How ad blockers harm the publishing ecosystem and how you can take them on

Ad blockers are causing big problems for publishers.

There (deep breath), we said it. And we promise that the sooner you deal with it, the better it will be for your ROI on ad revenue.

The first thing you may want to do is identify the extent of the problem. We want to save you time: As of 2015, 198 million people were blocking ads globally, so the percentage of AdBlock visitors to your site is likely to be significant. Check out these stats from a survey of 1,000 U.S. internet users:

  • Four of 10 internet users (40%) use ad blockers on their laptop
  • One-third of internet users (33%) use ad blockers on desktop
  • Nearly one in seven internet users (15%) use ad blockers on their mobile device

Overall, 40% of all web surfers use an ad blocker, and they are primarily motivated to do so in order to avoid “irrelevant” or “annoying” ads.

How do ad blockers work?

There are a variety of browser extensions and VPN services that allow internet users to block ads. In a way, they’ve become the Internet’s litmus test of successful (unobtrusive) ads.

Ad blockers generally rely on filter rules that come from EasyList, a large collection of known ads on English-language websites, to know what internet users want them to block, hide, and allow to appear (when sites are whitelisted). Every time a user goes to a website, the ad blocker compares the HTTP request to these filter lists. If a URL matches one of the filters (often, the default would be all websites to start), the ad blocker will block the request and not download the resource. The popular extension AdBlock, for example, injects a stylesheet onto every webpage that contains selectors that display ad images encoded with data:image/png, thus hiding them. 

Why should I take action on ad blockers?

Keep in mind that while the majority of ad block-users do so on their laptops, ad blockers are mainly harming your desktop impressions. This is because big desktop formats like branding, megaboards, big sticky banners, and more are considered premium inventory, have high eCPMs, and/or are offered via private auctions, preferred deals or programmatic guaranteed, which is again increasing in value. 

If you are not a mobile-only website or your target audience is not over the age of retirement, in our opinion, you don’t need to waste time trying to quantify the exact number of site visitors using an ad blocker. Considering that in 2015 alone, according to Adobe, $21.8 billion in global ad revenue was blocked (a number that stands at nearly $35 billion going into 2020), this is an issue that’s worth addressing no matter what. 

Internet users are interested in content; no one browses the web specifically to see ads. Your readers are likely largely unaware that ads are a major revenue source for the exact content they like. 

 

The damage is more than financial. It’s existential. The rise of ad blocking comes just as the media industry had settled on a revenue model to move forward after years of disruption and pain. The new model looked a lot like the old one: circulation revenue plus ad revenue equals sustainability. With so few people willing to pay for news, advertising was supposed to bring up the rear. But publishers seem to have totally overlooked the fact that, while print ads were relatively innocuous and unavoidable, digital ads are different. They aren’t static. They blink. They follow. They irritate. And readers can do what they never could in print: erase them.

 

—-Michael Rosenwald, CJR

 

As the number of ad-block users is increasing, there is less high-quality desktop inventory left. Once you reduce your share of visitors using ad block, your ad revenue will grow without you needing additional traffic.

First, keep in mind that internet users see ad blockers as a user-friendly consumer protection, which is why the ad-block industry has thrived in recent years. Your readers may not realize that blocking your ads means they are contributing to their favorite publishers’ struggle to keep afloat. 

Ad-blocking software, by default, allows some ads through its firewall that internet users at large have agreed are unobtrusive to their browsing experience. The ads it deems “acceptable” meet a series of strict criteria that include ads being text-only, no animations, no pop-ups, and no placement in the flow of text—-automatically eliminating most of the ads on the market today. AdBlock Plus (distinct from AdBlock), for example, offers sites the chance to apply to be whitelisted, which entails working with them to ensure their ads comply with the criteria.

While you may not want to spend the money to get approved by ad blockers and thus heavily restrict the ads you can show, there is certainly something to the concept of whitelisting:

Here are a few ways you can motivate your users to whitelist your site or even stop using ad blockers in the first place.

How can I deal with ad blockers?

First, don’t be a part of the problem

If your brand is strong enough to influence your audience, you can try to persuade readers yourself not to use ad blockers.

Start by getting rid of annoying ads (think about the ones that blink, follow, and irritate, as Michael Rosenwald mentioned above). No one likes them, probably not even you when you browse the web! If you incorporate these ads, then your readers are using ad blockers to improve their experience on your site—-which is bad news for you, even though you use that revenue to finance your content.

If you’ve already done so and your believe your audience is tied to your brand, try to communicate to them how important ad revenue is for maintaining the content they love on your site. Let’s look to U.S. news-media company CNN for a great example:

This is a great way of acknowledging the elephant in the room and showing readers you understand their pain points (an Adobe poll revealed that nearly 80% of internet users are not willing to pay even a small fee to make ads disappear, and only 11% subscribe to publishers online) at the same time as being transparent about yours (according to a Digiday survey, programmatic ads represent the largest driver of ad revenue for 55% of publishers).

Note: You can find a lot of easy tutorials or videos showing a step-by-step guide that explains how users can whitelist your domain. See ComputerWorld for a great example.

