Ad blockers are the bane of a Publisher’s existence. The open Internet is built on a quid pro quo model where Publishers provide free content and consumers pay for it by consuming ads. Unfortunately, there’s an upset in the balance and users often feel the need to renege on their side of the deal. They may do so because they don’t understand the free content/ad exchange or they have larger concerns and therefore feel the need to utilize ad blocking technology.
Table of Content
- How Ad blockers work
- Motivations for people using ad blockers
- What publishers can do to recover revenue
- NMM’s approach
How Ad blockers work
Ad blocking technology in its simplest form is when a user installs a plugin into their browser which reads the code of any website visited before it’s run. If it sees code that looks like an ad it will stop the script so the ad never shows up on the page.
Motivations for people using ad blockers
Currently 42.7% of Internet users worldwide use ad blockers. That number sounds frighteningly high for publishers thinking about their ad revenue. It’s important to understand what that number is composed of and what Publishers can do to address the ad blocking cliff.
(That number might be as awful as it sounds for some Publishers, but they are a minority.)
People install ad blockers for many reasons. Publishers can address some of those reasons, but others are out of their hands.
- There are too many ads on the internet 22.3%
- Too many ads are annoying or irrelevant 22.3%
- Ads are too intrusive 19.9%
- Ads take up too much screen space 16.7%
- Ads sometimes contain viruses or bugs 16.5%
- To speed up page loading times 14.6%
- To avoid ads before watching videos or shows 13.3%
- I try to avoid avoid all advertising online and offline 13%
- Ads my compromise my online privacy 11.2%
- To stop my data allowance from being used up 10.5%
Here’s where it’s important to break down that 42% better. Consider the following statistics and see if they apply to your site’s demographics.
Only 27% of Americans use ad-blockers
(though our internal research indicates this number to be significantly lower)
16 to 24 year olds use an ad blocking tool at least once a month
A publisher’s ad block rate can range between 10-40%. If your demographic is 20 year old men from Indonesia, Houston we have a problem. 65 year old woman in Wyoming, not so much so.
Desktop versus Mobile
Currently most people use ad blockers on their desktops. It’s harder to use an ad blockers on mobile as most user are consuming content in-app which is not accessible to ad blocking technology.
Rates of ad blocker usage in the United States have been rising in mobile over the past few years and falling in desktop. Yet, the rates still stand at 7% for mobile and 18% for desktop.
Source: Audience Project
68% of visits in 2020 were on mobile devices versus 29% that were on desktop. That’s an increase over the 63% and 32% from the previous year. Publishers should ensure their sites are optimized for mobile ads.
What publishers can do to recover revenue lost to ad blockers
There are several approaches Publishers can take to address ad blocking. Some of them are more successful than others and also some are more ethical than others.
Cat and Mouse
By understanding how ad blocking technology works, publishers can engage in a cat and mouse-like work around. Adblockers refer to EasyList that lists almost every iteration of how publishers and ad partners code ads for pages. When a page loads with an adblocker, if the ad code matches something on the EasyList, it’s blocked. So all publishers and ad partners need to to do is develop different names for their ad units and the ads will likely run.
The problem with this is two-fold. First, it disrespects the user by serving them ads that they obviously don’t want. While the publisher may initially make money off them, it erodes trust and the user is less likely to return to the site, or recommend it to friends.
The second part of the problem is that users report seeing ads to the EasyList. Who in turn, updates the list with the new ad unit names and the ads are blocked the next time a user visits. This cycle can repeat itself exhaustively, and is likely not worth the energy expended.
There are services that work as a plug-in. If it detects an ad blocker in use it’ll have a pop-up appear, effectively blocking the page from the user. The pop-up requests the user to white list the page on their ad blocker to view the content. Often it’ll offer the user a light ad experience as incentive (see acceptable ads below). This concession on both sides can be viewed as a win-win for all parties. But theory and reality often play out differently.
Forbes.com tried this method and reported recovering around 63 million ad impressions. That’s amazing for them. However, assuming that’ll work for any publisher is foolish. Forbes is a premium publisher, readers know they can not get their content anywhere else, so they may be willing to make an exception for Forbes. For a site that is not as well known as Forbes they are unlikely to see similar results. Unless the quality and exclusivity of the content is known and understood beforehand users are less likely to whitelist the site. Furthermore, they are less likely to return. Whatever ad revenue may be recovered with this method should be considered against the long term potential losses of page views and website traffic and subsequent rankings.
Another option available, but not feasible for most Publishers is running direct ads on the page without using traditional platforms like Google. An ad that is embedded in the page that does not require third party scripts will not be blocked by an ad blocker. However, unless you’re a super niche publisher or a highly premium publisher it is unlikely that brands would know about you nor find it worth the effort to invest in direct ads.
Direct ads means doing away with all the programmatic advancements and the conveniences that come along with it. Each ad needs to be manually negotiated and placed. A publisher has to be highly valuable to a brand to be worth that investment. Therefore, this is not a viable option for most publishers.
Another option is an interesting proposition at first glance, but is the most effective method against ad blockers: displaying Acceptable Ads.
Acceptable Ads is a program started by AdBlock Plus, the most popular ad blocker software in use. They are not against publishers monetizing their site and profiting from the ad revenue, but are against intrusive ads that interfere with the user experience. Acceptable ads are ads that conform to specific criteria mainly in size and placement.
When a user downloads AdBlock Plus they are automatically opted in to viewing Acceptable ads. Users need to specifically opt out of viewing them. As of now 200 million users, and a little more than 90% of Adblock plus users are viewing Acceptable ads. Note that Acceptable Ads only kick in when an ad blocker is detected, otherwise regular programmatic ads will appear.
Publishers can rejoice at the acceptable ads’ numbers. It’s important to realize two things.
- Less intrusive ads = less visible ads = less valuable = less revenue.
Publishers can expect Acceptable ads to be worth 15%-%40 less.
- Like most ad partners, Acceptable Ads runs as revenue share, so they take a percentage of all the ads that are run through their programing. While Acceptable Ads says that they provide the service free to 90% of publishers, it’s difficult to integrate by yourself, so most publishers don’t gain that advantage and maximize their site’s ad potential. Also, given the inherent nature and purpose of Acceptable Ads, these ads are considered less valuable to advertisers and therefore command a lower CPM than what the publisher might get otherwise.
Something is better than nothing obviously, and Acceptable Ads do work. It can be incredibly frustrating though for publishers when users don’t respect the quid pro quo of the open internet. Publishers may not find it worth it to invest in high quality content if the payoff is not worth it. In the long run, it’s likely the average internet user will lose out with subpar content and paywalls everywhere.
NMM’s approach to ad blockers
At Next Millennium Media, we offer Acceptable Ads through our partners. We are also working with industry leaders to mitigate the issue for our publishers. We also have proprietary internal tech addressing Ad-Blockers. Combined, this enables our publishers to maximize ad revenue even with ad blockers in place.
Ad blocking technology is widely used and can affect ad revenue significantly. There are a few approaches for the publisher to combat the practice: changing ad unit names to avoid detection, whitelist requests, run native ads and partner with Acceptable ads.
Of all the approaches, running acceptable ads is the most ethical as well as effective for most publishers.