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The Backend Of Internet Advertising: Your Ads Slow Page Load Speed

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Those ad units you run on your site don’t just do what they appear to do. No, those javascript rendering banners and text links that you make your living from don’t just show advertisements, they collect data on ad performance, your visitors, and probably a bunch of other things that can be used and sold.

This is the backend of internet advertising.

I do not mean to cause alarm here, as sites, ad programs, widgets, stat counters, plugins, and even CMS platforms like WordPress collect user data as a normal standard operating procedure, the problem here is that these secret scripts can drastically slow down page load time.

I try my ass off to keep my sites running fast. But there are always trade offs here, as each extra element you run on or add to a page is going to make it load a little slower and, in today’s web, simple html sites don’t ship. So the webmaster is left with the decision to compromise page load speed for social media buttons, photo galleries, sliders, Disqus comment forms, various plugins, addons, stat scripts, and, yes, ad units.

This balancing act between slower but more equipped and faster but lacking in features and functions is one that every webmaster dances with continuously.

Every time I add a new element, plugin, or ad program to my blogs I must evaluate them for how much page load time they add and make a decision if their benefits outweigh the excess milliseconds.

But I came to a start when I noticed that I received a page load time warning in my Adsense dashboard. Now I know that I don’t run the fastest loading blogs out there, but I’m usually down within two or three seconds and in the top 70% of sites as determined by Pingdom.

So I checked out some of the pages on VagabondJourney.com and was surprised to see that it was taking around 8.82 seconds for them to load. F -in – bad.

First Pingdom page load speed test

First Pingdom page load speed test

But I wasn’t shocked until I scrolled down the Pingdom test report and found the scripts that were causing the page load drag:

ad.turn.com/server/
tags.bluekai.com/site/
ad.afy11.net/
bh.contextweb.com/bh/
sync.search.spotxchange.com/
adadvisor.net/adscores/
idpix.media6degrees.com/orbserv/
bluekai.com/
ad.yieldmanager.com/
idpix.media6degrees.com/orbserv/
sync.mathtag.com/sync/
ad.kadtd.com/v2/

Along with dozens and dozens more.

While it was obvious that these scripts were being loaded by ad tags, I had no idea what they really were, what they were doing, or what sites were serving their content. What was worse was that literally dozens of variations of these scripts were being loaded, absolutely killing my page load speed.

Backend js ad/ visitor tracking scripts

Backend js ad/ visitor tracking scripts

So I looked into these scripts and what sites were serving them. I only got to the first one on this list before it became apparent that they would have to go.

Ad.turn.com is sometimes referred to by another title: malware. Well, that is not completely fair. Turn.com seems to have many facets and functions, but it is basically a company that collects data on internet user behaviors and sells it to other parties.

Bluekai.com was also in the “data management” business.

On mathtag.com’s website they said that, “. . . a domain used by MediaMath to place cookies, on behalf of its customers, on the computers of visitors to our selected customer’s websites and who may view our customer’s display advertisements.”

In point, when you run a javascript based ad unit or plugin on your site it is going to open up a gateway for other scripts from other sites to take or record action on your pages. The actions that these extra scripts perform can really slow down your site.

Now, most of these scripts — even some of the tracking scripts — are benign and are just a normal part of the internet. WordPress even adds Scorecard.com tags on every site built with their platform. The Google Adsense ads that I primarily depend on for funding my sites also use similar data collection scripts. Cookies are normal. But when your site is being slowed down six seconds there is something wrong.

Clearly, something fresh was at work here, and I had to find out what it was and root it out.

Ad/ visitor tracking scripts increase page load time

Ad/ visitor tracking scripts increase page load time

Tracking code load error

Tracking code load error

So first I had to find out what ad code, plugin, or program that I was running that was loading the pernicious scripts that were caking on the load time. I looked first at the obvious culprits:

I just added Lijit and Sonobi ad tags to my blogs.

They are CPM ad programs that I was making a small handful bucks from each day. I was actually really pleased with how the Lijit units were performing, and I cringed when I realized that it was probably opening up the gateway for the invader scripts and I would need to make a decision between money and a respectable page load speed.

So I axed all the tags from both of these programs in an A/ B test.

Problem solved. All of the strange looking scripts were gone, and page load speed was back to being reasonable: 2.5 seconds.

Page load speed after removal of pernicious ad scripts

Page load speed after removal of pernicious ad scripts

While I’m not positive which ad program was inviting which particular sneaky script it’s pretty obvious that they both were at work. I’ve contacted both companies for an explanation.

Lijit responded:

“BlueKai (and others) are used by advertisers in real time bidding to help measure effectiveness of their ad spend. When a creative loads from one of these advertisers it has a piggy-back pixel on it which fires when the creative is loaded. This is generally why you would see scripts like this running on your site.”

Fair enough, but I still can’t have literally dozens of extra scripts being loaded and backing everything up for 50 cents per thousand page views.

What is onerous here is not that these ad programs run these data collecting scripts, it’s that they do so in a very clandestine way, and use your page real estate, add to your page load time, and collect data from your users — and potentially make money off of it without paying you a dime.

Digital nomad be warned: your ad units are doing more than serving adverts.

Filed under: Advertising, Digital Nomad, Traveling Webmaster, Warnings

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been moving through the world since 1999. He is the author of Ghost Cities of China. has written 2711 posts on Vagabond Journey.

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