 

Have you heard of the Better Ads Standards? This is an initiative by The Coalition for Better Ads that developed standards (which, as of January 2019, they support for worldwide adoption) for desktop and mobile web based on comprehensive research that asked consumers to rank ad experiences according to their user experience. Those that ranked lowest were directly connected with the likelihood these consumers would adopt ad blockers, and these ads are thus considered to fall below a minimum threshold of consumer acceptability.

For example, the Coalition found that some of the ads that were among the most disruptive and least preferred by consumers on desktop were auto-playing videos with sound (because “[they] catch the reader off guard and often compel them to quickly close the window or tab in order to stop the sound”) and large sticky ads that take up more than 30% of the page’s real estate, obscuring the content site visitors came to see.

 

There is no other way to say it than honestly: If your site is not compliant with these standards, like allowing your audience to easily close ads, you are part of the problem and can be harmed by a variety of penalizations (including your current readers using ad blockers) that can affect your ad revenue.

The most severe penalty of non-compliance with Better Ads Standards is that, as of July 2019, Google Chrome (consumers’ dominant web browser of choice) may not display your ads at all:

 

For compliant publishers, it will have no impact, but the big change here is that where Google before was filtering ads in contravention of the standards, they will now remove ALL ads from sites that ‘repeatedly’ violate the standards. There’s no official word on how ‘repeatedly’ you’d need to break them, but it probably won’t be that many; Google is an integral part of the Coalition for Better Ads and is very keen to improve user experience in order to protect its own revenue.

 

—User Kean_Graham, Google Ad Manager Help Forum

 

Next, turn to the tools helping publishers

If your brand connection with your audience is not strong enough to motivate them to whitelist you, this method will be ineffective. But don’t worry—-you’ve got other options.

There are many tools, like widgets, plugins, and modal windows, designed to help publishers with this problem.

FatChilli has a solution for handling ad blockers. This is available as an on-request feature for our customers. Sign up today >>

 

For WordPress sites

  • Ad Blocker Notify. This plugin detects ad blockers and allows you to deliver a customizable, targeted message with various templates, animations, and other effects. Internal mechanisms prevent ad blockers from blocking the message. You can even track the plugin’s performance.
  • AdBlock X. Like Google Analytics for ad blockers. The user-friendly interface allows you to create custom messages to ask visitors to whitelist your site and choose how they’re displayed. 
  • Ad Blocking Detector. This plugin, which can also be used as a widget, gives you a choice of shortcodes to communicate with ad-block users. You can use a custom message to allow visitors to see your content only if they disable their ad blocker.

Learn more here.

Funding Choices (recommended)

Funding Choices API, a Google product, helps publishers offer extra services alongside options to whitelist your site in ad blocker extensions. These extra services may be memberships, subscriptions or custom choices.

It first detects ad blockers with a script and then allows you to display messages for ad-block users that can capture otherwise lost revenue by giving these visitors choices for how they’d like to fund your content. Options for EU user consent are available.

Learn more here.

Funding Choices is currently in BETA version.

More options

If you don’t have a WordPress site, there are other options.

  • Block AdBlock. Configure a custom ad-block message that is not obtrusive to your visitors.
  • Simple Adblock Notice. Create an independent, customizable pop-up message about ad blockers that does not penalize site rankings, in a way that is user-friendly. 
  • Ad Blocking Advisor. Effortlessly customize a notification banner that follows your branding regulations, and choose to allow or disallow cookie settings.

What’s the silver lining? (There always is one!)

Remember that every problem is an opportunity. In this case, you may look into converting ad-block users into paying subscribers.

 

Paying visitors if what we all dream about. The ad revenue you get per visitor is a fraction of what could be earned with subscription services. With services like funding choices, you are targeting visitors that may not even be beneficial for your business. Restricting access to your content and offering ways to access it is the optimal strategy.

 

—-Simon Krajniak (online news subscription and programmatic expert)

 

The New York Times is the world’s 18th-largest publication currently in circulation and currently has over 4 million paid, digital-only subscribers. Its long-term effort to increase paid subscribers by restricting per-month article access has paid off in 2019, resulting in higher revenue from subscriptions that offset lower ad revenue and not changing their count of unique monthly visitors, for a total revenue of $428.5 million, or 2.7% growth from the same time in 2018. Here are a few examples of how they did it:

Another popular publication, The New Yorker, is another publisher whose revenue from subscribers exceeds that of advertisements. The New Yorker offers a free gift as an incentive for an attractive subscription:

 

What’s next in my battle with ad blockers?

Paywalls can be a very effective tactic in avoiding ad blockers and raising your revenue. Look first to the most loyal segment of your audience:

  • There is a direct correlation between newsletter readership and digital subscriptions. 
  • Engaged readers will keep paying for subscriptions, which is motivation for publishers to build engagement with great content and unobtrusive ads.
  • Diverse reading habits lead to increased retention, so try cross-promoting content across your newsletters.

 

FatChilli has a solution for handling ad blockers.

This is available as an on-request feature for our customers.

Sign up today >>

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