran my article on going to www.speedtest.net to check the speed of your internet connection.
Now speedtest.net has been around for a long time and they do have a solid reputation for giving unbiased results to people who visit the site to check their internet speed but there is one fly in the ointment that people need to watch out for - advertisements.
Like many sites out there that provide a free service, they make enough money to stay online by running advertisements. Surf the web for any length of time and you'll see them - banner ads running across the top of the page hawking everything from Android Phones on up to Zebra Training (I've never really seen a zebra training advertisement, I made that up to complete the whole "A to Z" thing but you understand - there are advertisements for everything).
People often ask me how services like SpeedTest.net can offer their service for free and most of the time they do it with ads that line the top, bottom and sides of their website. Just about every site out there from Yahoo.com to Facebook use advertisements to fund their business so the presence of ads on a website comes as no surprise to me. After a while you learn to tune them out and that's an important skill to acquire. Just like when you watch TV you automatically tune out the advertisements, when you are surfing the web you have to learn to tune out the ads that are a constant companion every step of the way.
Many of the websites that run banner ads often have many ads loaded up in a rotation. That means that each time you visit the site you may see a different ad then you saw the last time that you visited the site. And just as CNN may have nothing to do with a company that advertises on their channel, most websites have nothing to do with the companies that advertise on their site - they just add the advertisement into their rotation and collect their money.
Unfortunately there are unscrupulous advertisers out on the internet that use trickery to lure unsuspecting people into clicking their ad by disguising their ads to look like they are a legitimate part of the website that the ad is hosted on. And this is the pitfall that some readers emailed and called to complain about.
You see SpeedTest.net does run ads at the top, bottom and sides of their page. The complaints that I got were from readers who had visited the site and were tricked by the clever wording and design of one of the banner ads in the rotation. The ad in question used the same color background as the SpeedTest page and added a button that said something like "Before you begin the test, click here to speed up your computer." Clicking the button whisks the unsuspecting visitor away from the SpeedTest site and then convinces the user to install some system optimization crap that has nothing to do with SpeedTest.
And SpeedTest.net isn't the only site that has had this form of hijacking forced upon its users. I've seen similar ads at Download.com where you go to download a particular piece of software and there are ads all over the place that say "Download Now" in the hopes that people will click the ad thinking that the ad is the correct button to complete their download. It's enough to drive you nuts!
So what lesson can we take away from this? Well the first thing I'd like to point out is that when I write a column like the one I wrote about SpeedTest.net I give specific instructions. In that column I wrote "...go to www.speedtest.net and click the 'begin test' button." I didn't write speedtest.com, I didn't write "click the 'click here to speed up your computer' button" and I certainly did not instruct anyone to download and install anything. It's important to stay on task and if something deviates from instructions slow down for a second and look for the button that I did say to click.
If you ever have any trouble following the instructions in one of my columns, stop and give me a call. My number is at the end of every column and I'll be happy to help. I know the internet can be a tricky place especially if you're not computer savvy.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).